After Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez combined for three homers in the Houston Astros’ Game 1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, it was fair to question whether Minnesota ideal postseason formula — namely: pitching, pitching and more pitching, punctuated by the occasional long ball — would be enough to hang with the defending world champions. On Sunday, however, the Twins flipped the script, not only evening up this ALDS at 1-1 with a 6-2 win but delivering a message in the process: This team has the arms to keep them in any game, and the middle of their order might finally be finding consistency at just the right time.
Game 2 went exactly as Minnesota would have drawn it up. Dominant starting pitching? How about seven shutout innings from Pablo Lopez, who held the big four of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Alvarez and Kyle Tucker to 2-for-11 with a walk and four strikeouts. He whiffed seven overall, scattering six hits and a walk and hardly even finding himself in trouble. The only time the Astros were able to put multiple runners on against the righty was the bottom of the fourth, with Lopez fanning Chas McCormick to extinguish the threat.
Pablo López, Elevated Fastballs...and is fired up. pic.twitter.com/WHItwY2PNS— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 9, 2023
This was the version of Lopez we saw in the second half of the season (and in the Wild Card round against the Blue Jays), the version that had some labeling this Twins team a World Series dark horse. Of course, the Twins didn’t just lead the league in strikeouts from their pitching staff; they also led the league in strikeouts from their lineup, and it remained to be seen whether Minnesota’s boom-or-bust attack would be able to produce consistently enough to avoid getting sent home. Sunday, however, offered some very encouraging news: After a frustrating, injury-plagued regular season, Carlos Correa is starting to look like October Carlos Correa again.
Maybe the shortstop just needed the motivation of being back in his old stomping grounds, or maybe he just likes the crisp fall weather. Whatever the case, he delivered a vintage performance in Game 2, going 3-for-3 with a walk and driving in three of the Twins’ six runs — including their first run of the game on a booming RBI double in the top of the first.
In a battle of aces, it was Houston lefty Framber Valdez that didn’t live up to his billing — continuing a troubling trend of ups and downs since the All-Star break. This righty-heavy Twins lineup was all over Valdez from the jump: Kyle Farmer stretched Minnesota’s lead with a two-run moonshot to left in the second, and Correa chased him from the game in the fifth with a two-run single that made the score 5-0 and really put things to bed.
Alvarez tried to get Houston back into it with a two-run homer in the eighth, but Minnesota’s bullpen saw out the win with minimal trouble.
If you picked the Twins to pull the upset in this series — as someone may or may not have — this was the scenario you envisioned: Minnesota’s starting pitching excelling, while an Astros rotation that began to take on water down the stretch continued to falter. Houston deserves the benefit of the doubt after years of postseason inevitability, but now they have to go on the road to what will be a raucous Target Field, with the volatile Cristian Javier likely to get the ball in Game 3. against a Cy Young candidate in Sonny Gray. Who knows where this series will go from here, but at this point it’s clear that Minnesota’s pitching is very real, and makes them very dangerous — especially if this offense is now here to stay.