Rangers, Astros win big in divisional series openers

The Lone Star State started the ALDS hot Saturday as both the Rangers and Astros jumped out to 1-0 series leads over the Orioles and Twins, respectively. Teams who have won Game 1 in a best-of-five series have advanced to the next round 71.4% of the time, boding well for Texas and Houston, although anything can happen, as we've all seen.

Rangers 3, Orioles 2 (Rangers up 1-0)

Astros 6, Twins 4 (Astros up 1-0)

Here's what we learned from the first day of ALDS play:

1. The O's are in a tough spot now

After dropping Game 1 of the ALDS 3-2 to the Rangers, the AL's top seed finds itself in a tough spot. It's a best-of-five series, so the Orioles are straightaway tasked with winning three of the next four against Texas. That's a tall order, as you might imagine. Across the history of best-of-five postseason series in Major League Baseball, the team losing Game 1 at home, as the Orioles did on Saturday, goes on to win that series less than 30% of the time.

Specific to this series, the O's may have even more cause to be concerned. The Rangers played in the Wild Card Series, which meant they didn't have their (quite thin) rotation lined up optimally for Game 1. That means that the O's lost a game in which their ace, Kyle Bradish, squared off against Andrew Heaney, who probably wouldn't have been in the Rangers' ALDS rotation had others been healthy. Baltimore draws Jordan Montgomery in Game 2 on Sunday, and Montgomery has been a frontline performer this season. They'll also draw Nathan Eovaldi when the series shifts back to Texas, and he looks back to ace-ish form after his outing against the Rays in the opening round. As well, Montgomery will catch both scheduled travel days at the right time and be able to start a deciding Game 5 on regular rest.

In the end, both history and the specifics of this series suggest the O's put themselves in a very unenviable spot by dropping Game 1.

2. Jonah Heim changed the game with his arm

In the bottom of the ninth and with the Rangers clinging to a 3-2 lead, Baltimore rookie phenom Gunnar Henderson notched a lead-off single. In an effort to put himself in scoring position, Henderson took off on a 2-1 changeup to the next batter, and behind the plate for Texas. Jonah Heim went to work.

The throw-out altered the course of Game 1 and may have also altered the arc of the series itself. That one heave by Heim improved the Rangers' chances of taking Game 1 by a whopping 22%. Indeed, the Rangers were able to get those final two outs and secure the crucial win. Had Henderson been safe, the outcome might have been entirely different.

Doubling the disappointment for Baltimore is that Henderson probably shouldn't have been running in that spot.

Hyde said Henderson steal attempt in the ninth was “a miscommunication,” which makes sense since Henderson seemed to peek back a few times as he went. 

Where the blame falls for that miscommunication is uncertain, but suffice it to say it was a critical mistake by the O's. During the regular season, Heim was solidly above average at hosing runners, and he was that and more on one of the biggest defensive plays of the 2023 postseason so far.

3. Twins wasted early opportunities

Coming into the game, the Twins may have feared they would have limited scoring opportunities against Verlander. That wasn't the case. They simply failed to cash in the chances they had throughout the early portion of Game 1.

Minnesota's hitters took four plate appearances in the first inning with at least one runner on base. They took six more combined over the course of the second and third innings. Yet the Twins did not score a single run in those frames. Instead, they hit into a pair of double plays and watched as rookie Edouard Julien made a crucial baserunning mistake.

Predictably, perhaps, Verlander settled in as the game progressed and Minnesota's baserunner pool evaporated until the seventh inning, when Jorge Polanco launched a three-run shot and Royce Lewis followed it up with a solo home run of his own off reliever Hector Neris.

There's no way of knowing if the end result changes had the Twins pushed a few of those early runners across. But it's safe to write the Twins would've preferred to have found out for themselves.

4. Altuve, Alvarez powered Astros

Whereas the Twins failed to plate a run early, the Astros scored out of the gate. Second baseman Jose Altuve hit his franchise record 24th career postseason home run on the first pitch the Astros saw this playoffs.

Altuve's home run doubled as his eighth first-inning postseason home run. That's the most in major-league history, with only one other player (Albert Pujols) possessing as many as six such home runs, according to CBS Sports HQ's research team.

Altuve wasn't the only Astros star to jump the fence. Yordan Alvarez launched a two-run shot in the third inning to open up Houston's lead to 3-0.

The Astros would add a few more runs later, and Alvarez would launch his second home run of the game in the seventh inning. Those turned out to be a blessing given Minnesota's late charge.

5. Rookies have big day in ALDS

Twins DH Royce Lewis and Rangers outfielder Evan Carter and third baseman Josh Jung proved on Saturday that they were ready for the big stage despite their rookie status.

Lewis launched his third home run in his third playoff game. Carter, meanwhile, ran his on-base offseason total to 10 times in 12 plate appearances. And then there was Jung, who homered and made a number of stellar defensive plays.

It just goes to show that experience isn't everything in October.

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