Figurative backs are against the wall and the Astros are staring down their own baseball mortality.
Regardless the outcome of the ALCS, Game 4 will live on in the minds of Astros fans everywhere for a long time. In a lot people’s minds the game will be remembered as another time when “Cowboy” Joe West put himself front and center on a big stage. Some of that criticism is deserved (looking at you, MLB Replay Command), but the Astros didn’t do themselves any favors. We should also give the Red Sox plenty of credit as they did play well enough to win, although their pitching staff didn’t have the best showing. Jackie Bradley Jr. has nearly been a one-man wrecking crew.
From the Astros’ perspective, Game 4 will remembered as a time of missed opportunities and self-inflicted wounds. The pitching staff, in particular, hasn’t been the same since the ALDS. An 0-2 count with two outs has quickly become the staff’s kryptonite. Suddenly the catchers couldn’t handle balls in the dirt. The disappearance of half the lineup at inopportune times wasn’t expected.
For one of the best teams in baseball, this particular slump in the ALCS is something else. In fact, this ALCS slump reminds of early late July and early August when Houston couldn’t buy a win at home against the Rangers and Mariners. I can’t recall exactly but the Astros lost seven to eight games in a row at Minute Maid Park before stumbling through most of August. That’s the team I’ve seen since Sunday night at Fenway Park.
For the fun of it, let’s also take a gander at the numbers between the Astros and Red Sox.
Astros: .234/.364/.409, 20 R, 32 H, 9 2B, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 23 BB, 31 SO
Red Sox: .235/.342/.368, 25 R, 32 H, 9 2B, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 18 BB, 31 SO
Pitching (starters and relievers)
Astros: 35 IP, 32 H, 25 R, 23 ER, 18 BB, 31 SO, 5.91 ERA, 1.429 WHIP
Red Sox: 36 IP, 32 H, 20 R, 19 ER, 23 BB, 31 SO, 4.75 ERA, 1.528 WHIP
Surprisingly similar, right? Context and sequencing fills in the gaps. The margin for error on both sides is quite thin.
With their season on the line now, do the Astros still have a chance to win the series? In short, yes, they still have a chance. Not much of one, mind you, as Brian McTaggart of MLB.com notes the following:
"In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams taking a 3-1 lead on the road have gone on to take the series 37 of 44 times (84 percent)."
But a baseball team winning three games in a row, including two on the road, isn’t an impossible feat. Far from it as we just witnessed the Red Sox do it. The Cubs were down 3-1 in the 2016 World Series against the Indians, but won the next three games. By the way, the last two games were in Cleveland. Of course, the Red Sox weren’t facing a win-or-go home situation, but there is definitely a precedent. Justin Verlander on regular rest in Game 5 is a good place to start for Houston.
If the Astros don’t win out, then their season is obviously over. The best season in terms of wins in a single season — 103 — would be a mere footnote in a failed title defense. I’m sure I’ll be more reflective on the 2018 season sooner or later, but let’s concentrate on the task at hand first.