Five takeaways from the Astros 4-1 loss to the Rays in ALDS Game Four.
It was another frustrating night for the Astros under the Tropicana Field dome. Justin Verlander, starting on short rest, got knocked around early. The offense continued to struggle to score runs. Now there will be a do-or-die ALDS Game Five on Thursday in Houston.
With Gerrit Cole set to pitch on regular rest, the team has to feel confident. But that doesn’t mean a win is guaranteed. Here are five key takeaways from Game Four to ponder as we wait for the rubber match of the ALDS.
Verlander Not Invincible
As good as Verlander was in Game One, it was a shock to see him look so mortal in Game Four. There’s no way of knowing if the short rest was a contributing factor, but the bottom line is his command simply wasn’t there. You can’t leave changeups and cement-mixer sliders out over the plate to major league hitters.
It’s also a wake up call in a sense. As good as Cole was in Game Two, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to replicate that performance, even on regular rest. It’s not a foregone conclusion that he throws seven scoreless innings, which means the offense has to wake up.
Offense Looks Disjointed
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This has been an awful series for a lineup that was arguably the best in baseball this year. They’ve gotten runners on base but have had great difficulty driving them in. A bad at-bat or just plain bad luck will snuff out a rally before it even starts. We saw that on Tuesday with a pair of line drives hit right at first baseman Ji-Man Choi, and Yuli Gurriel‘s game-ending sharp grounder up the middle.
The best chance for a rally resulted in Jose Altuve getting thrown out at the plate in the fourth inning. Many fans criticized third base coach Gary Pettis for sending Altuve on Yordan Alvarez‘s double with only one out, but it was the right call. The Astros have been dreadful with runners in scoring position, so there’s no guarantee Altuve would’ve scored if he’d been held at third.
It took an absolutely perfect throw from the outfielder and a perfect relay from the shortstop to get Altuve; anything less and he would’ve been safe. When you’re struggling to drive in runs and you have an opportunity to score, it’s best to be aggressive and force the defense to make a play. That time the Rays nailed it, so hats off to them. Questioning Pettis’ call with the benefit of hindsight is silly.
Springer Settling In
After going hitless in the first three games of the series, George Springer‘s bat finally showed up in Game Four. He notched a pair of singles, the last of which was a laser. He’s put up better at-bats and looks more like himself at the plate now.
The Astros will need him if they’re going to win Game Five. One of his patented leadoff homers would be a huge boost, but just having him get on base would be enough. He needs to set the tone for an offense that needs a jump start.
Bullpen Does the Job
After Verlander exited, the Astros bullpen kept the Rays off the scoreboard the rest of the way. Josh James, Jose Urquidy, Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith and Will Harris finished the game and kept it from getting out of hand.
With Wednesday being a day off, everyone should be available for Game Five if needed. This unit has shown it has solid depth, and there are several guys who can get key outs if needed.
Can’t Win at the Trop
For whatever reason, the Astros just don’t play well in St. Petersburg. They have now lost eight of their past nine games in the quirky dome known as Tropicana Field, though they do have the benefit of playing Game Five in Houston.
First pitch of the final ALDS game will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, with the game being broadcast on FS1.