Houston has to keep the series going

ALCS Game 5 Preview: Rays vs. Astros

Astros Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Astros Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker

We will have to wait and see how much longer this series goes, but the Astros did their job in ALCS Game 4, avoiding the sweep. They live on to play another game, which in this 2020 playoff format is right away with Game 5 on Thursday at 4:07 PM Central. Here is a quick look ahead at the game:

Game Facts

When: Thursday, October 15th, 4:07 PM Central.

Where: Petco Park - San Diego, California.

TV: TBS.

Streaming: Watch TBS App.

Pitching Matchup: John Curtiss (Opener) vs Luis Garcia.

Series: TB leads 3-1.

Series Schedule

Date & Time (Central)Pitching MatchupHome Team
Game 1Final: Rays 2, Astros 1Framber Valdez (L) vs. Blake Snell (W)Rays
Game 2Final: Rays 4, Astros 2Lance McCullers Jr. (L) vs. Charlie Morton (W)Rays
Game 3Final: Rays 5, Astros 2Ryan Yarbrough (W) vs. Jose Urquidy (L)Astros
Game 4Final: Astros 4, Rays 3Tyler Glasnow (L) vs. Zack Greinke (W)Astros
Game 5Thu 10/15, 4:07 PMJohn Curtiss (Opener) vs Luis GarciaAstros
Game 6*Fri 10/16, 5:07 PMFramber Valdez+ vs. TBDRays
Game 7*Sat 10/17, 7:37 PMLance McCullers Jr.+ vs. TBDRays

All games played at Petco Park.

* If necessary
+ Projected starter

Game Storylines

Will another of Dusty Baker's gambles pay off?

One of the intriguing stories from the Game 4 win was Baker going to the mound in the sixth inning, potentially to take Zack Greinke out of the game. Instead, he "coached by feel" and trusted catcher Martin Maldonado who assured him that Greinke had the stuff to get out of the jam and finish the inning. With Greinke making it through, that gamble paid off as Houston would go on to win and survive.

It appears that Dusty will be taking another gamble today, where instead of starting Framber Valdez on short rest, he will trust some of his young, bullpen arms to try and make it through the game. That would set up the Astros to be in a good position in a Game 6 and 7 with both Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. on full rest, respectively. All of that could change, though, if the Astros are in a tight game or losing, which could prompt Baker to bring in Valdez, or anyone who can provide an inning or two for that matter, out of the bullpen.

Was Game 4 the tipping point for Houston's bats?

Once again, Jose Altuve hit a first-inning home run in Game 4, making it three out of four games he has done that this series. Houston's issue was that before Game 4, that was one of their few offensive highlights in each of those games. They were able to do better against Tyler Glasnow, though, starting with Altuve driving in a runner in scoring position in the third, something Houston had struggled with this whole week.

Later, George Springer would ultimately deliver the winning runs with a two-run home run. We've seen it time and time again with this team, they can go through some cold, tough-luck stretches, but then they return to form and start hitting the ball where the defense isn't, with a lot over the fence. In this series, which has been low-scoring so far, all it may take is something in between.

Be sure to check SportsMap after the final out for an in-depth recap of the game, and follow me on Twitter for updates and reactions throughout each playoff game: @ChrisCampise

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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