Winner takes all

ALCS Game 7 Preview: Astros vs. Rays

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It all comes down to this. The Astros have erased a 3-0 deficit and tied the series with their 7-4 win over the Rays in ALCS Game 6. It sets up the best phrase in sports: Game 7. They've made it this far; now they just need to take the final step to make it to their third World Series in the last four years. Here's how the game shapes up:

Game Facts

When: Sautrday, October 17th, 7:37 PM Central.

Where: Petco Park - San Diego, California.

TV: TBS.

Streaming: Watch TBS App.

Pitching Matchup: Lance McCullers Jr. vs. Charlie Morton.

Series: tied 3-3.

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 5Final: Astros 4, Rays 3John Curtiss (ND) vs Luis Garcia (ND)Astros
Game 6Final: Astros 7, Rays 4Framber Valdez (W) vs. Blake Snell (L)Rays
Game 7Sat 10/17, 7:37 PMLance McCullers Jr. vs. Charlie MortonRays

All games played at Petco Park.

Game Storylines

All hands on deck

There's probably only one arm that is genuinely unavailable today, and that's Framber Valdez, who started Game 6 and went six innings. Everyone else, including Ryan Pressly, who has closed out three straight games, maybe even Zack Greinke, should be out in the bullpen ready to contribute in this decisive game.

But first, it'll come down to how Lance McCullers Jr. does. He was flat-out terrific in his Game 2 start, allowing just one earned run while striking out eleven over seven full innings (though he did allow the three unearned runs after the significant error in the first). If he can replicate that success and get into or possibly past the middle innings of this game while allowing zero to two runs, he will have done his job on Saturday.

Get ahead early

One thing that'll make Dusty Baker's job somewhat more comfortable, though in a Game 7 nothing truly is, is if his bats can start to distance themselves from the Rays early. There shouldn't be much of a shadow issue in this one, beginning at 7:37 PM Central, 5:37 local time in San Diego. That means Houston, who exploded in the middle innings in Game 6, might have the opportunity to do the same early in Game 7.

To do it, they'll have to put up runs on their former-teammate Charlie Morton, who shut them out over five frames in Game 2. Then, much like the Astros, the Rays will have just about everyone ready to come in, including the likes of Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough, that they might not have as much success as they've had against the Rays bullpen in recent days. In a game with this high leverage, every baserunner will count and apply pressure, so the Astros need to reproduce Friday's success at the plate, albeit against potentially stiffer pitching.

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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The Astros will have some new rules to adjust to in 2023. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

If you are savvy enough to read next week’s column, you will be doing so with spring training underway in Florida and Arizona. Hip, hip, hooray! Astros pitchers and catchers have their first workout scheduled for next Thursday, with the full squad due early the following week ahead of games starting February 25. Spring training baseball is not meant to be exciting, but the major rules changes that will take effect this season will be in full effect in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, making spring games more interesting to follow.

The biggest change is the death of infield shifts. As reminder or to get up to speed, the first and second baseman must now always be aligned on the first base side of second while the shortstop and third baseman must both be on the third base side of second. Plus, all infielders must have both feet on the dirt of the infield.

There are legitimate points to be made as to why shifts should be allowed, and also why modifying the rules makes sense. I get the argument that if hitters can’t take advantage of an open side of the infield, shame on them. However, taking advantage of a shift is not as easy as it looks.

The best argument against shifts is that they clearly more penalized left-handed hitters. You think Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez will miss losing some hits on balls smashed on one hop 30 or 40 feet into the outfield only to have a second baseman make the play? If once every other week Tuck or Yordan picks up a hit that the shift would have taken away, over 500 at bats, that’s about a 25 point difference in batting average. Defenses couldn’t shift in the same fashion against right-handed hitters because unless the batter/runner has Martin Maldonado or Albert Pujols level (non)speed, throwing guys out at first from 30 or 40 feet out in left field is not viable.

Welcome the pitch clock. There will be griping from some pitchers and hitters. Suck it up buttercups! Adapt or die. In the minor leagues the pitch clock knocked off 20-25 minutes from the average game length. The average big league game should not take more than three hours. For darn sure a 3-1 or 4-2 game shouldn’t take more than three hours.

With no runners on base a pitcher has 15 seconds from when he gets the ball to start his motion, with runner(s) on base 20 seconds. Failure to comply is an automatic ball. It’s called the pitch clock but batters are on notice too. There is simply no need for batters to be stepping out of the batter’s box to contemplate the meaning of life every pitch or two. Batters not in the box and ready when the clock gets down to eight seconds get an automatic strike. There are several exceptions, such as a batter gets one timeout per plate appearance,

The bases themselves are 20 percent larger. Instead of 15 inches square they are now 18 inches square which serves a couple of purposes. There will be a bit more space for infielders to avoid baserunners at the bags. That’s sensible. We’ve all heard “Baseball is a game of inches.” Legendary General Manager Branch Rickey is credited with coining the phrase. Rickey is also the guy who brought Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues, and the guy who basically invented the farm system.

Anyway, back to game of inches. The larger bases shorten the distance between first and second, and second and third base, by four and a half inches. A massive change it is not, but a meaningful change it is. Think of the close calls on stolen base attempts, or a runner going from first to third on a single. It’s not mastering advanced calculus to get that a shorter distance between bases makes it easier to successfully get to the next one. Anything that increases the value of speed in the game is a good thing.

Base stealing will also be impacted by the new pickoff limitations rule. Say Jose Altuve leads off with a single. Up comes Jeremy Pena. The pitcher gets two “disengagements” during Pena’s at bat. Pickoff attempts and stepping off the rubber both count as “disengagement.” A third disengagement not resulting in a pickoff is an automatic balk. Does Altuve take a huge lead to draw pickoff throws knowing that after two non-pickoffs he gets a big advantage?

Might any unintended consequences result from the rules changes? Let’s find out.

Can I interest you in an Astros podcast?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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