KEYS TO VICTORY

Forcing a Game 7 will come down to these critical keys for Astros

Luis Garcia will start Game 6 on short rest. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

After falling behind 4-0 in Game 5 of the World Series, the Astros bounced back to defeat the Braves 9-5 and force a Game 6 back in Texas Tuesday night.

Houston still trails Atlanta 3-2 in the series, but a little home cooking can be just what this Astros team needs to stay alive.

A lot of things need to go right for Houston to obtain their second Commissioner's Trophy in five years including pitching, hitting and some hope.

Wake up certain bats

The Astros as a team have hit a combined .231 in the World Series. This needs to change if they want to force a Game 7 and certain bats need to improve. Houston is lacking in the home run department as well, with Jose Altuve being the lone player to hit both homers for this Astros team.

Certain hitters have yet to find their groove this series, such as Alex Bregman and ALCS MVP Yordan Alvarez. Astros catcher Martin Maldonado has as many hits as both Bregman and Alvarez combined.

No disrespect to the Gold Glove caliber catcher, but he shouldn't be ahead of these two sluggers in any hitting category.

Manager Dusty Baker moved Bregman down in the lineup to the seven spot for Game 5 and it seemed to work as the third baseman got only his second hit of the series.

As for Alvarez, it can be assumed he will remain the cleanup hitter in this batting order, as his bat when right is too valuable to drop any further.

If the Astros can get these two guys going at the plate against Atlanta pitchers Max Fried Game 6 and potentially Ian Anderson for Game 7, Houston should have little to no issues staying in these contests and becoming a tough out for the Braves.

Pitching is key

It's not a stretch to say this pitching staff has been taxed.

Jose Urquidy has been the only pitcher to throw for more than five innings in a game.

Framber Valdez and Zack Greinke went as long as they could, but Houston needed the bullpen to finish out all three of their combined starts.

Luis Garcia is slated to take the mound Tuesday night on three days rest, and the question is which version of the rookie pitcher will we see.

The 24-year-old's postseason didn't get off to a great start when he was rocked by both the White Sox in the ALDS and his first appearance against Red Sox in the previous series.

Garcia did bounce back and had his best outing of the playoffs against Boston in Game 6 of the ALCS.

He pitched decently Game 3 of the World Series in which he allowed a single run in 3.2 innings of work.

If the Astros want to force a Game 7 Wednesday night, Garcia needs to take the mound with confidence and pitch a little deeper into the game.

Assuming he can last at least four innings on the mound, the bullpen could be in great shape to closeout the game if needed. And speaking of which.

The bullpen stays strong

One of the best attributes of this Astros team as of late has been their bullpen. With the exception of Cristian Javier, all of Houston's late inning arms have an ERA of 3 or lower.

That's in large part due to Baker's management of the pitchers he uses late in games.

The majority of runs surrendered by Astros' pitching has been from their starters and not relievers.

The bullpen has bent but not broken this postseason, thus giving Houston opportunities to come back late in some games.

If the Astros get some much-needed improvements from certain hitters, Luis Garcia and the bullpen pitch well, there is no reason not to expect Houston to force a Game 7.

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There's nothing left to do, but wait. Composite image by Jack Brame.

For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, Major League Baseball has entered into a lockout in which team officials and players cannot communicate with each other until both sides are “satisfied” and have come to an agreement on labor negotiations.

Before December 1st, MLB free agents were being signed left and right with teams like the Rangers spending over half a billion dollars on players that include Kole Calhoun, Jon Grey, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager.

Other teams that opened their wallets this offseason were the Mariners, Mets and Tigers.

Baseball free agency came to a screeching halt once the December 1st MLB CBA ended. As of right now, players can't sign with any team until the lockout has concluded.

Now that Major League Baseball has entered this work stoppage, the question on everyone’s mind is what does this mean for the sport going forward?

The short answer is no one knows. This process will take some time and most owners have a wait and see approach in regard to this stoppage. Labor negations can be a long, meticulous process that could drag out for weeks, if not months.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred seemed optimistic that a deal should get done between both the owners and the MLB Player’s Association sometime before the 2022 regular season starts.

"We believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season," Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. "We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the players' association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive."

That being said, it may be some time before any deal is made between either side, thus leaving certain free agents in a temporary limbo like Carlos Correa.

The 27-year-old shortstop looked to be the most coveted player available this offseason and would earn a major payday. Just like his fellow shortstops, Correa was looking to earn a deal similar to that of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Francisco Lindor. All of whom signed deals or extension’s of at least 10-year $300 million dollars or higher.

The aforementioned Seager signed a 10-year deal worth $325 million with the Texas Rangers two days before the current CBA ended. Correa was looking to earn a deal similar to this, and the Rangers were one of the team’s that looked to obtain the All-Star shortstop.

Another club that had been linked to Correa was the Tigers, but they just signed free agent short stop Javier Baez to a six-year $140 million contract.

With both Texas and Detroit out of the Correa sweepstakes presumably, where would the 27-year-old land?

We won’t know for some time due to the ongoing lockout negotiations, but as soon as there’s an agreement, Correa will sign somewhere and get his money.

According to Bleacher Report, the Gold Glove winning shortstop has drawn interest from the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers.

All of these clubs are big market teams who are not afraid to spend large sums of money in free agency.

As much as Astros fans would hate to see their beloved shortstop don Yankee pinstripes or wear Dodgers Blue, it seems to be more of a reality Correa won’t be wearing an Astros uniform next season.

Is it possible for Houston to keep Carlos Correa?

Sure, if James Click and the Astros’ front office do something they have never done before and give him an extension of more than $300 million.

The largest contract Houston has ever given out was a 5-year $151 million extension to Jose Altuve.

If they wish to keep Correa, the Astros would have to give him at least a deal similar to what Seager just received in Texas, therefore doubling their largest contract ever given out.

It is not out of the realm of possibilities to believe Houston could accomplish this feat, but it seems unlikely.

A lockout might prolong Correa’s free agency, but once clubs are able to sign again, the All-Star shortstop could sign quicker than we think.

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