Houston is in position to take 3-1 lead in the series

Astros playoff report presented by APG&E: ALCS Game 4 Preview

Yordan Alvarez Astros
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Yordan Alvarez needs to turn things around in the ALCS

Getting a win on the road in the playoffs is a tough feat and doing it in the first game of a series in enemy territory with a hostile crowd excited to make a difference in the game, even more so. The Astros did that on Tuesday with the win at Yankee Stadium in ALCS Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead behind a great start from Gerrit Cole and enough offense to get the job done.

Game 4, initially scheduled for Wednesday night, was postponed until Thursday night due to inclement weather, with Game 5 moving from Thursday to Friday. The shift in schedule sets up a stretch of possibly four consecutive days of games to conclude this series if all are needed. Shifting Games 4 and 5 back a day also opens up pitching options for both teams, with the Astros and Yankees avoiding what would have been a bullpen day on Wednesday and instead creates a rematch of Game 1 between Zack Greinke and Masahiro Tanaka. Here is a preview of Game 4:

Game Facts

When: Thursday, 7:08 p.m Central.

Where: Yankee Stadium - The Bronx, New York.

TV: FS1.

Streaming: Fox Sports App.

Pitching matchup: Zack Greinke vs Masahiro Tanaka.

Series: Astros lead 2-1.

Series schedule

Date & Time (Central)LocationPitching matchup
Game 1Yankees 7, Astros 0Minute Maid Park, Houston TXGreinke (L) vs Tanaka (W)
Game 2Astros 3, Yankees 2 (11 innings)Minute Maid Park, Houston TXVerlander (ND) vs Paxton (ND)
Game 3Astros 4, Yankees 1Yankee Stadium, Bronx NYCole (W) vs Severino (L)
Game 4Thursday 10/17, 7:08 PMYankee Stadium, Bronx NYGreinke vs Tanaka
Game 5Friday 10/18, 6:08 PMYankee Stadium, Bronx NYVerlander+ vs Paxton+
Game 6*Saturday 10/19, 7:08 PMMinute Maid Park, Houston TXTBD vs TBD
Game 7*Sunday 10/20, 6:38 PMMinute Maid Park, Houston TXTBD vs TBD

* If necessary
+ Projected Starters

Game Storylines

Houston needs more from Greinke

Zack Greinke lasted just eleven outs in ALDS Game 3 while giving up six runs to the Rays at Tropicana Field. Back at home for ALCS Game 1, he performed better, going six innings against these Yankees and allowing three earned runs over that span, which could have been enough to keep his team in the game if not for the offensive woes that would result in a shutout loss.

The Astros will need a better start than those first two from their new starter. After the loss to start the series, both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have managed to hold New York's bats in check. With a 2-1 lead, Houston must capitalize on the opportunity to move to 3-1 in this series and put them in need of just one more win over their last three with a start from Verlander and Cole in two of those.

That starts with Greinke, who will need to execute at the highest level and get some runs behind him, to beat out a Yankees lineup that will be out to even the series with a big offensive outing. Additionally, with a potential bullpen day awaiting them in Game 6 or 7, if the series advances that far, Houston will need as many innings as Greinke can provide them while keeping them ahead or within striking distance.

Alvarez and other Houston bats need to find a rhythm

After going 6-for-19 with one RBI in the ALDS, Yordan Alvarez has lost his rhythm at the plate in the ALCS. He's out to an 0-for-10 with six strikeouts in the first three games and has looked visibly frustrated in the process. A.J. Hinch shook up the lineup in Game 3, moving Alvarez down to sixth in the order behind Yuli Gurriel. While I think his incredible numbers in the regular season and contribution in the ALDS earns him some patience and trust, he's due for a big game to snap out of his mini-slump.

Another of Houston's big bats that could use a jump-start is George Springer. To his credit, he had the big home run in Game 2 of this series, which kept them in the game before the eventual walk-off. However, that's the only hit he's had this series, and he now sits 4-for-33 in what has been a mostly disappointing October for 2017's World Series MVP. He is someone, especially in the leadoff spot, that could do wonders for the lineup with a big game to set the tone and build momentum. Look for more offense out of the Astros as they try to wear down New York's pitching staff in these concluding games of the ALCS.

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

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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