A battle of the bullpens is on deck for Game 6

Astros playoff report presented by APG&E: ALCS Game 6 Preview

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Despite the disappointing loss in Game 5, which allowed the Yankees to extend the series another game and force the teams to have a quick turnaround to travel back to Houston for Game 6 and a possible Game 7, the Astros are still in the driver's seat. By taking two of three in New York, Houston remains just one win away from ending the series to claim the AL pennant and advance to the World Series. To do so in Game 6, they'll have to win the battle of the bullpens. Here is a preview of the game:

Game Facts

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

Where: Minute Maid Park - Houston, Texas.

TV: FS1.

Streaming: Fox Sports App.

Pitching matchup: TBD vs TBD.

Series: Astros lead 3-2.

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 4Astros 8, Yankees 3Yankee Stadium, Bronx NYGreinke (ND) vs Tanaka (L)
Game 5Yankees 4, Astros 1Yankee Stadium, Bronx NYVerlander (L) vs Paxton (W)
Game 6Saturday 10/19, 7:08 PMMinute Maid Park, Houston TXTBD vs TBD
Game 7*Sunday 10/20, 6:38 PMMinute Maid Park, Houston TXCole vs Severino+

* If necessary
+ Projected Starters

Game Storylines

It's up to the relievers with the series on the line

Both clubs filling a game with relievers was originally the gameplan for Game 5, had it not been postponed back a day. After taking advantage of an opportunity to have a rematch of Game 2 with Justin Verlander and James Paxton instead, that puts Game 6, and possibly the series, up for grabs for whichever collection of relievers can throw a better combined nine innings at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night.

While neither team has yet announced which bullpen arm will start the game on the mount, we can speculate who the Astros will look to for at least some portion of the game. Brad Peacock, despite making an appearance in Friday's Game 5, only had to throw eight pitches in a solid inning, keeping him available for Game 6. Houston will also lean on Jose Urquidy for part of the game, as he was the likely pitcher that would have been on the mound for Game 5 before the schedule shifted. No matter who throws the first pitch of the game, it will come down to which arm can catch a rhythm and try to eat up several innings.

Houston's bats have to take control of the game

While the Astros will try to string together nine effective innings out of their relievers, it will be for naught if they cannot do a better job at the plate than in Game 5. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position on Friday night and would finish the game having stranded nine runners that could have shifted the momentum of the game. They must do a better job in this crucial area to have a shot at winning what may turn into a slugfest.

While George Springer appears to have gotten back into a rhythm after his big home run in Game 4, followed by a 2-for-5 in Game 5, Houston will need more from the middle of their lineup, especially Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez. Despite generating solid contact in several at-bats, Gurriel is 1-for-20 in this series, while Alvarez is 1-for-19. The Astros will need more production from them and the middle part of this lineup to avoid wasting the scoring opportunities that could put an end to this series.

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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This time next week Jim Crane will have hired or be closing in on hiring the Astros' new manager. Who is it going to be? Considering Crane himself doesn't know yet, how the heck should I know? The candidate pool is deep in quality, four former big league skippers (none of whom have won a World Series) and at least three others who have never managed in Major League Baseball.

Dusty Baker. 70 years old. Over 22 seasons he steered four different franchises to the postseason. Tremendous people skills. I always felt his teams took on his upbeat but intense personality. Not a tactical wizard and a questionable resume re: handling of several pitchers. That's not a dealbreaker If Brent Strom is still the pitching coach.

Buck Showalter. Organized and prepared as all get out. Taken three different teams to the playoffs. More coincidence than anything else, the Yankees and Diamondbacks won the World Series...the season immediately after they fired Showalter.

John Gibbons. Low key personality. Two American League Championship Series trips with the Blue Jays.

Jeff Banister. LaMarque high school grad, played at UH. Back-to-Back AL West titles with the Rangers before their roster fell apart and the Astros took over the division. Also a lifetime big league batting average of 1.000. One at bat, he singled.

Any of those four would be a highly credible hire.

Those seeking experience by getting experience: Raul Ibanez, Will Venable, and Eduardo Perez. Where the Astros are, I would lean away from them. Incumbent bench coach Joe Espada is a more credentialed candidate than those three, but Espada was on A.J. Hinch's staff when the Astros are confirmed as cheaters, so can't see Crane going with him.

The experienced big league managers would command more money. That should play zero role in the choice, even though if the Astros stay largely healthy and avoid precipitous performance declines, you or I could manage their roster to 90 wins. Who is best equipped to navigate the S.S. Astros through some stormy seas bound to hit? Because, A. that's baseball, and B. they'll face some unusual stuff in their role as the lying, cheating villains of MLB. Can't know the answer to that.

Rockets fading from the spotlight

The Texans disintegrated on the field in Kansas City, the Astros' integrity turns out to have in part either disintegrated or been non-existent, leaving the Rockets among the big three to uplift the city's sports spirits over the next couple of months. Problem, relatively few seem to care. Glaring numbers of empty seats (even though sold) at Toyota Center, lower TV ratings, and a palpable lack of buzz to them. No shame in a 27-16 record, but that's not close to special and things just seem a bit stale. Dog days of midseason or larger problems?

The Rockets enter the weekend closer to the Draft Lottery than to the Western Conference leading Lakers. The Rockets are at best b-list contenders, waaaay more likely to get bounced from the playoffs in the first round than to win the West. They may be in serious trouble relative to this season's aspirations, and going forward.

Recent deep shooting slump aside, James Harden is a phenomenal offensive force, and Russell Westbrook is a force of nature. But a Harden/Westbrook backcourt headlines a non-championship caliber defense. And there just aren't good enough players around them. Harden is 30 years old, Westbrook is 31. Eric Gordon and his balky knee and erratic jumper, also 31. Over the next three seasons the Rockets are on the hook for those three guys at an average of about 106 million dollars per season.

For two straight off-seasons, the Rockets have been cheap with construction of the bench. Whatever the extent he's been following owner Tilman Fertitta's marching orders, among teams that fancy themselves contenders General Manager Daryl Morey has produced the worst bench in the NBA.

There are a bunch of teams with better overall talent, there are lottery teams with better young talent. It all adds up to the best guess being Head Coach Mike D'Antoni parts ways with the Rockets after the season. How good a job will the Rockets job be for the next coach? The answer might be, not very, in terms of pursuing an NBA championship.

While not being a big deal, it won't look good on the Rockets side if/when Chris Paul makes the All Star Game and Russell Westbrook doesn't.

Buzzer Beaters

1. If you were Kelvin Sampson would you leave UH for the Rockets? 2. The Pro Bowl is Sunday! 3. Things on TV I'd watch before the Pro Bowl: Bronze-Real Housewives of Anywhere Silver-A full XFL game Gold-Three hours of test pattern

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