Justin Verlander struggles on short rest as Houston's offense struggles

Astros playoff report presented by APG&E: Astros lose ALDS Game 4 against the Rays to force a Game 5

Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

After dropping Game 3 to the Rays to force a Game 4, the Astros trusted their ace, Justin Verlander, with the ball on short rest to try and shut the door on Tampa Bay and advance to the ALCS to face the Yankees. Things would not go as planned, with the Rays once again extending the series by beating Houston 4-1 to send the series to a decisive Game 5 in Houston to decide the series. Here is a recap of Tuesday's Game 4:

Final Score: Rays 4, Astros 1.

Series: tied 2-2.

Winning Pitcher: Ryan Yarbrough.

Losing Pitcher: Justin Verlander.

Verlander just didn't have it

Justin Verlander was not himself on Tuesday night. Whether it be the result of short rest or merely a bad day on the mound, he would get bumped around by the Rays in the early stages of ALDS Game 4. Most of the damage came in the bottom of the very first inning, where Verlander would watch a changeup get turned around for a solo home run to put Tampa Bay ahead 1-0.

The Rays would go on to score two more runs that inning as Verlander would be uncharacteristically out of command, finishing a 32-pitch first inning with a 3-0 deficit. He would return and continue to complete three and two-thirds innings, but not before allowing another solo homer, which extended Tampa Bay's lead to 4-0. Although he had no run support behind him, which was a problem in itself, Verlander would have a disappointing and forgettable day on the mound. His final line: 3.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 2 HR.

Houston can't break the Tropicana Field curse

No matter what Verlander did or didn't do, his offense did him no favors. Jose Altuve did his part with a leadoff single in the top of the fourth to try and get a spark on offense. Yordan Alvarez followed with a one-out double to the center-field wall, nearly scoring Altuve, but two perfect throws had him out at the plate, keeping Houston off the board.

They would continue to be shutout through most of the game; hitting into double plays and bad luck along the way to extend their struggles at Tropicana Field. Robinson Chirinos would finally get the Astros on the board with a two-out solo home run in the top of the eighth, cutting the lead to three runs at 4-1. That's as close as they would come in the loss.

Strong showing for the bullpen

As far as Houston's bullpen, they performed well starting with Josh James, who would finish the fourth for Verlander by getting the final out of that frame. Then, the Astros turned to Jose Urquidy to try and eat up some innings and keep the game a four-run deficit. He would provide one and two-thirds innings, getting two outs into the bottom of the sixth before Houston turned to Ryan Pressly to get the final out of that inning.

Joe Smith took over in the bottom of the seventh, getting one of the best innings on the mound for Houston in the game with a five-pitch 1-2-3 inning. Will Smith was next, and he would work around a couple of hits in the bottom of the eighth to send the game to the ninth. Houston would come up empty in the top of the ninth, despite getting runners on the corners with one out, extending the series one last game.

Up Next: The series will come to its ultimate conclusion with Game 5 on Thursday night in Houston at Minute Maid Park. The game should get underway at 6:07 PM Central and will be the final game of the divisional round of the playoffs. Gerrit Cole will be on the mound for Houston looking to replicate the success he had in a great Game 2, while the Rays have not yet announced their starter, though they will likely use several pitchers, including Tyler Glasnow who started Game 1 for Tampa Bay.

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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