It's a must-win game for Houston

Astros playoff report presented by APG&E: World Series Game 3 Preview

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The beginning of the 2019 World Series could not have started much worse than it has for the Houston Astros. After finishing the regular season with the best overall record, the home-field advantage they fought so hard to achieve was for naught in Games 1 and 2 in Houston.

The Washington Nationals would not be denied in the first two games of the series, taking down two of the best pitchers in the league this year, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Their ability to steal the first two games on the road has put themselves in prime position to take the Commissioner's Trophy. The pressure is squarely on the Astros going into Friday's Game 3 in D.C. as they must now win four of the next five games to avoid a disappointing end to a great season. Here is a quick look at the critical Game 3:

Game Facts

When: Friday, 7:07 p.m Central.

Where: Nationals Park - Washington, D.C.

TV: FOX.

Streaming: Fox Sports App.

Pitching matchup: Greinke vs Sanchez.

Series: Nationals lead 2-0.

Series schedule

Date & Time (Central)LocationPitching matchup
Game 1Nationals 5, Astros 4Minute Maid Park, Houston TXCole (L) vs Scherzer (W)
Game 2Nationals 12, Astros 3Minute Maid Park, Houston TXVerlander (L) vs Strasburg (W)
Game 3Friday 10/25, 7:07 PMNationals Park, Washington D.C.Greinke vs Sanchez
Game 4Saturday 10/26, 7:07 PMNationals Park, Washington D.C.TBD vs TBD
Game 5*Sunday 10/27, 7:07 PMNationals Park, Washington D.C.TBD vs TBD
Game 6*Tuesday, 10/29, 7:07 PMMinute Maid Park, Houston TXTBD vs TBD
Game 7*Wednesday 10/30, 7:08 PMMinute Maid Park, Houston TXTBD vs TBD

* If necessary
+ Projected Starters

Game Storylines

A must-win game for the Astros

Very few would have predicted that the Nationals would be up 2-0 in this series. Credit where it is due, Washington was overpowering and won those games by force, but it is no less of a shock and defeat for the Astros. The road ahead for them is one that not many can navigate and come out ahead, as they now have to take at least two of the three on the road at Nationals Park to push the series back to Houston for Games 6 and possibly 7.

Furthermore, they'll have to do it with Zack Greinke and possibly a bullpen day in the next two games so that they can go back to their co-aces of Cole and Verlander on regular rest in Games 5 and 6 unless they are forced into using Cole on short rest in Game 4. While it is not an elimination game, it might as well be considering if the Astros lose Game 3, the odds are stacked too high against them to have a significant chance at going on a four-game streak against Washington. Simply put, Houston must win this game. However, if there was a team in the league this year that could break out and come back from a two-game deficit, it's these Astros.

Greinke has to have his best game and have run support

For Houston to have their best chance at taking this game, they will have to get more out of Zack Greinke than they have thus far this postseason. Over his three starts, one the ALDS and two in the ALCS, he has been able to log just fourteen innings while allowing ten earned runs. With a potential bullpen day looming in Game 4, the Astros have to get a lengthier start from Greinke where he doesn't let Washington explode offensively.

If he does his job and keeps it a close game, then it will be up to his offense behind him to get the job done as well. Houston has left 20 on base through the first two games while going 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position. While Wednesday's Game 2 was a blowout where a few extra runs wouldn't have helped them, the lack of offense when it has mattered most has been a symptom of an offense that has not been able to translate their regular-season success to the postseason.

On a positive note, George Springer and Yordan Alvarez have looked much better this series, but it will take a combined effort down the entire lineup to cut the Nationals' series lead to 2-1 with a victory in Game 3. To do so, they'll have to go through Anibal Sanchez, who has allowed just one run in his two starts in these playoffs.

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.

Houston accused of more wrongdoing

New report of illegal sign-stealing puts Astros back under scrutiny

Jason Behnken / Getty Images

Back in 2017, the Houston Astros could be considered the darlings of the MLB. They helped pull a Harvey-ravaged city out of despair and into a celebration in a matter of months with the acquisition of Justin Verlander and subsequent World Series victory. The young team full of potential suddenly had the attention of not only fans but other MLB clubs and the league's front office.

On Tuesday, that attention reared itself yet again in a severely negative way, with the Athletic reporting (subscription required) that former-Astro Mike Fiers was alleging and confirming that his former team used illegal means to steal signs in their 2017 championship season. Fiers, along with three other anonymous sources with the team in 2017, claims that the team used cameras and other technology to monitor opposing catchers to relay signs to batters in real-time. The Astros have released the following statement:

"Regarding the story posted by The Athletic earlier today, the Houston Astros organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time."

While GM Jeff Luhnow had this to say:

Another negative blow to the team's reputation

This is not the first time the Astros have been under a microscope in recent years, the most recent being less than a month ago when assistant general manager Brandon Taubman taunted reporters in the Astros clubhouse following their ALCS series-clinching win. The Astros fumbled that event, coming out with a rebuttal against the reporter, which would eventually be retracted, and Taubman terminated from his employment.

Neither is this the first time the Astros have dealt with accusations of sign-stealing and other forms of cheating. In this year's ALCS, the Yankees complained about a "whistling" noise from Houston's dugout they believed to be a method of relaying pitches to batters at the plate. Also, in the 2018 postseason, the Astros found themselves under fire for having an employee taking photos of the opposing team's dugout.

It's just part of the game until it's not

Both pitch tipping and stealing signs are things that are nearly unavoidable in baseball. With the catcher having to relay a sign to the pitcher 60.5 feet away using his hands, the opposing team will inevitably try to decipher what's coming. The same is true of tipping, where if a pitcher has a tell before a specific pitch, that information will quickly spread through the dugout.

However, there is a line teams should not cross, and that comes by way of utilizing technology to aid further the ability to steal signs, and using that to give an immediate advantage to a batter amid an at-bat. The Astros are not the first team to be alleged of this type of grievance, as the Red Sox received a fine after utilizing a smartwatch to try and steal signs.

It's a widely known and accepted fact that teams will try anything within reason to get a leg up on their opponent. However, with technology ever improving both for organizations to use and be caught by, it's no surprise that this is becoming an issue that the MLB will have to deal with, and soon.

Ramifications could loom large

Will the Astros be found guilty and made an example of to deter other teams for trying similar tactics? It appears we will have to wait for the conclusion of this investigation to find out. While it may not be an indictment of the entire team, it will bring into question the integrity and character of many of the team.

Still, no matter the outcome, the report alone and continued negativity surrounding the Astros organization has made them villains of many, a role that many would not have expected this team to play if asked just two years ago.

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