Houston moves on

Astros advance to fifth-straight ALCS after taking ALDS Game 4 in Chicago

Astros celebrating in 2021 ALDS Game 4
Houston's offense backed up strong pitching in ALDS Game 4 to punch their ticket to the ALCS. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Houston's offense backed up strong pitching in ALDS Game 4 to punch their ticket to the ALCS.

With the disappointing loss in Game 3 and an extra day to think about it due to a rainout on Monday, the Astros were likely anxious to turn the page to Game 4 of the ALDS on Tuesday afternoon. They indeed played to their strengths, overcoming an early run by the White Sox by scoring seven unanswered to dominate the game and finishing off the series to advance to the ALCS.

Final Score: Astros 10, White Sox 1

ALDS Series (Best of Five): Houston wins 3-1

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia

Losing Pitcher: Carlos Rodon

Chicago scores first, but Houston pulls away

After a scoreless first inning, the White Sox, thanks to Gavin Sheets, tried to grab the momentum in the bottom of the second. Sheets launched a one-out solo homer against Lance McCullers Jr., who, despite a two-out walk, would still rebound to keep the damage to one run in the frame. Houston's offense responded in the top of the third, getting to Carlos Rodon, who looked dominant with high velocity in the first inning but started to fade.

The rally that inning started on a one-out hit-by-pitch to Altuve by Rodon, followed by two-out walks to Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez. Carlos Correa, who continues to thrive in the spotlight, put Houston in front with a two-RBI double, making it 1-2. After a scoreless bottom of the third by McCullers Jr., the Astros offense tacked on three more with another multi-run inning in the fourth, getting an RBI single by Martin Maldonado and a two-RBI double by Alex Bregman, pulling away at 5-1.

Houston's starter had his longest inning in the bottom of the fourth, using up 26 pitches but keeping the White Sox at bay by erasing a leadoff single with a double play, then stranding a two-out double and walk. That would be the end of the line for him, as Dusty Baker would make the early switch to his bullpen starting in the bottom of the fifth. McCullers Jr.'s final line: 4.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 73 P.

Houston's bullpen holds as more insurance runs come in

Houston's first reliever was Yimi Garcia in the bottom of the fifth, sitting down the White Sox in order, keeping the lead at four runs. Michael Brantley added another insurance run in the top of the sixth, scoring Chas McCormick, who led things off with a single. Phil Maton took over on the mound in the bottom of the inning, and like Garcia in the frame prior, was able to get through it in 1-2-3 fashion.

In the bottom of the seventh, Maton remained in the game, getting two outs before allowing a two-out single, prompting a move to Ryne Stanek. Stanek would get the third out on four pitches, then Jose Altuve hustled to another run for Houston in the top of the eighth. He reached and advanced to second on an error, then took third on a wild pitch. That set up the RBI for Brantley, who singled up the middle to make it a six-run game at 7-1.

Astros advance to the ALCS

Kendall Graveman had the eighth for Houston's bullpen, and after a two-out hit-by-pitch and lengthy fallout from it from Tony La Russa, was able to get through a scoreless inning. Altuve put the exclamation point on the blowout in the top of the ninth, taking advantage of two on base against Liam Hendricks by crushing a 416-foot three-run home to make it 10-1.

With two days off in front of them, the Astros put in their closer, Ryan Pressly, in the bottom of the ninth to close things out. Despite a leadoff single, he would get through it and maintain the nine-run lead, giving Houston the series victory. The Astros become the third franchise to reach five league championships in a row, joining the A's in the 1970s and the Braves in the 1990s.

Up Next: With the Red Sox upsetting the Rays in their ALDS, the Astros will have home-field advantage in the ALCS, with Game 1 on Friday and Game 2 on Saturday being hosted at Minute Maid Park. The start times and pitching matchups for those games will be determined in the coming days.

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Will the Astros ever give Joey Loperfido a chance to fix the black hole at first base? Composite Getty Image.

So how long do you suppose the Astros will cling to the ludicrous notion that Jose Abreu will return to being a sustainably decent hitter (much less a good hitter)? The All-Star break? The trade deadline July 30? The day the Astros are eliminated from the playoff race? End of the season? End of his contract at the end of next season? Maybe they sign him to a two-year extension?

Since rejoining the team Abreu has played in 13 games, starting 12 of them. He has seven hits in 42 at bats for a .167 batting average. That’s only not horrible in comparison to the sub-pathetic .099 mark Abreu had when hiatus time arrived. Since returning, Abreu has walked once. If you remember or are familiar with Susan Powter you know what comes next. STOP THE INSANITY!

Kyle Tucker’s absence obviously punches a big hole in the Astros’ lineup. Still, that regularly running out Jeremy Pena in the cleanup or fifth spot in the lineup doesn’t seem completely ridiculous, is ridiculous! Pena has been abysmal for the last month. May 11 he put up his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. In 29 games since, Pena has added one more homer with an anemic on-base percentage of .238. Not batting average, OBP. Yuck. All teams solicit All-Star votes for non-worthy guys. Pena plays in the same league as Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Corey Seager, and Anthony Volpe. Hyping Pena for the All-Star game is plain ol’ silly.

Jon Singleton ever slotting in the lineup fourth or fifth, sigh. He of one homer and 28 strikeouts in his last 79 at bats. It’s just a sad state of affairs that no one below Pena or Singleton in the lineup should obviously be higher in the lineup. Mauricio Dubon, Victor Caratini, Trey Cabbage are all bottom third of the lineup if in the lineup type guys. Chas McCormick seemingly losing almost all of his hitting ability has hurt. Yainer Diaz stinking for much more of the season to date than he’s been good has hurt.

The refusal to try Joey Loperfido at first base is somewhere from perplexing to stupid. Look, Loperfido is not an elite prospect. His poor contact skills may doom him from becoming a quality regular. But find out! He struck out a bunch in his first taste but also hit .333. The low upside of the Abreu-Singleton combo is obvious. Evidently to just about all but Astros’ decision makers. Going with Trey Cabbage over Loperfido in the outfield also underwhelms.

Chasing down the Mariners?

It could all still turn for the better, but the Astros are at increasing risk of fading to oblivion behind Seattle in the American League West race. They deserve to be 31-38. They have a losing record at home, they have a losing record on the road. They have a losing record in day games, they have a losing record in night games. They are 7-14 in games against left-handed starting pitchers, they are 24-24 (hey, .500, yippee!) vs. right-handed starters. It would take a serious collapse to fall entirely out of the Wild Card race before the trade deadline, but the Astros are flirting with danger there too. They have to leapfrog several teams to get to the third Wild Card position, currently held by the Minnesota Twins. This doesn’t seem to be a good weekend to gain ground on them. Not that A.J. Hinch’s Detroit Tigers visiting Minute Maid Park this weekend are anything special, though in Friday night’s series opener the Astros face the arguably best starting pitcher in the big leagues this season (Tarik Skubal). But the Twins have four games at home against the lowly Oakland A’s.

If Minnesota is not to overtake Kansas City and Cleveland to win the AL Central, you know Carlos Correa would love to make the playoffs at his ex-team’s expense. Wednesday Correa banged out the first five-hit game of his career. It’s pretty amazing that Jose Altuve has never had a five-hit game given how great a hitter he’s been and the relatively few walks he’s drawn. Sunday in Anaheim, Altuve racked up his 39th four-hit game. Remember, last September, Altuve hit five home runs over seven innings that overlapped two games against the Texas Rangers.

George Springer is the lone Astro ever to rack up six hits in a game, doing so at Oakland in 2018. So far this month, Springer is six for 40. Springer has two seasons left after this one on the six-year 150 million dollar contract he signed with Toronto. At 34 years old he is playing as if washed up. 2023 was the worst season of Springer’s career and he has fallen off a cliff from there thus far in 2024. Springer is batting .198 with his OPS at a sickly .582.

There is only one player in the modern era (1900 forward) of Major League Baseball to amass seven hits in a nine-inning game. In 1975 Rennie Stennett went seven for seven at Wrigley Field in a Pittsburgh Pirates 22-0 obliteration of the Chicago Cubs. The “Bleacher Bums” must have had fun that day.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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