The Houston Astros have some life. The 2021 World Series will shift back to Houston’s Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night with the Atlanta Braves leading 3-2 after the Astros took Sunday’s Game 5 by a score of 9-5.
Max Fried will get the Game 6 nod for the Braves as they look to finish off their first World Series win since 1995. The Astros will turn to Luis García on three days’ rest.
All seemed lost for the Astros on Sunday night as they were down 3-1 in the series and facing elimination. Moments after Framber Valdez stepped on the mound in the bottom of the first inning, they were staring at a 4-0 deficit following an Adam Duvall grand slam. Considering how poorly Houston has done offensively all series, it felt like an insurmountable obstacle to overcome.
But, the Astros kept fighting back, adding two runs each in the second and third off Tucker Davidson to tie things up. They exploded for three runs in the fifth on a shocking Martin Maldonado bases-loaded walk and two-run Marwin Gonzalez pinch-hit single to take their first lead. Houston’s bullpen was nearly perfect, tossing 6.1 scoreless innings to hold the lead as the Astros added more insurance in the seventh and eighth.
García Up and Down
The 2021 postseason couldn’t have started any worse for García, who had a great regular season but gave up five runs in each of his first two playoff outings this year — first in 2.2 innings against the Chicago White Sox and then in just one inning against the Boston Red Sox. But, he bounced back with 5.2 shutout innings against the Red Sox in the decisive Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
He pitched decently in Game 3 of the World Series, holding the Braves to one run in 3.2 innings despite issuing four walks. The really promising sign for García and the Astros is that he has been striking out a lot of batters lately, including seven in his strong start against Boston and six in his abbreviated performance against Atlanta. His 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings during the regular season was a major reason why he was so effective.
It’s also all hands on deck time for Houston so García will certainly be allowed to stay in if he’s pitching well and if the Astros have put some runs on the board. But, if he gives up early damage like Valdez did, manager Dusty Baker will probably have a quick hook. With the off day on Monday, both teams will have a fully rested bullpen.
If you’re betting online, look for García to give Houston four to five solid innings. He has been trending upward as of late and has a resurgent lineup behind him that will get a huge boost from being back at home.
It’s tough to argue with all the regular season and postseason success that 14-game winner Fried has already experienced in his relatively short career, but he is going through a terrible stretch lately and needs to pick things up on Tuesday if the Braves are going to be able to avoid a Game 7 on the road.
Fried has been hit really hard in his last two starts, the first in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers (eight hits and five runs in 4.2 innings) and the most recent in Game 2 against the Astros last week (seven hits and six runs in five innings). His curveball hasn’t been as sharp and his control has been lacking, as he was throwing around 75 percent of his pitches for strikes in his good playoff starts — against the Milwaukee Brewers and Game 1 against the Dodgers — but has been down to around 65 percent in his last two starts.
The way to beat the Astros is to get ahead in the count. They don’t strike out very often because they swing at strikes and make contact early in at-bats, which is also why they aren’t better at drawing walks (only ninth-most in the regular season). With Fried falling behind batters, he has to throw more strikes to get back in the count. Houston (and the Dodgers) took full advantage of that.
With that said, the Astros on the runline is a smart bet to back if you’re making MLB picks. They finally beat up on Atlanta’s overworked bullpen on Sunday night and got help from a variety of sources, especially guys that came off the bench and those that typically bat lower in the lineup. The MLB playoff odds rightfully recognize that the Astros are a sleeping giant ready to explode with their season on the line, and that Houston seems to hit so much better at home with Minute Maid Park’s unique dimensions than it does on the road.