Behind the biggest hit of Jason Castro’s career, the Houston Astros unleashed a historic ninth inning rally to beat the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night. Now, with Game 5 on Wednesday afternoon in Boston, the Astros can take a series lead before play shifts back to Houston.
It’ll be a battle of southpaws at Fenway Park. Framber Valdez, who has struggled all postseason, goes for the Astros against Chris Sale for the Red Sox. Sale, like Valdez, is still trying to find his way in the playoffs as his issues from an injury-shortened 2021 season have persisted.
Up 2-1 in the eighth inning of Game 4, Boston looked poised to take a commanding 3-1 ALCS lead with the chance to clinch the pennant at home in Game 5. Then, as he always seems to do, José Altuve hit a big home run, smashing a solo shot over the Green Monster to tie the game.
In the ninth, following a Carlos Correa leadoff double and two strikeouts, it came down to Castro against Nathan Eovaldi. After he narrowly escaped a strikeout on 1-2 curveball thanks to a questionable ball call from Laz Díaz, Castro laced a single into right-center to score Correa. Two walks and four more hits ensued and, by the end of the inning, the Astros had plated seven runs to take a commanding 9-2 lead that Ryan Pressly held in the bottom of the ninth.
Valdez Will Bounce Back
It’s no secret that Houston has received basically nothing from its starting pitchers in this series. That hasn’t been helped by Lance McCullers Jr. not being on the ALCS roster due to a forearm injury. The Astros’ starters haven’t been pitching deep into games and have been getting hit very hard. That’s not a good combination.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 20, 2021
Valdez has been one of the main culprits as he went just 2.2 innings in Game 1 — which the Astros actually won — and gave up three runs (two earned) to go with six hits and three walks. It was a very ugly outing that was about as bad as his performance in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Chicago White Sox (4.1 innings, four runs).
That doesn’t sound great for his chances tonight, but Valdez is a much better pitcher than he has shown in just seven playoff innings. He had a 1.88 ERA in four starts (24 innings) in the 2020 postseason and had back-to-back seven-plus inning and one-run starts against Boston in June. He’ll bounce back on Wednesday, just like the Astros’ bullpen did with 7.2 scoreless innings of relief in Game 4.
Once again, the Astros are underdogs so you should take the value and pick Houston straight up if you’re betting online. They needed some kind of boost to get revitalized, both offensively and on the mound, and there’s no better way to do that than to pull off a historic late-game resurgence to stun a sold-out crowd on the road.
What to Expect From Sale?
Sale also hasn’t been especially good in the postseason but he also hasn’t pitched much either, so it’s a lot harder to predict where he’s at both physically and in terms of effectiveness. After a disastrous inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS, Sale was better in Game 1 against the Astros yet he only managed to get through 2.2 innings, giving up five hits and throwing 61 pitches.
He still isn’t getting the swings and misses he typically relies on to get outs and, against the Astros, won’t be expected to rack up the strikeouts because they make so much contact. Houston just isn’t a good matchup for him in the same way that it isn’t a good matchup for any pitcher that needs strikeouts in order to succeed, especially for a lefty in a stadium like Fenway Park.
The MLB playoff odds like Sale to at least give Boston a passable start, but that’s far from a certainty considering how the dormant Astros’ bats woke up in a big way at the end of Game 4. Look for Houston to get going early offensively and knock Sale out after only a few innings.
Cora Can’t Trust Many Relievers
Both teams blew through their bullpens on Tuesday, with Houston’s needing to do a lot more heavy lifting. But, maybe the two most important pitcher usages of the game were Boston’s Garrett Whitlock (26 pitches) and Eovaldi (24 pitches). They have been manager Alex Cora’s most trusted arms, but they failed in Game 4 and are each likely unavailable in relief for Game 5.
Cora took a risk by going with Whitlock for two innings and by using Eovaldi instead of Tanner Houck, for example, and both choices backfired. Whitlock gave up the Altuve home run and Eovaldi gave up the Castro single that started the Boston meltdown.
It’s clear that Cora doesn’t trust most of the guys in his bullpen enough to get high-leverage outs. Yet, he’ll need to do so with guys like Ryan Brasier, Hansel Robles, Houck and Adam Ottavino because his top choices are so heavily worked.
That’s why, as far as MLB picks go, you could do a lot worse than the Astros and the juice.