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Astros in Must-Win Territory

Greinke Needs to Solve Sizzling Offense of Red Sox

The Houston Astros, down 2-1 to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, are reeling and desperately need to stop the bleeding after they were blown out 12-3 in Game 3 on Monday night.

Grasping for straws in a rotation beset by injuries and underperformance, Dusty Baker is turning to veteran Zack Greinke, who has been a little-used member of the bullpen in the postseason, for a critical start. He’ll go against Boston’s Nick Pivetta in Game 4 on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

Nick Pivetta of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the tenth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays
Winslow Townson/Getty Images/AFP

Since their come-from-behind win in Game 1, everything has gone wrong for the Astros. Basically, nothing went right in Game 3 as José Urquidy was blitzed for six runs (five earned) in the second inning and the relievers that followed him didn’t do much better.

The turning point of the game was when the Red Sox had the bases loaded and Christian Arroyo hit a top-spin grounder right at normally sure-handed José Altuve that could have been turned into a double play. Instead, it bounced right off Altuve’s chest into center field, allowing a run to score and extending the inning.

The next batter, Kyle Schwarber, hit a grand slam — Boston’s third in the last two games — to make it 6-0 and put the game out of reach.

Houston’s defense has been a strong suit all season and for the entire run of its core group, but it has made a bunch of costly mistakes in this series that certainly hasn’t helped an already-struggling pitching staff. The Astros will really need to clean things up on Tuesday.

The first pitch of Game 4 is at 8:08 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Red Sox as -127 moneyline favorites while the Astros are +117. MLB playoff odds have the over/under at 10 runs.

Greinke Not Asked to Do Much

Baker will need to treat this game like an elimination game considering that if the Astros lose, they’ll be facing a 3-1 deficit that only 14 teams in history have successfully come back from. If there’s any positives from Monday’s debacle, it’s that Houston didn’t use Kendall Graveman or Ryan Pressly, who have been their best relievers.

The regular-season numbers (4.16 ERA, 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings, 30 home runs in 171 innings) for Greinke are troubling, for sure, but he was useful in the 2020 postseason and still has that level of craftiness that could keep hitters off-balance one or two times through the order.

Houston won’t look for Greinke to do a whole lot more than that against a red-hot Boston lineup that has been tearing the cover off the ball. He’ll just need to give the Astros a few solid frames to allow the offense to get to Pivetta and shorten the game for the bullpen.

So, take the Astros straight up if you’re betting online. No, they aren’t playing well at all right now but they’re still loaded offensively and will not go down without a fight in this series.

Pivetta a Wild Card

After multiple up-and-down years with the Philadelphia Phillies, Pivetta hit his stride with the Red Sox in 2021, putting together his best year in the major leagues. The ERA (4.53) was a little high, but he was durable (30 starts, 155 innings), struck out a lot of batters (over 10 per nine innings), and managed to do a better job limiting home runs than he had in years (1.4 per nine innings).

However, his control issues persisted as his walk rate (3.8 free passes per nine innings) was his highest since his rookie season. That was a big reason he gave up as many runs as he did since he held opponents to a .234 batting average. His inconsistency has carried over to the playoffs. He made two appearances against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS — one poor long relief outing (in Game 1) and one nearly perfect long relief outing (in Game 3) in which he shut the Rays out for the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th innings.

It’s up in the air whether the Game 1 Pivetta (two home runs in 4.2 innings) or Game 3 Pivetta (seven strikeouts in four scoreless innings) will show up on Tuesday night. The MLB lines think Pivetta will pitch well enough because they are considering the Red Sox to be sizable favorites, but that’s a risky proposition knowing how good the Astros’ offense is, even if it has been held down for the last few games.

Consider the Under

Runs haven’t necessarily been at a premium in the ALCS, with both pitching staffs, and especially the starters, struggling to get outs at times. But, if the Astros are going to win this game and climb back into this series, they’re going to need Greinke and their bullpen, which has been a strength this season, to figure things out and return to form.

That’s never easy in the bandbox that is Fenway Park, especially when the Red Sox have been playing like world-beaters as of late. Still, though, Houston’s recent pitching issues are the exception and not the norm, and there is a lot of baseballs left. Look for Houston’s arms to turn things around somewhat on Tuesday night and for the very high over/under number (10 runs) to not be eclipsed. That’s an unusual mark for a playoff game when runs tend to be harder to come by.

If you’re looking for MLB picks, take the Astros and the Under. It’s not often that you can get a such good value on such a good team just to win and that you take under double-digit runs in the postseason. Those opportunities are too good to pass up.

Pick: Houston Astros +117

Pick: Under 10 runs (-115)

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