This American League Championship Series is now going to have the drama everyone originally expected.
Wednesday’s Game 5 at Fenway Park will decide which team will go to Houston for Game 6 and 7 (if necessary) in the driver’s seat.
Adding some drama is that the Red Sox will have lefty Chris Sale on the mound, and the seven-time All-Star has struggled mightily in his last three starts. In a rematch of Game 1, the Astros will counter with lefty Framber Valdez, who got only eight outs in that 5-4 victory for Houston.
“We all know what we’ve got ahead of us … and the series tied, 2-2,” said Sale. “Big game, obviously, [Wednesday] and going back to Houston is guaranteed now. So taking this last one at home right before we get on that plane and head down to Houston will be big.”
What might the starting lineups look like?
Astros: Don’t expect Astros manager Dusty Baker to change up his offense too much against Sale. The Astros have crushed left-handed pitchers this year, but they managed just one run and five hits against Sale in 2 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the ALCS. The only question will be who will start in center. Jake Meyers was originally in the lineup for Game 4 before a late switch to Chas McCormick:
Red Sox: Boston’s surging lineup at last cooled off in Game 4, generating just five hits. The Red Sox didn’t score in the final eight innings, giving them motivation to bounce back before another revved-up Boston crowd in Game 5:
Who are the starting pitchers?
Astros: Valdez (0-0, 7.71 in postseason), one of the Astros’ stronger starters in the second half of the regular season, will get the ball for Game 5. The left-hander has struggled in the series, though, allowing three runs (two earned) in 2 2/3 innings in the Astros’ eventual win over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALCS. The Astros will need length from him as they attempt to take a lead in the series, and they could get that from Valdez, who threw 64 pitches in his prior outing. This will be Valdez’s third postseason start. He allowed four runs over 4 1/3 innings in the Astros’ 9-4 win over the White Sox in Game 2 of the ALDS.
Red Sox: Sale (0-0, 14.73 in postseason) will be out to avenge one of the worst stretches of his career at a time his team needs him most. Over his two starts in this postseason, Sale has recorded a total of just 11 outs, giving up nine hits and six runs. He also took an early knockout in Game 162, coming out after recording just seven outs at Washington. However, Sale seems determined to get back on track and has been working tirelessly on ironing out his mechanics. This will be the first time Sale has pitched at Fenway since Sept. 22, and he went 5-0 with a 2.48 ERA in six home starts this season.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter? Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Astros: After throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 4, the Astros’ bullpen could be rather short-handed for Game 5. Cristian Javier (57 pitches in Game 4) and Kendall Graveman (30 pitches) are likely out, though Baker said Ryne Stanek and Ryan Pressly (22 pitches in Game 4) are “relatively fresh.” Yimi García didn’t pitch in Game 4. Lefties Brooks Raley and Blake Taylor would also be available, along with Phil Maton (11 pitches in Game 4).
Red Sox: Rookie Tanner Houck, who has electric stuff, should play a key role in Game 5. He hasn’t pitched since giving up a game-tying, two-run homer to Altuve in Game 1. Houck can give the Red Sox bulk innings if needed. Garrett Whitlock, Boston’s top reliever, pitched two innings in Game 4, giving up a game-tying homer to Altuve. He threw 26 pitches, and it will be interesting to see if Cora thrusts him back into action a day later. Ryan Brasier didn’t pitch the last two games, and Cora often trusts the righty in high-leverage situations. Hansel Robles, who tossed a scoreless inning in Game 3, is someone else you might see.
Any injuries of note?
Astros: The only question is whether Meyers’ ailing left shoulder will have him well enough to be in the lineup for the first time in the ALCS.
Red Sox: Everyone is healthy except for righty Garrett Richards, who isn’t on the roster due to a left hamstring strain.
Who is hot and who is not?
Astros: After that ninth inning in Game 4, who’s not hot? This would be a good time, however, to speculate that Jason Castro, the catalyst of the Astros’ rally, might get a start behind the plate in place of Martín Maldonado, even with the left-handed Sale starting for Boston. And a hat tip goes to Jose Altuve, who sprung to life with a solo homer in the eighth inning of Game 4, knotting it up at 2.
Red Sox: It was a good sign for the Red Sox that All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts mashed a two-run homer and a double high off the wall in center field in Game 4. He had been quiet in the series. Though Hernández had a quiet night (1-for-5) at last, he is still someone the Astros will be leery of. The right-handed hitter is hitting .463 with five homers and nine RBIs in 41 at-bats this postseason. You’ve got to think that Renfroe is going to bust out at some point. The veteran right fielder bashed 31 homers and had 96 RBIs in the regular season. In this series, he is 1-for-11. Renfroe has just one RBI this postseason. He excels against lefties, so Game 5 could be his day against Valdez.
Anything else fans might want to know?
With another home run in Game 4, the Red Sox have clubbed 21 round-trippers across their first nine games of the 2021 postseason. That’s the second most across a team’s first nine games in mlb history, trailing only the 2004 Astros, who had 22. Boston’s 21 homers are already a new franchise record for a single postseason.
Rafael Devers is now riding an eight-game hitting streak dating back to Game 1 of the ALDS. During that span, he has collected seven runs, 11 hits, four homers and 11 RBIs. He is the fourth player in Boston’s postseason history to record at least 11 hits, four homers and 11 RBIs across an eight-game span within a single postseason, joining Manny Ramirez (2007), David Ortiz (2004) and John Valentin (1999).
The Red Sox are now 3-8 all time in Game 4 of the ALCS, while the Astros are 3-2 all-time in Game 4 of the ALCS.
Altuve has three game-tying or go-ahead postseason homers in the eighth inning or later — second most all time behind only Bernie Williams, who had four. The homer was also the 35th extra-base hit of Altuve’s postseason career, tied with Jorge Posada for sixth most in mlb postseason history, trailing Derek Jeter (57), Williams (51), Ramirez (48), Ortiz (41) and Albert Pujols (38).