Houston Astros

Astros have the ALCS locked up after Game 4 victory over the Yankees

The Houston Astros still have a game left to win, but the competitive portion of the ALCS came to an end in Game 4 on Thursday.

The rain delay that moved back Game 4 of the ALCS to Thursday only postponed the inevitable, and that is that the Houston Astros are simply too much for the New York Yankees.

The Astros are now a game away from advancing to the World Series for the second time in three seasons with a 8-3 win at Yankee Stadium that was never in doubt after the third inning. George Springer and Carlos Correa hit three-run home runs to lead the offense while starting pitcher Zack Greinke gave up one earned run in 4.1 innings to give the Astros a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Game 4 was the game the Yankees needed to win. The pitching matchup was in their favor; the rain delay meant that Masahiro Tanaka, who gave up only one hit in New York’s Game 1 victory, could return on regular rest instead of relief pitcher Chad Green. The losing pitcher in that first game was Greinke, whom Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn to instead of rookie Jose Urquidy and a host of relievers.

It didn’t work out as the Yankees planned and instead leaves them facing nearly impossible odds. They loaded the bases in the first inning but brought home only one run. That was all they could manage against Greinke, who retired nine straight batters at one point and pitched into the fifth inning. Gary Sanchez snapped out of his postseason-long drought with a two-run home run in the sixth, but by then it was a case of too little, too late.

Sanchez’s struggles mirror those of the rest of the Yankees hitters this series. The Astros pitching staff has managed to extinguish the Bronx Bombers, the league’s highest-scoring offense during the regular season. Sanchez is 2-17. Edwin Encarnacion is 1-15, and Didi Gregorius is 2-15. The Yankees as a team are just 4-26 (.154) with runners in scoring position after leading the league with a .294 average in the regular season.

Since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985, six teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit, most recently the San Francisco Giants in 2012. But if the Yankees hope to pull it off, they will have to beat the best two pitchers in baseball over the next two games.

The situation for the Astros couldn’t be better. They have Justin Verlander ready to start Game 5 on Friday. Verlander already beat the Yankees in Game 2, pitching into the seventh inning and giving up only a two-run home run to Aaron Judge.

On the off chance that Verlander doesn’t get the job done, then the Astros will have a decision to make: bring back Gerrit Cole on three days’ rest for Game 6, or start Urquidy and save Cole for a potential Game 7?

The temptation will be to go with Cole. The right-hander is already 3-0 this postseason with a 0.40 ERA in three starts. In the LCS era, only Kenny Rogers (2006), Matt Cain (2010) and Verlander (2013) had a lower ERA in a postseason with at least 20 innings pitched. The Astros haven’t lost a game started by Cole since July 12. He’s 16-0 in his last 22 starts since the end of May.

Next: 3 things the Yankees must do to win Game 5

The Yankees have to hope that both Verlander and Cole falter to have any chance of coming back in this series. That’s wishful thinking at best, and the Astros can be pretty confident they’ll be playing the Washington Nationals in the World Series next week.

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