For as good as the Astros were in the regular season, and they were very good, their 107-win season comes down to a winner-take-all game five at Minute Maid Park Thursday. They played right down to the final few games of the season to earn home field advantage and they will need it. The Rays have shut down the Astros' potent lineup and gotten just enough run support to make games close or win them.
From the outset, this was not a great match-up for the Astros and it will come down to an elimination game with the Yankees waiting for the winner. Here are four things to keep your eyes on.
Gerrit Cole on Four Days Rest
The Astros will put Cole on the bump for game five after throwing Justin Verlander on three days rest Tuesday, which didn't work out so well. The extra day should be help to the ace pitcher who seems to get better the longer he goes in an outing. The Astros bullpen (minus Wade Miley) was solid Tuesday and has been mostly reliable so far. But they will need another dominant effort from Cole in this one — maybe not the 15 strikeout variety from his last start, but it wouldn't hurt.
Charlie Morton's Revenge II
The former Astros pitcher put it on his old teammates in Game 3 and he will be available out of the bullpen on Thursday. Astros fans remember his heroic bullpen performance to clinch the World Series and he remains unbeaten in postseason elimination games. Let's hope his availability won't even matter for Tampa.
Getting the first run or two on the board is critical for the Astros. It will help to mitigate the Rays bullpen, which is so good and includes Morton. The sooner they can put runs on the board against this Tampa team, the better.
At some point, George Springer and Michael Brantley, two of the best offensive players in the American League this year, have to snap out of their ALDS funk. Maybe that doesn't happen until the ALCS, assuming they get there, but having a breakout night in game five would be a welcome change. In truth, only Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel have had good plate appearances in this series and Jose Altuve isn't far behind. But as potent as the Astros have been all year, they need to dial up some of that power for Game 5 or it will have been wasted.