Putting Justin Verlander on the hill on three days rest seemed the obvious choice. Put your staff ace out there and nip this series in the bud. But Tampa Bay had other ideas. Verlander lasted only three-and-two-thirds innings giving up four runs. The Astros bats were, once again, anemic. And Game 4 ended in a 4-1 loss as the Astros now face a fifth and final game at Minute Maid Park on Thursday.
Tropicana Field may as well be a graveyard where the Astros go to die. They have been awful in Tampa Bay and that continued on Tuesday with the only run coming on a solo homer from Robinson Chirinos. George Springer had his first two hits of the series, while Michael Brantley continued his postseason struggles. Alex Bregman and rookie Yordan Alvarez lead the team in batting average, but no one has been good in the ALDS.
Unfortunately, the combination of the lack of hitting mixed with Verlander's rough night was enough to give the Rays a win despite (on the bright side) the Astros bullpen, which went five-and-a-third scoreless innings, allowing only four hits. By then, however, the damage was done.
Enough about Game 4 and Tropicana Field, though. That place is clearly filled with bad juju for the Astros, so let's put that behind us.
Now, they come back to Houston for Game 5 and hand the ball to Gerrit Cole, who will go on four days rest. With a day off in between, the relief staff should be at close to full strength, but it won't matter if the Astros bats don't get going.
The last time the Astros looked this bad hitting in the postseason, they were getting worked over by Braves pitching. Given how good this lineup is, you would think they won't remain this bad for long, but if they don't figure it out in a couple days, they'll have an entire winter to contemplate what was.
No doubt Cole gives them their best shot to close out this series, but he, like Verlander, is going on three days rest. And even if they do win, the Yankees are waiting around while the Astros keep working and Game 1 against New York would likely feature Zack Greinke, who was rocked by Tampa Bay on Monday.
For the first time this year, the 'Stros look very vulnerable. At least they are done with Tropicana Field for this season.