The Astros lead the ALDS 2-1 with two games left to play.
Nonetheless, questions arise.
Is Zack Greinke really that third playoff ace the Astros traded a chunk of their future for? Today he allowed three home runs and six earned runs in only 3.2 innings pitched. Of course, he has been an ace in a long and illustrious career, but now he barely throws 90 MPH. His 3.02 ERA with the Astros comes with an asterisk. The only good hitting team he was successful against in those 10 games was the Oakland A’s, twice.
Of course, one bad outing doesn’t prove someone is a bad pitcher, but in his two most recent playoff games in 2017, Greinke allowed seven earned runs in 8.2 innings.
Suddenly Greinke becomes a big question.
And if Greinke is a question, another naturally arises. Do the Astros have even one legitimate starter after Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole?
If the answer is no, then a third question arises. Can the Astros go all the way on the strength of just two starters, no matter how ace, and a very limited number of dependable relievers?
Another question. Will the three outfield positions, two of whom bat first and third in the batting order, start getting hits soon enough? So far the outfield is hitting 2 for 35. And in this series, as was the case all season, the team batting average with runners in scoring position lags the team’s league leading overall batting average.
The Astros are 6 for 27 with RISP, a .222 average. So long as Verlander and Cole are dealing, that’s good enough. And the Astros needed more than a few clutch hits to win this latest game after today’s pitching meltdown, Still, given the lack of pitching depth the Astros have shown thus far, one would naturally think better production from the outfielders and better clutch hitting would be necessary going forward.
Mind you, these are just questions. Questions exposed by today’s humiliating defeat. The answers remain to be answered as this series, and hopefully the next series proceeds.
But if the answer to these questions turns out to be no, the Astros are in trouble going forward.
And one more big question, better left answered for the off-season: Was the failure to re-sign Charlie Morton a huge, Carlos Gomez-esque mistake?
Charlie Morton has won four playoff games in his baseball career. All four were games in which his team faced elimination. The Rays, down 2-0, were not eliminated today, as Morton stifled the Astros’ offense for five innings, while the Rays exploded on Zack Greinke and the relievers who followed him.
The only run Morton allowed was a first inning home run to Jose Altuve. Morton allowed three hits, two walks and struck out nine Astros in five innings. He left the game leading 8-1.
This was what Morton showed the Astros today.
Here’s the Altuve homer.
The Astros would add their other two runs on a two RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the sixth inning off Chaz Roe. This would score Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, who doubled in front of Gurriel.
Meanwhile, it seemed like batting practice for the Rays, perhaps further testimony to how good Verlander and Cole are.
Greinke started out with great promise. He struck out the first two batters he faced on six pitches. The third out came on a grounder on an 0-1 count. Greinke did not throw a ball in the first inning.
Maybe that was the problem. In the second inning Kevin Kiermaier took Greinke deep, scoring Avisail Garcia and Travis D’Arnaud, who was hit by a pitch.
In the third Ji-Man Choi added a solo homer, giving the rays a 4-1 lead.
In the fourth inning the heavens opened. Brandon Lowe hit a solo homer, followed by a Willy Adames walk, which chased Greinke. Matt Duffy singled off Miley’s relief, Hector Rondon, whom AJ Hinch removed in favor of lefty and former starter Wade Miley. Miley then gave up a two-run double to Austin Meadows.
In the sixth the Rays would tack on another run against Miley with an Adames solo homer.
The final line on Greinke would be 3.2 IP, 5 hits, 6 ER, 5 Ks, 14.73 ERA.
Miley’s line: 2.2 IP, 4 hits, 2 ER, 1 K, 6.75 ERA.
The Rays would add another run in the seventh after Avisail Garcia reached first on a throwing error charged to Alex Bregman. Brandon Lowe advanced Garcia to third with a single, and he would score on a D’Arnaud sacrifice fly.
Tomorrow the Astros play Game Four in St. Petersburg at a time still to be determined.
So are the pitchers.
Does Verlander start on short rest? Does Urquidy start with Verlander waiting in the wings at the first sign of trouble? Is there an inning limit on Verlander if he does pitch, leaving the fate of the game to the so far questionable bullpen?
Tomorrow’s a new day. Baseball and all.
Box score and videos HERE.
editor’s note: Verlander has been announced as the starter for Tuesday’s game.