To go 11-0 in the Major League Baseball playoffs is an almost impossible task. With most of the 2019 division series in the books, there was only one sweep among four series, and both NL matchups have already been pushed to five games. Of the teams still duking it out in the current round, the Astros have by far the most enviable position, and yet, coming off a 10-3 loss somewhere in the general vicinity of Tampa, FL, fan confidence seems to have taken a tumble.
The Astros haven’t played to their fullest potential through three games, that much I’ll grant, but nonetheless they hold a 2-1 series lead, with a potential game five on their home turf. Much of the frustration seems to be centered on Zack Greinke, who failed to deliver in a potential clincher yesterday and has been up and down since coming over at the trade deadline. The suggestions I’ve seen that Greinke doesn’t have it between the ears are nonsense, but I can understand disappointment at his results thus far in a Houston uniform.
I’ll also grant that the offense hasn’t clicked in the series against the Rays to this point- what I can’t fathom is why anybody would be worried about this team going forward in the postseason. After falling behind early yesterday, the Astros didn’t have to use their optimal bullpen and now enter game 4 with Justin Verlander on the hill and AJ Hinch’s top choices available to relieve, including Jose Urquidy who could be in line to throw multiple innings today depending on how deep into the contest Verlander is able to go.
While pitching on short rest is something that Verlander has little to no experience with, I expect him to perform well today given his style of pitching. Although it would be unreasonable to expect Verlander to be able to deliver his typical 7-8 inning outing, it’s incredibly rare to see his quality of stuff diminish at a high pitch count, so I expect that he’ll have his best stuff, or at least close to it, on three days rest. The offense hasn’t broken the dam yet this October, but nobody in the core lineup other than maybe Springer appears to be pressing, and much of their lack of scoring in the first three contests can be attributed to unlucky sequencing of events. The hits, largely, have been there, and much of the lineup has consistently taken high quality at bats.
Game 3 was certainly a disappointment- but the way I see it, everything is going according to plan. All season, our hope as fans has been to see the Astros enter the playoffs with a healthy lineup and to watch them ride Verlander and Cole to glory- as far as I am concerned, so far, so good. The playoff lineup is one we rarely got to see at full strength during the regular season- the Astros patience with their injured players has paid off. Carlos Correa looks 100% and has given the team a boost on both sides of the ball, Yordan Alvarez has worked his way out of a short September slump, Yuli Gurriel is once again cold as ice at the plate on the game’s biggest stage, and Alex Bregman looks locked in at the dish even if he hasn’t made the cleanest contact so far in the ALDS.
The Astros took a bad loss yesterday, but that’s not the worst thing for them going forward. A hard-fought loss in the postseason is generally more costly than a blowout, as bullpen rest can become a key factor as series go on. Even if you find yourself frustrated with Zack Greinke, it might be time to take a deep breath and remind yourself that, A) this is more or less exactly how the team drew things up- today we enter game 4, with a 2-1 lead and Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole primed to start the next two contests, and B) he was opposed by Charlie Morton yesterday, likely the best pitcher in the AL who isn’t an Astro. And remember, the Astros dropped game three of the 2017 ALDS with a 2-0 lead, also, before closing it out at Fenway Park in game four. The Rays did their job at a high level yesterday and brought home a win- chances are, to advance in the postseason, they’ll have to play at an even higher level, and even with a great performance by Morton, their pen saw significant work in game three, just as it did in the first two. Let’s play ball.