What pitchers will the Astros turn to in Game 4 and 5?

By Rich Zwelling
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HOUSTON - According to the National Weather Service, the skies will be opening up on Wednesday night in the Bronx, potentially raining out Game 4 of the ALCS series between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there is still a 90-plus percent chance of showers. AJ Hinch has indicated that this doesn't affect his thinking for Game 3 on Tuesday afternoon. 

But it could have a significant impact on who pitches Game 4 if it's postponed to Thursday night. Specifically, an extra day of rest would allow Zach Greinke to pitch Game 4 instead of Game 5. Greinke would replace the anticipated start of rookie Jose Urquidy, and he would likely be pitted in a Game 1 rematch with Yankee right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. 

Here's where things get interesting, though. Game 5 would then be played on Friday, superseding the normal travel day for both teams. That means if the series goes seven games, Games 4 through 7 would be played on consecutive days: two days in Yankee Stadium and two days in Minute Maid Park with no days of rest. 

So let's look at potential outcomes in a rain-soaked series: 

Astros win today: If the Astros win today, they have a 2 games to 1 lead and the home-field advantage for the rest of the series. That leaves them with more flexibility over the next two games. Hinch could still start Urquidy for Game 4 and make it a bullpen day, and if the Astros win, they have a 3-1 lead and a choice of either Greinke or Justin Verlander to start Game 5. Or, Hinch could use Greinke in Game 4, and if he gets the 3-1 lead, then he has the choice to either make Game 5 a bullpen game -- knowing that he has two home games, and Gerrit Cole, as insurance -- or call up Verlander to close the deal.

Astros lose today: If the Astros lose, things get more complicated. They'd now be down 2 games to 1 and would need to win at least one game at Yankee Stadium to ensure a return to Minute Maid Park. If Wednesday is rained out, that increases the odds that Greinke would take the mound for Game 4. If the Astros win that, they'd be tied 2-2.

Series tied 2-2: Hinch would have some interesting choices to make, knowing that Games 5 through 7 would be played on consecutive days. The downside to losing Game 5 at Yankee Stadium would obviously be going down 3 games to 2 and facing elimination. The upside would be that the Astros would still be able to come home for the remainder of the series. And Hinch would have to decide if those two games would be pitched by Verlander and Cole. 

If Game 4 ended up being a bullpen day, no worries because Greinke pitches Game 5. But if Greinke pitches Game 4, do you pitch the bullpen game in Game 5? Or do you bring in Verlander? The problem with pitching Verlander in that situation is: who would then pitch Game 6? Because Cole would be on three days rest, and you'd certainly want to save him for a potential Game 7 anyway. 

This is why I wonder if Hinch might make Game 4 a bullpen day anyway if the Astros win tonight. That would line up a Greinke-Verlander-Cole triple threat for the business end of the series.

Astros lose today and lose Game 4: Do we have to do this? Fine, we'd rather not think about it, but if this happens, we'd be down 3 games to 1 and would have to win three games in a row with no defeats. It also most likely would've meant that Greinke pitched Game 4. 

That means Verlander pitches Game 5 in a must-win game, end of the story. If he wins, I'm guessing Urquidy would take the mound for Game 6 (again, remember that Cole would be on three days rest) for a bullpen day that Hinch would hope pans out. If the Astros made it, they'd, of course, hand the ball to Cole for Game 7.

Let's try not to think about this last one, OK?

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