Houston Routs Texas in Game 4 to Tie ALCS at Two Games Apiece

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For the second night in a row, Houston’s bats came alive, powering the Astros to a 10-3 win in Game 4. The outcome of the game was only briefly in doubt, and by the middle innings, the Rangers had the mop-up crew on the mound to finish things off. With the series now tied at two games, the Astros have at least guaranteed that if they have to make a last stand in the ALCS, it will come back home.

Just over a day ago, the Rangers and their fans had to feel pretty good about where they stood: up two games to none, with Max Scherzer returning to start at home. ZiPS had the series at that point as nearly 80-20 in favor of Texas. The computer wasn’t working against consensus here; the simple truth of the matter is that having to win four of five games against any team is quite tricky. But the latest chapter of the Mad Max saga turned out to be a forgettable direct-to-DVD release, and Thursday night’s game was enough to put the Rangers back at square one in the ALCS.

The run-scoring started quickly. Jose Altuve pulled a changeup down the line for a double and Mauricio Dubón blooped a single on a similar changeup to move Altuve to third. Andrew Heaney tried to get Alex Bregman out on fastballs high and outside, but the third one strayed too far into the zone and Bregman cleared the bases with a a deep triple to right-center. Heaney was actually rather fortunate that things didn’t go downhill faster; his next pitch was a fastball right down the middle that only resulted in a Yordan Alvarez single, while José Abreu chopped a crushable changeup right into the ground. From this point on, Heaney tried to nibble his way out of the jam with fastballs and a couple sliders that Javier Báez wouldn’t have swung at, resulting in a near-walk to Kyle Tucker and an actual one to Chas McCormick.

That was enough for the Rangers, who brought in Dane Dunning a few innings sooner than they anticipated. As far as I’m aware, nobody was lamenting Heaney’s quick hook. Dunning nearly walked Jeremy Peña on a couple sliders of his own before allowing an infield single to load the bases, but Martín Maldonado, unsurprisingly, ended up being easier prey.

The Rangers started their half of the first already down by three, but that’s hardly an insurmountable lead, and it could easily have been a lot worse given how the top of the inning went. Texas chipped away with an Adolis García solo shot to start off the second. A Mitch Garver walk, a Nathaniel Lowe double, and a sacrifice fly from Josh Jung scored a second run. Corey Seager’s homer in the third tied things up.

After two more singles in the third, Astros starter José Urquidy was pulled, and it’s not hard to understand why. His locations all night weren’t great and the Rangers basically ignored his breaking pitches. None of the 14 slider/sweepers and curves he threw resulted in whiffs, and Rangers’ hitters watched all but two of his sliders finish outside the strike zone. While Urquidy was arguably unlucky on a couple of the hits — Lowe’s lazy fly ball double went to one of the few locations it wouldn’t be easily fielded — the Rangers weren’t fooled and it was likely just a matter of time until more crooked numbers went up on the scoreboard.

The jubilation of getting back the runs from the first was short-lived. To begin the fourth, Dunning walked Maldonado after an 0-2 count, something the latter only managed to do four times in 2023. Next, Dunning was all over the place against Altuve, allowing another walk and a quick single to Dubón to load the bases.

After a Bregman strikeout, Texas made one of my least favorite moves of the night, bringing in Cody Bradford to face Alvarez. Bradford was effective in his previous two postseason appearances, but this was a higher-leverage situation with runners on and the Rangers still had a win expectancy at that moment of about 39%. There was no particular situational scenario in which you’d expect Bradford to be especially effective. Both Alvarez and Tucker (the third batter due up) hit left-handed, but both have much smaller platoon split tendencies than the typical left-handed hitter. Nor was Bradford, who has historically had reverse platoon splits in the minors (likely thanks to a very good changeup but no killer breaking pitch), a particularly potent matchup against Abreu. This was an extremely high-leverage situation that called for a better reliever than a rookie with a seasonal FIP near five.

Alvarez had his best golf swing against a low changeup from Bradford, crushing it over 400 feet, a sacrifice fly only because it was hit to the deepest part of the park. If Alvarez didn’t get his grand slam, Abreu basically finished it for him with a three-run shot to left-center, giving Houston a 7-3 lead:

Houston wasn’t done scoring, with a McCormick two-run shot in the seventh and an RBI single from Alvarez in the eighth getting the tally into double digits. Texas didn’t make things particularly interesting, as Hunter Brown proved to be considerably more effective than Urquidy. Phil Maton and Rafael Montero finished things off, and Texas didn’t get a runner even to second base after the fifth inning.

So, what now? Despite the deflating losses at home, the Rangers are still in a strong position to take the ALCS. ZiPS thinks the Astros are the slightly better team, so a de facto three-game series is better for Texas than a seven-game series. Both teams reset their rotations for Game 5, and the Astros are probably extremely happy to be able to go Justin VerlanderFramber ValdezCristian Javier. Jordan Montgomery is slated for Game 5 and Nathan Eovaldi will almost certainly be Texas’ starter in Game 6, but I’d be uneasy about Scherzer in Game 7 given his rather underwhelming performance on Wednesday. Still, I’m not sure there’s actually a better option available; neither Heaney or Dunning made a remotely convincing case for a quick comeback for a Game 7, and the concerns about Scherzer would equally apply to Jon Gray.

The Texas Series continues later today.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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baubo
7 months ago

> With the series now tied at two games, the Astros have at least guaranteed that if they have to make a last stand in the ALCS, it will come back home.

Which, for the Astros both this regular season and postseason, has clearly not been a good thing. If this continues, it may be a fun offseason article to see how much of an outlier this is historically.