With Game 4 Rout of White Sox, Astros Cruise to Fifth Straight ALCS

For the fifth consecutive year, the Astros are headed to the American League Championship Series to face an opponent from the AL East. With a 10–1 win over the White Sox in Tuesday’s ALDS Game 4, they eliminated the Central winners and clinched a date with the Red Sox, who knocked out the Rays on Monday. Up for grabs for Houston: the franchise’s third pennant and World Series trip in that span.

Over the first two innings of Game 4, it looked as if the White Sox were going to send the series back to Houston. Starter Carlos Rodón lit up the radar gun in the opening frame, touching as high as 99.4 mph with his fastball on his 10th pitch of the afternoon. Though he had a stellar regular season overall, he struggled with diminished velocity and shoulder soreness down the stretch; starting him seemed like a gamble for the Sox, especially considering the extra day of rest afforded to them by Monday’s rainout. Even Astros skipper Dusty Baker acknowledged that the lefty’s health would play a huge role, telling reporters that Game 4 “all depends on which Rodón we’re facing.”

Rodón’s first two innings weren’t clean — Jose Altuve led off the game with a double, and Carlos Correa started the second with a single — but he looked more like his summertime self, and it looked as if Tony La Russa and the White Sox had made the right call. And when Gavin Sheets took a Lance McCullers Jr. curveball out to center field in the bottom of the second for a solo home run, the sea of black that filled Guaranteed Rate Field’s stands exploded with joy.

That ended up as Chicago’s lone run on the day. Meanwhile, Houston’s backbreaking lineup — the one that led baseball with a 116 wRC+ this season — took care of business starting in the third, knocking Rodón out of the game after just 56 pitches. An innocuous hit by pitch of Altuve (which resulted in a near-standing ovation from the crowd) ended up looming large. Four batters later, after a Michael Brantley fly out and back-to-back walks by Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, Correa delivered Houston’s first punch, taking an elevated 0–2 fastball from Rodón and lining it into left field to make it 2–1 Astros.

With runners on second and third, Michael Kopech came in to clean up the mess — an interesting decision by La Russa, given that he was supposed to be unavailable for Game 4 as recently as Monday. Regardless, he did his job, as Yuli Gurriel grounded out to keep the deficit to a run. The fourth inning, though, is when Houston put things away. Kopech came back out for a wraparound appearance in an attempt to give Chicago some length, but he ended up allowing three more runs. A two-run double from Bregman on a 3–0 count, his first career 3–0 extra-base hit, was the most painful blow.

The Astros didn’t look back, adding single runs in the sixth and eighth innings before tacking on three more in the ninth on an Altuve home run to pad their lead and crush any hopes of a White Sox comeback:

On the mound, McCullers turned in four solid innings to start, facing each White Sox hitter exactly twice before being pulled with what’s being called right forearm soreness. In his two starts, he allowed just one run, finishing the ALDS with a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 innings; in his career, he now holds a 2.83 ERA in 57.1 innings over five different Octobers, with a 26.5% strikeout rate and a 7.7% walk rate, all figures at or better than his career averages. He’s building an impressive postseason résumé, but arm pain of any kind is never what you want from your ace, particularly one with a surgically rebuilt elbow. A healthy McCullers would be lined up to start Game 3 of the ALCS and a winner-take-all Game 7 if necessary; that’s now up in the air.

After McCullers left, the Houston bullpen twirled a near-spotless performance, surrendering just two hits over the final five innings. It helped that by the time Yimi García entered to start the fifth, he and his fellow relievers had been given a four-run lead, making their assignment fairly simple and stress-free, especially as the offense continued to pile on the runs.

Houston had the game well in control after Bregman’s double, but Chicago’s bullpen — particularly its best arms — kept killing the team’s hopes for a rally: Ryan Tepera allowed a run in the sixth, Craig Kimbrel allowed one in the eighth, and Liam Hendriks served up Altuve’s three-run blast in the ninth. While the White Sox assembled arguably the most talented bullpen of any team in the postseason, that group had issues throughout the series, particularly in Game 2, when a five-run seventh against Kimbrel and top lefty Aaron Bummer gave Houston the 2–0 series lead. But it was the offense that ultimately cost the White Sox, who had just seven hits and only two for extra bases, both by Sheets. They only took four plate appearances with runners in scoring position the entire game, going 0-for-2 with two walks.

With the win, the Astros head to the ALCS once again. Game 1 will be on Friday in Houston.

Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.

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1 year ago

The most logical explanation at this point is that the Astros have been cheating their asses off even after the report came out.

1 year ago
Reply to  fredsbank

Yes that’s clearly the most logical explanation. Couldn’t be that they’re just really good at baseball

1 year ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

The Astros cheating paradox – when they lose, well it’s a lot harder to hit when you don’t know what’s coming! When they win, well they’re obviously still cheating!

1 year ago
Reply to  Fozzz

It’s almost like the Astros just can’t catch a break…

1 year ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

The last time they weren’t cheating, 2016, they were just okay. A few games over .500. They’ve gained more from cheating than they ever could have from talent, because they’ve been given carte blanche by Manfred, too big a coward to punish them.

You think they just stopped one day in 2018 out of the sudden goodness of their souls, I have some lovely beachfront property in Wyoming you may be interested in buying.

1 year ago
Reply to  fredsbank

Surely replacing guys like Luis Valbuena, Colby Rasmus, Chris Carter and Evan Gattis with Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, etc. has nothing to do with the team improving since 2016.

Did you sign up for a membership by accident? Have you seen a baseball?

1 year ago
Reply to  fredsbank

This pains me as a White Sox fan, but it seems like the most logical explanation is a team which struggled to beat good teams throughout the course of the season also struggled to beat one specific good team the necessary three times in a five-game series – or, in this case, more than one time before the other could win three times.

In many ways, the Astros and their particular skills were a worse head-to-head matchup for the White Sox than other AL teams may have been. The good news for Chicago is their window is still opening as opposed to closing.