The jekyll and hyde Texas Rangers allowed the Astros to walk away with the win in game four Thursday night 10-3. It was a competitive game for about three innings and then the Astros offense took off and the Rangers offense stalled. The series is now tied and a lot of that is because of the performance of the starting pitchers and the pitching staff as a whole the last two games. The main issue for the staff right now is too many free passes in situations where they cannot afford to do that. I want to look at why Andrew Heaney failed so massively and how it led to the biggest at-bat of the night.
The spectacular failure of Andrew Heaney
Texas entered this game having lost their first game of the postseason in game three. They were looking for a quick rebound and sent Heaney to the mound to get it started. Texas desperately needed Heaney to put a zero in the first inning. Four batters into the game and Houston had scored three runs. Bochy had to scramble to get Dane Dunning warming up in the first inning. Heaney recorded two outs and then walked Chas McCormick. Bochy came out and brought in Dunning.
Texas needed more from Heaney. The only chance Texas has at winning games against Houston is to get length from their starters. It was not expected that Heaney would go six like Montgomery and Eovaldi. Texas needed to get six innings combined from Heaney and Dunning. Then hand a lead over to the late inning bullpen options. Instead Heaney pitched 2/3rd of an inning and Dunning pitch 2 2/3rd innings. They combined for 4 1/3 innings and gave up six runs, with four walks combined, and four strikeouts.
Texas had a spirited comeback capped by a Corey Seager home run that tied the game in the third. The crowd was back in the game. Carter and Garcia followed up with singles that led to Dusty Baker taking Jose Urquidy out of the game. Garver then stepped up and hit into a double play to end the inning. Now it was officially a bullpen game and could Texas hold down this mighty Astros lineup in a game of bullpens?
The most important at-bat of the night
In the top of the fourth after Texas had fought back to tie the game, Dunning faced Martin Maldonado to start the inning. The whole game turned on this at-bat. Dunning started off with two straight strikes against Maldonado and was one strike away from starting off the fourth with an out. Dunning was trying to strike out Maldonado rather than just get him out. He threw a slider down and way out of the strike zone and then three sinkers that were on the edge of the strike zone that were all called balls. If he throws the ball in the strike zone he probably gets the out, but he let perfect be the enemy of good and it led to a walk.
It got worse from there. He then followed up with a walk of Altuve where nearly every pitch was well outside the zone. Now he was in danger with Yordan Alvarez lurking and runners on base. Dubon followed with a single to load the bases. Fortunately Dunning was able to strike out Alex Bregman. That is when Bochy summoned Cody Bradford out of the bullpen to face Alvarez.
The rookie did the best he could. He battled with the postseason monster and forced him into a sac fly to deep center field that gave Houston the lead. Then he had to face Jose Abreu. The former MVP took the sixth pitch that missed its location over the heart of the plate deep and out to left center that scored three runs. The game was tied to start the inning, but walks led Houston to score four runs that inning to go up 7-3. For all intents and purposes the game was over at that point.
Free passes come with a cost against the Astros
Texas wins when the pitching staff is not walking batters. A complicated game boiled down to its simplest form. In the first two games of this series Texas did an outstanding job forcing Houston to earn their way on base. Houston still scored four runs in game two, but three of those were on solo home runs. Montgomery, Eovaldi, and the bullpen did an outstanding job controlling the strike zone and not walking batters. They walked two batters in game one and three batters in game two.
In games three and four it has been a completely different story. They walked four batters in game three. In game four Texas issued seven free passes to the Astros. That just is not how Texas is going to be able to win games against this Houston team. Thursday night Houston made them pay for the walks. It was not just Abreu's three-run home run in the fourth. It was Chas McCormick's two-run home run after a walk to Jose Abreu. In total six of the Astros 10 runs came after a walk.
There is some good news
Things are looking bleak after such a bad loss in game four that tied the series up. There is some good news. Jordan Montgomery starts in game five on Friday and will be followed up by Nathan Eovaldi in game six. These are the two pitchers for Texas that led them to the series win against Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Now they are tasked with helping Texas finish off this series and go to the World Series.
Montgomery has been outstanding this postseason and really has been Texas' best pitcher since September. He has carried over the dominance to the postseason. Two of his three starts have been six innings or more of scoreless baseball. He will be tasked with shutting down this Astros lineup and giving Texas the opportunity to get out to an early lead and win game five.
The recipe for a game five win and a series lead heading back to Houston is not complicated. Montgomery has to keep Houston off the board for at least the first three innings. Texas then has to put runs on the board in that time. Then, Montgomery has to do a good job holding the lead. He does not have to pitch another shutout like he did in game one. He does need to pitch into at least the sixth or seventh inning and then hand a lead over to the bullpen.
Josh Sborz, Aroldis Chapman, and Jose Leclerc are fully rested, None of them have pitched since game two. They should be ready to go and able to pitch in each of these last three games. If Montgomery can hand the lead to these guys then Texas will have a good chance at winning this game. The same goes for Eovaldi in game six. Texas is better when they are playing from ahead rather than behind. They also win games when they are not giving out things for free.