HOUSTON -- Not surprisingly, Astros manager AJ Hinch said he doesn’t expect any drastic lineup changes for his club in Game 5 despite some of his regulars having struggled through the first four games of the American League Division Series against the Rays. Martín Maldonado will catch instead of Robinson
HOUSTON -- Not surprisingly, Astros manager AJ Hinch said he doesn’t expect any drastic lineup changes for his club in Game 5 despite some of his regulars having struggled through the first four games of the American League Division Series against the Rays. Martín Maldonado will catch instead of Robinson Chirinos, but Hinch is sticking with his regulars on Thursday at Minute Maid Park.
Second baseman José Altuve, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez and third baseman Alex Bregman logged 16 of the Astros’ 32 hits in the first four games of the series. Production has lacked in other areas. George Springer broke an 0-for-13 skid with a single in his first at-bat in Game 4, but he went 2-for-17 in the first four games of the ALDS. Michael Brantley (.125), Carlos Correa (.200) and Josh Reddick (0-for-7) are also searching for hits.
“I kind of see it a different way,” Hinch said. “I see it as their pitching has really done exceptionally well and our guys have had a few games here to see these guys over and over again. I don't think now is the time to really turn your back on one of the best offenses in the big leagues just because the pitching staff has had a run of success for a couple of games. We'll go with the same guys.”
Hinch was effusive in his praise for the Rays’ staff, not only in Game 4, when they used six pitchers to hold the Astros to one run, but throughout the ALDS. The Astros, who posted the highest slugging percentage in Major League history at .495 during the regular season, have slugged .391 in the ALDS and have hit just four homers in four games.
“It's up to us to make the adjustments,” he said. “We've seen these guys now. You can't have it both ways. You can't say it's difficult on one guy seeing a guy over and over again, and on the flip side, when you see a guy over and over again, you've got to find a way to put up good at-bats.”
Bats cooking at home
The Astros have swung the bats dramatically better at home in the postseason in the last three years than they have on the road. They have an .840 OPS with 28 home runs in 16 playoff home games since the start of 2017 and a .680 OPS with 17 home runs in 14 road games in the same time span.
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Among the players who have really feasted at home are Altuve, who’s slashing .385/.420/.815 in playoff games at Minute Maid Park since 2017 and just .196/.308/.339 on the road. Correa has been much better at home (.323/.373/.565) than on the road (.200/.267/.382), and the same is true with Bregman, who’s slashing .298/.397/.632 at home and .192/.344/.346 on the road in the playoffs.
Experience on Astros’ side
The majority of the starting lineup helped Houston win the World Series title in 2017, which included two wins in elimination games against the Yankees in the AL Championship Series and a Game 7 win in the Fall Classic at Dodger Stadium.
Last year, the Astros lost four in a row in the ALCS against the Red Sox after winning the first game, but the Astros have postseason pressure-cooker veterans throughout. Houston is 4-4 in winner-take-all playoff games all-time, but hasn’t played in one since Game 7 of the World Series two years ago.
“You know what will help us, is by playing with the lead and scoring more runs,” Hinch said. “That will help more than any sort of experience. I think coming into the game or the reaction to the last couple of games, that's where that experience plays up a little bit. But I don't necessarily think they're going to be scared off just because they haven't been in it. They've already played a couple of elimination games this season.
“Much of the talk about experience at this point, I think everybody is just going to bring their best into tomorrow's game. We're comfortable that we've got to come out with one of our best pitchers pitching in our home field and win a deciding game. And no, it's not our first time we've been through this. But the most important game of the year is tomorrow.”
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.