ST. PETERSBURG -- The pitching plans for Game 4 of the American League Division Series represent an accurate representation of the two teams. The Astros have been guided by strong performance by their starting pitching, while the Rays have relied on strong performances from all their pitchers -- especially the bullpen.
Justin Verlander will get the start -- on short rest -- for Houston, and he has been lights-out against Tampa Bay this season. After tossing seven scoreless innings in Game 1 on Friday, the right-hander has allowed the Rays just one run in 19 1/3 innings this season.
As for Tampa Bay, it will employ a bullpen day, started by reliever Diego Castillo, who posted a 1.23 ERA in 14 2/3 relief innings in September. The Rays were the first to introduce the "opener" strategy in 2018, and they will rely on it tonight as they hope to extend their season.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 4 will be tonight at 7:07 p.m. ET on FS1. All games telecast on TBS, FOX and FS1 will be available to MLB.TV subscribers who are authenticated subscribers to the applicable network through a participating pay TV provider.
Official starting lineups
Astros: Robinson Chirinos will be back behind the plate with Verlander on the mound. Despite struggling at the plate, Josh Reddick remains in the lineup, hitting eighth, while Michael Brantley moves ahead of José Altuve at No. 2.
1) George Springer, CF
2) Michael Brantley, LF
3) José Altuve, 2B
4) Alex Bregman, 3B
5) Yordan Alvarez, DH
6) Yuli Gurriel, 1B
7) Carlos Correa, SS
8) Josh Reddick, RF
9) Robinson Chirinos, C
Rays: Tampa Bay used the same starting lineup in Games 2 and 3, which is only the fourth time this season it trotted out the same batting order in consecutive games. That continuity is short-lived with Yandy Díaz not in the lineup with a left foot injury. Joey Wendle will make the start at third and bat seventh, and everyone moves up one spot, except for Kevin Kiermaier and Willy Adames.
1) Austin Meadows, LF
2) Tommy Pham, DH
3) Ji-Man Choi, 1B
4) Avisaíl García, RF
5) Brandon Lowe, 2B
6) Travis d'Arnaud, C
7) Joey Wendle, 3B
8) Kevin Kiermaier, CF
9) Willy Adames, SS
Who are the starting pitchers?
Astros: Verlander comes back on three days of rest after striking out eight batters and allowing one run in seven scoreless innings in Game 1 in Houston. He is 14-7 with a 3.05 ERA in 159 1/3 innings in his playoff career, spread across 26 games (25 starts) since 2006. On the all-time postseason leaderboards, Verlander ranks tied for third in wins, sixth in innings and third in strikeouts (175) -- with second-place Andy Pettitte (183) in range. John Smoltz holds the record of 199.
Despite Verlander's experience, he has not made a start under these conditions in his career. His only previous short-rest start came in Game 3 of the 2011 ALDS for Detroit, but in that case, Verlander was coming off a one-inning appearance in Game 1, which was suspended by rain.
Rays: Castillo (5-8, 3.41 ERA) was one of the most dominant relievers in the Rays' bullpen in September, but the right-hander will be tasked with opening tonight's bullpen day against the Astros.
Castillo has pitched mostly in relief, but he has experience as the team's opener. The right-hander was effective as an opener in 2018, but he has struggled this season, posting a 6.14 ERA in six starts. The Rays are going to ask for an inning or two from Castillo before turning it over to the rest of their bullpen.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Astros: If Verlander can give the Astros six innings and depart with the lead, Houston will have Will Harris, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna lined up to try to finish off the series. That didn't go quite as planned in Game 1, when Pressly allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning, but Houston will want its best guys back on the mound.
Rays: A lot of the decisions will depend on how Castillo gets through the first two innings. If Tampa Bay has a lead, it could choose to be more aggressive with its bullpen. If the game is tied, the Rays could opt to go with Yonny Chirinos or Ryan Yarbrough for the bulk innings.
Either way, the decision to go with a bullpen day is to not allow the Astros' offense to get in a rhythm against one pitcher. It'll be an all-hands-on-deck approach for the Rays, who will try to improve to 3-0 in elimination games this postseason.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Astros: Veteran lefty Wade Miley, who was bumped from the rotation at the end of the season after a disastrous September, threw 2 2/3 innings in Game 4 and will likely be unavailable. Other than that, the Astros should have all hands on deck.
Rays: Oliver Drake pitched two innings on Monday, tossing just 25 pitches. He should be available, even if it's just for a couple of hitters. With the exception of Charlie Morton, who started on Monday, every pitcher on the roster will be available to pitch. The big lead, Morton's ability to go five innings and effective outings from Chaz Roe, Brendan McKay, Drake and Colin Poche allowed manager Kevin Cash to sit his big three in Game 3, giving him the option of starting the fresh Castillo and in position to give multiple high-leverage innings to Nick Anderson and Emilio Pagan in Game 4, if needed.
Any injuries of note?
Rays: Díaz left Monday's game due to left foot soreness and it remains to be seen if he'll be available. Other than Díaz, the rest of the bench should be a full-go.
Who is hot and who is not?
Astros: Springer (0-for-13), Brantley (2-for-12), Reddick (0-for-5) and Tucker (0-for-3) are a combined 2-for-33 in the series. Designated hitter Alvarez (5-for-12), Altuve (4-for-13, homer), Bregman (4-for-9, three walks) and Gurriel (5-for-12) have been doing the heavy lifting offensively.
Rays: After starting his postseason career 0-for-6 at the plate, Adames has come alive for Tampa Bay. Adames hit his first career postseason home run on Monday and is 4-for-5 in his last two games, including a three-hit performance in Game 3.
Anything else fans might want to know?
Since 2017, Springer and Altuve are tied for the Major League lead with 10 playoff homers. … Altuve has hit safely in seven consecutive playoff games and 10 of his last 11. … The Astros have homered in 28 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in Major League history.
Including the regular season, the Rays are 16-2 in their last 18 games at Tropicana Field and 22-7 in their last 29 games. … Tampa Bay has hit eight home runs in its last two games when facing elimination.
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.