With Keuchel-Verlander, Astros in good shape

Houston remains confident thanks to co-aces going in Games 5, 6

October 18th, 2017

NEW YORK -- Sure, the Astros are going to be tested in ways they haven't been tested before in this magical season. Guess what? This is what they signed up for. Comes with the territory.

This is why we love October baseball. Lights bright, stage large, etc. Besides that, this series isn't close to being over. The Astros are still in a good spot. Still have home-field advantage. Still have their top two starters lined up.

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If you'd told the Astros on Opening Day that they'd be two victories from the American League pennant and have and primed to close it out, every single player would have signed up.

Keuchel duels Tanaka in Game 5

And that's where the Astros are, even in the wake of a 6-4 loss to the Yankees on Tuesday in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series presented by Camping World.

This wasn't just a defeat. This was a punch to the gut. These are losses that baseball people worry will linger in hearts and minds and have a carryover effect. The Astros can't let this happen. They can't lose Game 4 twice.

Houston had a 4-0 lead and was nine outs from taking a 3-1 series lead, but New York rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh and four more in the eighth. Now the ALCS is tied at two games apiece.

After the Astros got six solid innings from right-hander , three relievers -- , Joe Musgrove and -- were unable to hold the lead.

If there's good news, it's that the Astros will be right back at it on Wednesday to play Game 5 before an off-day on Thursday and Game 6 on Friday at Minute Maid Park. Game 7 will also be in Houston on Saturday if the series goes that far. In addition, the Astros are 5-0 this postseason in games in which Keuchel and Verlander have pitched (including a relief appearance by Verlander in Game 4 of the ALDS), and 0-3 when they don't appear.

"We got punched in the mouth tonight," third baseman said. "Tomorrow is a brand-new day."

From the first day of the regular season, the strength of this team has been its resilience and energy. At midseason, when manager A.J. Hinch was asked about his team maintaining its focus despite a large division lead, he said, "Just watch us play for a couple of days, and that will be answered."

Hinch meant that his team played the same way in good times and bad, played the same way regardless of the standings. If that's true, they're still in good shape.

"It's a gut check," outfielder said, "but we just have to move on from it and come out tomorrow with a chance to take the series lead back to Houston."

Did anyone think the Yanks were going to roll over and hand over the AL pennant?

"This is a great series," Hinch said. "This is two really good teams fighting for the chance to represent the American League."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that the possibiility of facing Keuchel with his team trailing the series 3-1 entered his mind a time or two after the Astros took a four-run lead into the bottom of the seventh inning.

Keuchel has a 1.09 ERA in eight career starts against the Yanks, including seven shutout innings in Game 1 of this ALCS.

"That's always in the back of your head," Girardi said. "You know he's pitching tomorrow. We haven't done a whole lot off him in the starts we've seen off him. Hopefully, seeing him twice in one series, our guys are able to adjust a little quicker."

Hinch has a worry list a mile long. His bullpen has been shaky, his offense quiet. But everything begins with Keuchel pitching well in Game 5.

"Obviously, to have those guys up next, those are our horses," Springer said. "We'll see what happens. A loss is a loss. Doesn't really matter. Just like a win is a win. We have to turn the page and see what happens tomorrow."