HOUSTON -- The Astros' backs are against the wall. The Red Sox are one win away from the World Series.Coming off a thrilling 8-6 win in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, Boston will look to
HOUSTON -- The Astros' backs are against the wall. The Red Sox are one win away from the World Series.
Coming off a thrilling 8-6 win in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, Boston will look to David Price to try to punch its ticket to the Fall Classic in Thursday's Game 5 at Minute Maid Park.
:: ALCS schedule and results ::
It won't be easy. The Astros, who won three elimination games in the playoffs last year en route to their first World Series title, are throwing ace Justin Verlander in a matchup of former AL Cy Young Award winners. In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams taking a 3-1 lead on the road have gone on to take the series 37 of 44 times (84 percent).
• Gear up for the ALCS:Astros | Red Sox
Red Sox: The Astros are learning why the Sox had the game's most balanced offense during the regular season. Boston has scored seven runs or more in the past three games, the first time Houston has allowed that many in three straight games all season. First baseman Mitch Moreland will make his first start since he injured his right hamstring in Game 2 of the AL Division Series.
1. Mookie Betts, RF
- Andrew Benintendi, LF
- J.D. Martinez, DH
- Xander Bogaerts, SS
- Mitch Moreland, 1B
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Rafael Devers, 3B
- Christian Vazquez, C
- Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
Astros: Manager AJ Hinch said prior to Game 4 that Jose Altuve would be back at second base in Game 5 of the ALCS after two games at DH, but Altuve appeared to aggravate his sore right knee sliding into second base and will remain as the DH.
"We're all watching the same guy. I love him for what he's doing and it's really amazing what he's doing," Hinch said. "He's kept it very private, to himself. I don't feel like he can play second base right now. ... He's playing on one leg. Some of our other guys are banged up as well. Jose is the most obviously. If this were the regular season, there's no way he'd be playing."
With Altuve DHing, Tony Kemp will be in left again and Marwin Gonzalez is at second base. In addition, Carlos Correa will be in the cleanup spot after hitting mostly in the seventh spot in the postseason.
1. Alex Bregman, 3B
- George Springer, RF
- Jose Altuve, DH
- Carlos Correa, SS
- Yuli Gurriel, 1B
- Marwin Gonzalez, 2B
- Tony Kemp, LF
- Martin Maldonado, C
- Jake Marisnick, CF
Who are the starting pitchers?
Red Sox: This would be a fine time for Price to earn the first postseason win of his career as a starter. It will be interesting to see how the lefty fares on three days' rest, particularly when he spent quite a bit of time warming up in the bullpen in the late stages of Game 4.
"I think it will just make me a little more sharp," Price said. "It might be a new thing for me to do the day before I pitch."
In 11 career postseason starts, Price is 0-9 with a 6.16 ERA. This would be the ultimate chance for Price to get some playoff redemption, with a trip to the World Series serving as the ultimate reward.
"We're one win away from the World Series. That's cool. That's very cool," Price said.
Astros: Verlander held the Red Sox to two hits and two runs, overcoming four walks, while striking out six batters in six innings in a Game 1 win over Boston. That was the 13th career playoff victory for Verlander, trailing only Tom Glavine (14), John Smoltz (15) and Andy Pettitte (19).
Not to mention, Verlander has been sensational with his back to the wall. In five potential elimination-game starts, he has gone 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA, fanning 41 in 37 1/3 innings. In his past three starts under those circumstances, Verlander has been particularly outstanding, tossing 24 scoreless innings.
"There are definitely unique challenges," Verlander said. "They know my strengths. They know my weaknesses. I know theirs. And the second time going against a lineup, you need to adjust. Or you don't. I don't know. That's kind of one of those times when I like to rely on my instincts when I'm out there and just feel my way through a game."
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Red Sox: Manager Alex Cora asked a lot of his bullpen in the previous three games, and it will be interesting to see how he manages Game 5. The score will have a lot to do with it. If the Red Sox fall behind early, look for Cora to go with his low-leverage pitchers after Price. Closer Craig Kimbrel is 4-for-4 in save opportunities this postseason, but each one has been an adventure. The Sox did ask key setup man Matt Barnes to get just one out in Game 4, so he will be a good option if Boston is in the lead.
Astros: Houston used five relief pitchers in Game 4, with Josh James (51) and Lance McCullers (33) topping 30 pitches. Hinch didn't use closer Roberto Osuna, who should be ready to go, and even Thomas Pressly and McCullers will take the ball in an elimination game if needed. Starter Gerrit Cole was in the bullpen near the the end of Game 4 as well.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Red Sox: Kimbrel threw 35 pitches in Game 4, but he says he will do whatever Cora needs in Game 5. Cora might decide to play it safe with a 3-1 lead in the series. Ryan Brasier faced seven batters and threw 23 pitches, so he is another reliever Cora might stay away from.
Astros: James threw 3 2/3 innings in relief in Game 4, meaning he's out for Game 5 unless there's an emergency. That leaves the Astros with no viable options to throw more than two innings if that situation arises.
Any injuries of note?
Red Sox:Eduardo Nunez has been bothered by a troublesome right ankle, but he could be used as a pinch-hitter against lefty reliever Tony Sipp.
Astros: Altuve aggravated his sore right knee sliding into second base in the third inning of Game 4 and ran gingerly the rest of the game.
"He's hurting," Hinch said. "I'm watching him do his best and he's a tough kid. And he's giving us everything that he's got, but he's hurting."
• ALCS fun fact: Each of JBJ's big hits have come with two outs
Who is hot and who is not?
Red Sox: Bradley is on an RBI binge, with nine in the series. Interestingly, the RBIs have come on his only three hits of the series … Benintendi, who made a magnificent catch to end Game 4, also had two doubles in the contest and could be on the verge of getting hot … Devers is 4-for-9 and had a key two-run single in Game 4 ... Sandy Leon continues to be in a slump of epic proportions, with three hits in his past 49 at-bats. This is why he probably won't start, even though Price enjoys working with him.
Astros: Springer, who's hitting .412 in the ALCS with 13 total bases, has a 13-game postseason hitting streak. … Bregman has reached base safely 11 times in four games of the ALCS with two hits, seven walks and two hit-by-pitches. He has a .550 on-base percentage. … Correa is hitting .400 (6-for-15) in the ALCS. … Kemp is hitting .375 in the ALCS. … Among those struggling at the plate are Gurriel (.176), Maldonado (.111), Reddick (.200) and White (.000).
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.