How does Wednesday's rain affect Game 4?

October 17th, 2019

NEW YORK -- Mother Nature has been known, on occasion, to leave indelible marks on the landscape of the postseason. Just ask the Indians about Game 7 of the 2016 World Series (or better yet, ask the Cubs).

Well, an already compelling American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Astros was just hit with a weather-related shakeup in the Bronx. Game 4 of the ALCS is postponed from Wednesday to Thursday due to inclement weather, with Houston holding a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

With Game 4 now being played Thursday, Game 5 will be pushed back to Friday, an originally scheduled off-day. That means both teams will lose their day of rest between Game 5 at Yankee Stadium and a potential Game 6 in Houston, possibly setting up the Astros and Yankees to play four games in four days -- in two cities -- to decide the winner of the AL pennant.

The postponement impacts both teams' starting rotations -- the Astros will now start Zack Greinke in Game 4 and Justin Verlander in Game 5, while the Yankees will counter with Masahiro Tanaka in Game 4 and James Paxton in Game 5. There will also be ramifications for bullpen usage and even nagging injury concerns.

"We're here to win, and win as fast as we can," Astros manager AJ Hinch said Wednesday. "If it takes all four games, if our bullpen gets used a lot and our pitching gets used a lot, then that's what it's going to take to get to the World Series."

So how will the rainout impact their decisions going forward? Looking ahead, let's examine what each team stands to gain and lose from Wednesday's postponement.

Pros for the Yankees

The big change: New York will start Tanaka in Game 4 -- instead of their initial plan of a bullpen game -- now that Tanaka will be on regular rest with the game pushed back to Thursday. Why does that matter? Well, for one thing, Tanaka has been one of the best postseason pitchers of all time.

Tanaka has a 1.32 career ERA in the postseason, spanning seven starts and 41 innings pitched going back to 2015. That ERA is tied for the fourth-lowest in history among pitchers who have made at least five postseason starts. Tanaka trails only baseball legends Sandy Koufax (0.95) and Christy Mathewson (1.06) ... and one of the postseason aces who might await him in the World Series, the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg (1.10).

This October, Tanaka's ERA sits at 0.82, as he's allowed just one run in 11 innings in his pair of starts, while striking out 11. He completely shut down the Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS, pitching six scoreless, one-hit innings on the road in Houston. Now he takes the mound at Yankee Stadium, where his career postseason ERA is 1.13 in four starts.

"It's definitely the good version of Masa that I've gotten to see in the postseason, but it's also a version that I'm not surprised by," manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday. "Masa clearly has ... the ability to put the ball where he wants, the ability to not make any moment or start bigger or less than it is [and] that ability to really focus on pitch-to-pitch. And I think the guys that do that the best give themselves the best chance to be successful."

Tanaka could be the Yanks' best shot at evening the series, while also giving them enough length to rest the bullpen for the potential four straight days of use.

"We're going to have to get some innings out of our starters, there's no question about it," Boone said. "Obviously Masa is coming off a real good start in Game 1 where he was able to give us six innings. So between him and Paxton these next two days, they're going to need to give us some innings if we're going to be successful.

"But again, we've got to go out and win a game. So I'll be aggressive in that sense, but we do have to get some bulk innings out of some people, there's no question."

Much of the core of New York's bullpen has pitched effectively in back-to-back games this season, headlined by a 2.81 ERA from Tommy Kahnle, an 0.61 ERA from Adam Ottavino and a 1.59 ERA from Zack Britton on no rest. That could prove significant when facing the potential of four games in four days.

Then there was the question of Giancarlo Stanton. The extra day of rest for the Yankees provided an additional 24 hours for the outfielder to heal before Game 4, but it didn't help, as he was out of the starting lineup on Thursday. Stanton is 3-for-10 with four walks this postseason and a solo homer off Greinke in Game 1 of the ALCS.

Cons for the Yankees

The Yankees' bullpen has held firm in several stress tests this postseason following short outings from starters, headlined most recently by its 7 2/3 strong innings in Game 2 of the ALCS in relief of Paxton. But how much can the Yanks stretch that bullpen in four straight days, behind uncertain length from their rotation, without hitting a breaking point -- especially if they need to piece together a bullpen game in one of those games following Tanaka and Paxton's starts?

Aroldis Chapman already has a 4.50 ERA this season when pitching on a second straight day, and he hasn't pitched more than one inning in the regular season since June 25, 2018, though he did throw 1 2/3 frames against the Twins to close out Game 3 of the AL Division Series on Oct. 7. Extended appearances are also relatively uncharted territory for Britton and Kahnle, who have combined for five outings longer than one inning in 2019, including the postseason. And Ottavino has only been able to record more than one out in two of his five appearances this postseason.

"I still think he's got to play an important role for us, especially against this Houston lineup that a lot of their great players are right-handed hitters," Boone said of Ottavino. "He's going to have to still get important outs for us. I still feel like he's capable of that. I don't think this is a situation where it's the moment or the playoffs or anything. I feel like he has the right mindset. I feel like he has confidence. He's just struggled a little bit with his command."

If the Yankees' starters can't pitch relatively deep into the remaining games -- neither Paxton nor Luis Severino has completed five innings in a start this postseason -- the depth of the bullpen might need to step up against the potent Astros offense. Ottavino and Britton have already pitched in all three games of the ALCS, while Green and Kahnle have pitched in the last two contests.

Could Boone try to push his relievers to pitch three or even four days in a row?

"I think I definitely would do it. Now, that's a case-by-case basis and depends on the individual," Boone said. "I'm certainly open to them running out there every day, but it's something that's kind of always fluid with the different individual pitchers and how they're able to bounce back."

Pros for the Astros

The Astros already seem to have the advantage in a situation involving four consecutive games, as their three aces in the starting rotation can go a long way in mitigating additional stress on the bullpen due to the schedule or the possibility of a short start. With that said, the extra day of rest Wednesday opens up some additional flexibility for Hinch's deployment of that starting rotation.

"It gives everybody a day off and kind of an opportunity to collect ourselves before Game 4," Hinch said. "How beneficial it is is probably easier to answer after I see how guys perform and how the pitching plays out ... But it does solidify who we start in Game 4 and Game 5 without having to go to a bullpen game."

Because Greinke, Verlander and Gerrit Cole all pitched before Wednesday, all three pick up an extra day's rest due to the rainout. So Greinke can now take the ball for Game 4 on full rest, and the same goes for Verlander in Game 5.

"As soon as we can use our best pitchers, the better for us," Hinch said. "It was an easy decision."

Remember that Verlander allowed four runs to the Rays in 3 2/3 innings when pitching on short rest for the first time in his postseason career in the ALDS on Oct. 8. Having a rested Verlander in Game 5 -- which could be a potential clinch game for Houston -- is a big plus.

Cole would still have to come back on short rest to throw Game 6 on Saturday, but if the Astros are down 3-2 at that point, that might be a gamble worth taking. On the other hand, if the Astros are up 3-2 heading into Game 6 after throwing Greinke and Verlander in Games 4-5, they could bullpen Game 6, possibly behind rookie Jose Urquidy, knowing they'd have a fully rested Cole ready to go in Game 7 in Houston.

Cons for the Astros

The potential downsides of four consecutive games for the Astros are similar to those for the Yankees. There's the question of how their length options in the bullpen -- Urquidy, Bryan Abreu, Josh James or Brad Peacock -- would hold up against the Yankees' offense, or how Houston's high-leverage arms would respond to increased usage, especially in light of Ryan Pressly's postseason struggles (four earned runs allowed in 1 2/3 innings).

Hinch isn't worried, though.

"We play four games in a row all the time during the season," he said. "We do it all the time. It's something that players are equipped to handle from the very beginning.

"I'm not saying it's routine for us, but we do it quite a bit. But if it comes to that, we'll handle it just fine. The adrenaline helps. The excitement of every game helps."

Most of Houston's core relievers also have quite solid splits this season when pitching on back-to-back days, and, as mentioned earlier, the depth of the Astros' starting rotation -- especially when afforded extra rest -- gives Houston a greater safety net for its bullpen usage.

Significantly, Cole's lengthy start in Game 3 means that the Astros' relievers have only pitched 9 1/3 innings in the ALCS, compared to the 15 1/3 frames the Yankees' bullpen has had to cover. Pressly and James are the only Houston relievers to have thrown back-to-back days in the ALCS.

"When the bullpen comes in game after game after game, you get a little bit more of a fatigued version of that reliever or you get a little bit more of the same sequence," Hinch said. "The hitters can get a little bit better idea how they're going to be attacked."