3 key storylines for tonight's ALCS Game 7

October 23rd, 2023

The only thing better than a Game 6 is a Game 7. On Monday, we get both.

Thanks to the Rangers’ rebound victory in Houston on Sunday night -- keeping alive the streak of the road team winning every game in that ALCS -- there are two massively important baseball games, back to back. It’s possible, at the end of Monday night, we’ll be looking at a rematch of last year’s World Series. It’s also possible, if the D-backs win, that we’ll have another game Tuesday night. The stakes are as high as they get. Every one of these players has worked their entire life to have the opportunity to play in a game like they’re playing on Monday. We are blessed to get to watch all of them do it.

My colleague Paul Casella has broken down the key elements to watch in Game 6 of the NLCS, and here are the three biggest storylines to follow in Game 7 of the ALCS.

Rangers at Astros
Series tied 3-3
Max Scherzer vs. Cristian Javier
8:03 p.m. ET, FS1

Storyline No. 1: How will these teams set up their pitching?

For all the excitement of having Max Scherzer back for Game 3, it’s fair to say, as incredible of a pitcher as he has been for his career, he is not back to his peak capacity just yet. Certainly not back to “you can count on him in a decisive Game 7” capacity. So: What are the Rangers going to do here? The good news is that they have a lot of options behind Scherzer, from Jon Gray (who didn’t look much better than Scherzer in relief in Game 3) to Dane Dunning to even Jordan Montgomery on short rest. (That ninth-inning rally in Game 6 allowed them to take José Leclerc out earlier than anticipated, which could end up being a big deal.) Wherever the Rangers turn, they better get it right, or they better be ready to have a quick hook, because, well, it’s Game 7: One bad start, one bad inning, one bad anything, and … you’re toast.

As for the Astros … Cristian Javier has had three terrific starts in a row, including two in the postseason, both wins. As crazy as it sounds considering it’s Max Scherzer pitching for Texas, the Astros have considerably more certainty with their Game 7 starter than the Rangers do. But if Javier gets in any trouble at all, any trouble, well, it’s a "pull out all the stops" time. The bullpen has been pretty good this series, other than Sunday night anyway, but the Astros used five relievers on Sunday and now have to piece together Game 7 after their worst night of the postseason. And while there will be a hearing on Bryan Abreu’s appeal of his two-game suspension before the game, as Ken Rosenthal noted on the broadcast Sunday night, it’s not likely he’s going to go from two to zero games. The Astros could be without their best reliever for a win-or-go-home game. Could we even see Justin Verlander? It will be absolutely fascinating to see how each of these teams tries to cobble together its staff.

Storyline No. 2: The Astros aren’t going to lose a seven-game series like THAT again, are they?

It has been well documented at this point that the Astros were much better on the road this season than at home. Their 51-30 road record was the best in baseball, while their .481 winning percentage (39-42) at home was the worst ever for a division winner in a full season.

And it gets wilder!

If you heard all the announcers talking about how the home team has lost every game in this series and thought that sounded familiar, that’s of course because that’s exactly what happened in the 2019 World Series. Like this ALCS, that World Series had wild swings: After the Nats won the first two in Houston, you thought they had this thing won, after the Astros won the next three in D.C., you thought they had this thing won, and then wham … the Nationals won those last two in Houston and the whole thing ended up topsy-turvy. The Astros are now potentially back in the same situation, not only losing a series, but losing all four games they played in front of their home fans. More déjà vu: The starter of that Game 7 against the Astros way back when? Why, Max Scherzer, of course.

Could history repeat itself? Given that the Astros are now 5-0 on the road this October and just 1-4 at home, with that one win coming way back in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Twins, they’re not instilling much confidence when it comes to protecting their home turf.

Storyline No. 3: Will we be talking about this as an all-time classic series?

This ALCS has been a journey. We’ve had shutouts. We’ve had blowouts. We’ve had bench-clearing tussles. We’ve had suspensions. We’ve had dramatic home runs. We’ve had comebacks. We’ve had big personalities having big moments on the biggest possible stage. We’ve had the road team win every game. And now, with two intrastate rivals who had the exact same record during the regular season, we have a Game 7. The Rangers have been trying to vanquish the hated Astros for years now. The Astros are trying to become the first team this century to win two straight World Series and three straight pennants.

These teams are nearly evenly matched, have two future Hall of Fame managers, and, oh yeah, are deeply sick of each other at this point. They’ve been playing for the Silver Boot for a decade. Now they’re playing for the World Series. This has been a thrilling, exhausting, mesmerizing series. And it ends with a Game 7. Will we get another big homer from Adolis García? Another dramatic matchup between Jose Altuve and Aroldis Chapman? A gutsy outing from Scherzer? Whatever we get, let’s hope it’s a game for the ages.