The New York Yankees forced game six on Friday after defeating Houston Astros 4-1 in game five of the American League Championship Series.

A pair of early home runs and impressive starting pitching from James Paxton helped to get the job done.

Aaron Hicks hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning on a night where all five runs came in the team's opening frame.

The Astros will have to defend home turf in an attempt to avoid game seven, with one win sending them to the World Series. New York must win the last two games to earn a berth in the Fall Classic.

 

New York found quality pitching when it mattered most

The Yankees have made it a point to utilise a host of pitchers in the ALCS, but they got a great performance from starter James Paxton and a trio of relievers in a critical game that could've ended their season. Paxton gave up four hits and one earned run in six innings of work, notching nine strikeouts. Then Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman combined to give up one hit for the remainder of the contest once Paxton was taken out.

The Astros' five hits in the contest were their second-lowest total in the series after being held to just three in their game one loss.


The stage wasn't too big for Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks was an unlikely hero for the Yankees on Friday. Although the outfielder was initially ruled out for the season in August after suffering a flexor strain in his elbow, he returned from a two-month hiatus to face Houston and help his team with its World Series push. He blasted a three-run homer off the foul pole in the first inning and that made all the difference.

New York scored all four of its runs in the first inning before going on a scoring drought, but it didn't matter as the Astros experienced a drought of their own. Now the Yankees will likely benefit from a bullpen game on Saturday, and there will be ample opportunity for other players to unexpectedly tee off without facing the best of Houston's starters.


Justin Verlander continues to be plagued by home runs

Justin Verlander gave up a career-high 36 home runs in 2019 and that trend has followed him into the post-season. Even though Hicks' home run nearly hooked right of the foul pole, DJ LeMahieu also hit a solo homer and those were the decisive moments in the game. Verlander has given up 10 runs and five home runs in his last three appearances.

Verlander rebounded tremendously from his poor start in his seven-inning outing, tallying nine strikeouts, but the offense couldn't get flowing and now Houston faces a difficult situation. The Astros' trio of starters has been heralded as the best in MLB, but Gerrit Cole won't be ready to go on short rest in game six.

New York has coasted on power hitting all season long and now they can take advantage of not having to face elite starters as they look to force game seven.

The Houston Astros are on the verge of the MLB World Series after taking a 3-1 lead over the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

Houston moved on the brink of a showdown with the Washington Nationals thanks to Thursday's 8-3 victory against the Yankees in Game 4.

Justin Verlander will attempt to close out the ALCS in Game 5 on Friday, while the Yankees will counter with James Paxton as New York look to stay alive.

 

Three takeaways from the Astros' ALCS Game 4 win over the Yankees

Yankees oddly lucky

While this was the most runs the Yankees have allowed in a game this postseason, New York were lucky they did not give up more. And yes, it sounds odd, but when you find out the Astros had 13 balls hit 95.0 mph or higher through seven innings and only six of them were hits, that is pretty darn lucky.

In fact, every single one of Houston's batters had a ball hit at 95.0 mph or better. The Astros may not have scored that many runs in the game, but it does look like they are starting to get their timing down after struggling to do so for much of the playoffs.

Learn Harris' name

Leading up to the postseason, seemingly every pundit who talks about baseball wanted to point out the Astros' vulnerability in the bullpen. They mentioned Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly and Josh James, saying that was all Houston had.

No one ever seemed to mention Will Harris. And odds are, if you talk to an everyday fan, they will not know who he is either. Well, if those everyday fans were Yankees apologists, they know who he is now.

Harris tossed yet another scoreless inning in Game 4 and now has thrown 4.3 innings in the postseason while striking out seven and giving up zero runs. This comes after a year in which Harris posted a 1.50 ERA in 68 games. And these were short appearances either. He threw 60 innings. Learn this man's name. He is an impact reliever even if no one will talk about him.

Yankee defense comes back to bite them

The Yankees are not necessarily known for being a fantastic defensive team but they have good players on that side. DJ LeMahieu has won a Gold Glove, Aaron Judge might win one this season and Didi Gregorius is a solid defensive player as well, just like Aaron Hicks.

But New York have some guys playing out of position to get men in the line-up as Gleyber Torres is playing second when he is probably more of a shortstop or third baseman. LeMahieu is playing first when he is a Gold Glover at second and Brett Gardner is playing left while a healthy Giancarlo Stanton probably takes that spot.

And it did not work out in Game 4. The Yankees made four errors, one of which was a big part of Carlos Correa's three-run homer in the sixth inning. Alex Bregman reached base on an error and eventually came around to score a few batters later.

Also, just a bit of an oddity here too, the Yankees have only ever made three errors at home in a postseason game three times, all three have come on Oct. 17 (2009, 2017).

Game 4 of the American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, scheduled for Wednesday, has been postponed until Thursday, MLB has announced.

At the time of the decision shortly before midday (local time) on Wednesday, the weather forecast called for 100 per cent chance of rain in New York.

New York Harbor is under a gale warning and nearby areas are under a flash flood watch and a coastal flood advisory.

The change means Game 5 is pushed back to Friday, previously a scheduled off-day.

If required, the series will return to Houston for Games 6 and 7 on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

The Astros took a 2-1 lead in the series with Tuesday's 4-1 victory in New York, with the winner to face the Washington Nationals, who have closed out a sweep of the St Louis Cardinals.

The World Series is set to begin next Tuesday in either Houston or New York.

Gerrit Cole threw seven shut-out innings as the Houston Astros took a 2-1 American League Championship Series lead over the New York Yankees with a 4-1 win.

The Yankees missed multiple opportunities as the Astros jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 3 on Tuesday, but Cole capitalised when required as he struck out seven on 112 pitches, allowing four hits and five walks.

Houston added two runs at the top of the seventh to seal it, with the Yankees' only response coming in the bottom of the eighth inning when Gleyber Torres scored on a solo shot at Yankee Stadium.

Neither side won on the road when these teams met in the 2017 ALCS, but there have already been two away wins in this series.

 

Three takeaways from the Astros' Game 3 ALCS win over the Yankees

Gary Sanchez's biggest problem resurfaces

Gary Sanchez had a tough time on Tuesday as passed ball issues of 2017 and 2018 resurfaced. With the bases loaded and the Yankees down 2-0 in the top of the seventh, Sanchez did not get in front of a Zack Britton sinker and it looked destined for the backstop and a run for the Astros. The ball hit umpire Kerwin Danley, stopped and looked like it was going to be OK. But Britton threw the exact same pitch on his next delivery and Sanchez was not as lucky. Jose Altuve scored and made the game 3-0.

Juiced ball no more

There are rumours that MLB changed the ball this offseason and we think Didi Gregorius would agree. And so would Martin Maldonado as he hit a ball that likely would have been a home run just one half-inning later. 

Watch either of these fly balls and it is hard to think they do not go out during the regular season. The post-season has changed because of it.

Weather on the 1's

The weather could prove to be a factor for the remainder of this series.

There is currently a 100 percent chance of rain for Wednesday's Game 4 at Yankee Stadium. The Astros have a bullpen day scheduled for this game, but if rain does delay it then they may go with Zack Greinke midweek.

That would move up Justin Verlander to pitch in Game 5 and Gerrit Cole again in Game 6. The Yankees are probably praying for this game not to be rained out because facing a rookie in Jose Urquidy in this one has to feel good for New York.

As of Tuesday night, MLB has yet to announce any changes to this game's schedule.

Carlos Correa's walk-off homer in the 11th inning led the Houston Astros past the New York Yankees 3-2 in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.

Correa broke a tie with the Yankees in extra innings as the Astros levelled the ALCS on Sunday.

 

Here are three takeaways from the Astros' win over the Yankees

Astros found their bats

New York outhit Houston 13-3 in Game 1, but the Astros did a much better job making contact on Sunday. Houston notched seven hits against the Yankees this time. After being held scoreless on Friday, Houston scored two runs, via a George Springer home run and a Carlos Correa RBI through the first nine innings.

But the Astros' biggest hit of the contest came in the 11th inning as Correa drove in the game-winning run with a walk-off solo shot.

Houston only tallied one more hit than the Yankees, but that is a big turnaround from the 10-hit deficit they faced in Game 1.

Verlander bounced back in a big way

Justin Verlander got drilled by the Tampa Bay Rays on three days' rest in the American League Division Series last week. After urging the team to let him start against Tampa Bay, he forked up four runs in 3.6 innings in his team's loss, allowing the Rays to tie the series at 2-2. But he brought much better stuff in Game 2 against the Yankees.

Verlander gave up five hits and two runs in 6.6 innings but had better movement on his pitches, notching seven strikeouts. Only New York's Aaron Judge was able to take him deep with a two-run shot in the fourth inning. The ace's momentum should help his confidence as the postseason progresses. 

Houston could've done a lot more damage

The Astros scored the third-most runs (920) in MLB this season and it is only a matter of time before they capitalise more on their scoring opportunities.

Houston was among the MLB leaders in runners left on base per game in 2019, averaging 7.15 per contest. But they more than tripled that on Sunday, as the Astros left 22 runners on base against New York.

The Astros have consistently struggled to live up to their potential offensively in the postseason, and they cannot afford to continue doing that at this point.

Giancarlo Stanton is considered day-to-day with a strained right quad, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced.

Cameron Maybin will replace Stanton in the starting line-up for Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros on Sunday.

Stanton suffered the injury as the Yankees won the ALCS opener 7-0 on Saturday.

"He kind of injured his quad last night … he didn't feel like he was good to start," Boone said. "We hope it's something that with today and the off day, he would be back to play for Game 3."

Stanton, who played only 18 games this MLB season because of injuries, suffered the strain running to first base on his first hit against the Astros.

He later homered off Astros starter Zack Greinke in the Yankees' dominant win over the Astros.

Boone said Stanton would be available as a pinch hitter or in an emergency situation for Game 2.

If the Yankees opt to replace Stanton on their ALCS roster, he would be ineligible for the World Series should the team advance.

The New York Yankees drew first blood after shutting out the Houston Astros 7-0 in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

Masahiro Tanaka dealt, Gleyber Torres dominated and Houston made mistakes in the ALCS opener on Saturday.

Now the Astros turn to Justin Verlander for Game 2 with hopes of stopping the bleeding in the MLB playoffs.

The Yankees counter with James Paxton.

 

Three takeaways from the Yankees' ALCS Game 1 win over the Astros

Inexcusable

Every single out in this series could matter. It may very well be a sweep by the Yankees, but if it goes how everyone thinks it will, this could be a very long and drawn out series. Taking that into account, Alex Bregman cannot make the mistake he made in the fifth inning of Game 1.

And let's make this clear, yes, Aaron Judge produced a great play reeling in a line-drive shot off the bat of Yordan Alvarez, but Bregman was absolutely in the wrong here. On the play in question with Houston down 1-0, Alvarez hit a line drive to right with Bregman on first base. It might have looked like a hit, but it was not a sure thing. Bregman took his lead off first and did not go halfway. He looked like he was trying to get a head start on getting to third, but Judge caught the ball.

Yes, Bregman slipped on his way getting back but he was way too far off the base in the first place. Judge then caught Bregman with relative ease to double him up at first and the Astros' chance was over.

Bregman is an MVP candidate, but that was not an MVP play. And the Yankees did win this game by seven runs, but in a one-run game, that mistake is inexcusable.

Did you hear? Gleyber Torres is 22

We poke a little bit of fun here because it would seem that every single Twitter account has 22 written in massive numbers next to Gleyber Torres' name and it is required to mention it every time he breathes. But what he has done this postseason is incredibly impressive regardless of his age.

Torres drove in five runs in Game 1 and now has nine runs batted in in during the 2019 playoffs. It cannot be ignored how good he has been this postseason and he only has a little way to go before he catches up with Juan Soto who is 20. Get that? He is 20.

Again, we joke. Torres has been awesome and he deserves a ton of credit for the Yankees' success.

We told you this could happen

When Masahiro Tanaka was announced as the Game 1 starter for the Yankees some people were surprised. We were not. Tanaka has been lights out in his postseason career and he has been doubly as good against the Astros.

Coming into Game 1, Tanaka had a 2.00 ERA (four runs in 18 innings) in three career playoff starts against the Astros. He had given up just two runs over his previous 13 innings against them. The Astros struggle against him and it is not surprising at all that he gave up just one hit and no runs in six innings of work in Game 1.

The Astros tend to struggle against men who really know how to pitch. That is why they struggled with Charlie Morton this year and David Price last year, but they got to guys like Tyler Glasnow and Chris Sale. If a pitcher knows how to work the corners and keep guys off balance the Astros can struggle. That is exactly why they had issues with Tanaka and likely will again in a potential Game 5.

The New York Yankees are going with Masahiro Tanaka in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, manager Aaron Boone told reporters on Friday.

Tanaka gets the nod for Saturday's MLB ALCS opener over Cy Young contender Luis Severino and James Paxton, who the Yankees picked up for the postseason.

But Tanaka's call looks appropriate as he has a career 1.54 ERA in six career postseason starts.

Two of those starts came against the Astros in the 2017 ALCS. In that series, Tanaka allowed two runs in 13 innings pitched.

However, the decision not to start Paxton or Severino could be a costly one. Both have great success against the Astros as well along with better fastballs which have given Houston trouble this year.

Severino, however, is just 1-1 against the Astros in the playoffs, allowing four runs in 8.6 innings of work in the ALCS in 2017 and Paxton is 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA against Houston in 2019.

Paxton has a lot of past success against the Astros, including a 2018 with the Seattle Mariners in which he went 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA, but that apparently is not enough to earn the series-opening start against the American League West champions.

The Astros will counter with Zack Greinke in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

The final two matchups of the first three games will be Justin Verlander against James Paxton and Gerrit Cole versus Luis Severino.

 

The Houston Astros have advanced to the ALCS for the third consecutive season after a 6-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays had forced game five on Tuesday after levelling the series at 2-2, but had no answer to Gerrit Cole's dominant display in the decider.

Cole tossed eight innings of one-run baseball allowing two hits, one walk and striking out 10 for Houston to guide his team to a comfortable win.

The Astros got to Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow early in the first, scoring three runs before Tampa even recorded one out. Houston plated four in the first frame when it was all said and done and never looked back.

Houston moves on to the American League Championship Series for the third straight season where they will host the New York Yankees in game one, as they aim for a second World Series appearance in three years.


Three takeaways from Astros' win over the Rays in ALDS Game 5 Cole is absolutely unreal

Seriously.

Cole has arguably been the best pitcher in MLB all season and is definitely the best in the post-season right now. Over his two starts in the ALDS, Cole pitched 15 2/3 innings allowing one run on six hits all while striking out 25 Rays hitters. His 2019 postseason ERA now clocks in at 0.57. 

The UCLA product also struck out 10+ batters for the 11th straight start, per MLB.com.

Cole's 25 strikeouts are also the most by an Astros pitcher in a single postseason series.


Houston wore down Tampa Bay's pitching

The 2019 Astros aren't just one of best hitting teams in MLB this season, they're one of the best hitting teams ever and while Tampa's pitching was dominant all year, Houston's hitters finally wore it down.

 

After dropping the first two games of the series, the Rays' pitching staff buckled down and allowed just four runs over games three and four. Heading into Thursday's decider, manager Kevin Cash said everybody was available in Tampa's bullpen, including former Cy Young winner Blake Snell.

However, it didn't matter much as the Astros struck early, plating four runs in the first off Glasnow. Houston's hitters even got to Tampa's lights-out bullpen as Emilio Pagan allowed back-to-back home runs to lead off the eighth inning, which all but sealed the game.
 

José Altuve comes up big once again

If it already wasn't evident, Altuve is really, really good.

Houston's second baseman went 2 for 4 at the plate including an RBI single in the first to get the Astros on the board, and a home run in the eighth to help seal the deal.

The 29-year-old's 11 career postseason homers are the most by a second baseman all time and are tied with teammate George Springer for the most in Astros' history, per MLB.com.

Altuve's stellar performance at the plate Thursday not only added to an illustrious postseason career for the Venezuelan native, but helped the Astros' post-season dominance continue.

Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann said he is retiring following the team's loss to the St Louis Cardinals in the Nationals League Division Series.

McCann made the announcement after Wednesday's 13-1 Game 5 rout in the NLDS and 15 MLB seasons.

The 35-year-old – a World Series champion with the Houston Astros in 2017 – return to the Braves this season.

"It's time to go," McCann told reporters post-game. "I had a long career. Fifteen years is a long time catching every day. And I got to do it my hometown."

The Georgia native made his major-league debut with the Braves back in 2005. He would spend nine years in Atlanta before signing a five-year, $85million contract with the New York Yankees prior to the 2014 season.

A seven-time All-Star and six-time Silver Slugger, McCann was then traded to the Astros after the 2016 season.

McCann returned to Atlanta on a one-year, $2m deal ahead of the 2019 campaign.

"That was a big reason I wanted to come back," McCann said. "I wanted to be a part of this again, put this uniform back on and play in front of my family every night."

McCann sported a .262/.337/.452 career line while hitting 282 homers and driving in 1,018 runs. He also posted a career 31.8 bWAR.

The Tampa Bay Rays forced Game Five in their American League Division Series with the Houston Astros after a 4-1 win on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay jumped Houston in the first inning with three early runs, before big defensive plays negated the Astros through the middle period of the game.

Tommy Pham had three hits, including a home run, with Willy Adames also going big for his third extra-base hit of the series.

Houston finally broke through at the top of the eighth with a solo homer from Robinson Chirinos, but the Rays rearguard proved too strong on the night.

With the series tied at 2-2, the teams return to Minute Maid Park on Thursday to determine who advances to the ALCS to face the New York Yankees. The loser will see their 2019 season come to an end.
 

Three takeaways from the Rays' big win

Starting Justin Verlander backfired for the Astros

Justin Verlander pushed for Houston to start him in Game Four on three days' rest, but he struggled with command and movement against Tampa Bay. He consistently sailed balls high and his sliders simply weren't sliding. When you throw as many balls right down the pipe as Verlander did, you're bound to get punished.

His first inning was drawn out as he gave up a home run, allowed three scores and threw 32 pitches. Although the 36-year-old held the Rays scoreless in the second inning, he gave up a second home run in the fourth inning before being pulled. He finished after throwing 84 pitches in 3 2/3 innings of work.

Verlander entered Tuesday with an 8-0 career record and 2.14 ERA in 12 ALDS appearances but was short of peak form this time. That really hurt his team.

Nearly all Rays batters contributed on offense

Tampa Bay totalled 13 hits against Houston's pitching from eight of their 10 batters. Only Austin Meadows and Ji-Man Choi were held hitless, but Choi managed to get on base by being walked three times.

Avisail Garcia had three hits and Pham added three. Pham and Adames both hit home runs and accounted for the Rays' four RBIs alongside Joey Wendle and Travis D'Arnaud.

Tampa Bay's line-up proved good from top to bottom at the plate and made the most of the opportunities they got.

Don't underestimate Tampa Bay's pitching

Houston had one of the most dynamic offenses in baseball, as they scored the third-most runs in MLB (920) in 2019. But the Rays were able to hold the Astros to their lowest run total of the postseason.

Tampa Bay's pitching performance was a group effort that utilised six different arms. They combined for eight strikeouts and only allowed a score on Chirinos' solo shot in the eighth inning. The Rays bullpen will certainly be important in Game 5 at Minute Maid Park.

In a match-up of crafty 35-year-old pitchers who are no strangers to the postseason stage, Charlie Morton and the Tampa Bay Rays outpitched Zack Greinke and the Houston Astros on Monday, winning 10-3 in Game 3 of the American League Division Series to stay alive.

In their first home playoff game since 2013, the Rays thrilled a rare large, loud crowd by driving Greinke from the game in the fourth inning on their way to a rout of the AL's top seed.

Game 4 will be played on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.

 

Three takeaways from Rays' season-saving Game 3 win

Greinke goes south

The Astros had every reason to believe Greinke would follow the dominant path carved by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole as he made his first postseason start for Houston on Monday.

The veteran's last regular-season start was his most effective this season, as he allowed just three baserunners and struck out nine in 8.3 shut-out innings against the Seattle Mariners.

And the Rays' offense had been non-existent in the first two games of the series, hitting a combined .177 and failing to score off Verlander and Cole in their 14.6 total innings of work. 

But the Rays obviously found Greinke's array of softer stuff a relief after watching fastballs from the co-Cy Young favourites zip by them in Games 1 and 2. The three home runs Tampa Bay hit off Greinke came on a changeup, a changeup and a curveball — each of them traveling less than 80mph.

Those homers accounted for the first five of the seven runs charged to Greinke in an outing that bore eerie similarities to his poor season-opening start. Pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 28, Greinke also allowed seven runs in 3.6 innings, surrendering four homers in the process. No one could have expected what might now end up being his final start of the 2019 season to match his first, but the veteran had no answers for a suddenly resurgent Rays offense on Monday. 

Morton proves his worth again

In his second win-or-go-home start of the postseason for the Rays, Morton once again put his team in a position to stay in contention.

After a rough first inning that saw him throw 31 pitches and surrender Jose Altuve's 10th career postseason home run, Morton eventually settled into a groove and kept the Astros' dangerous line-up at bay, holding them scoreless for the rest of his five-inning stint.

While Morton had better stuff on Monday, striking out nine, the outing largely mirrored his effort in the wildcard game at Oakland last week. He surrendered one unearned run in five innings of that one before handing a 5-1 lead over to the Rays' bullpen. Though Tampa Bay's relievers were not airtight in this one as they were against the A's, the offense kept adding on to keep them alive. 

Given the Rays must win the next two games to keep their season alive, this could well end up being Morton's final start of his first season in Tampa Bay. If so, he proved a bargain for the $15million the Rays paid him, serving as the anchor of a rotation strained by injuries and providing two season-saving starts when they needed him the most. 

Reminder: The Trop can be fun

Ridiculed just about as often as the fanbase that leaves it mostly empty throughout the season, Tropicana Field served up a reminder that it can in fact provide a home-field advantage. All people have to do is show up. 

After playing in front of an average crowd of 14,734 during the regular season, the Rays had to be delighted to have 32,251 on hand for the Game 3 matinee. And from the moment Kevin Kiermaier rocked Greinke with that second-inning homer, those fans kept the place roaring with every big hit by the home team. 

Though Tampa Bay has continued to enjoy strong local TV ratings even as attendance has sagged, it is rare that fans around the country get to see — and hear — how raucous it can get under the roof in St. Petersburg. 

Now we will see if they can do it again on Tuesday for Game 4.

In a match-up of crafty 35-year-old pitchers who are no strangers to the postseason stage, Charlie Morton and the Tampa Bay Rays outpitched Zack Greinke and the Houston Astros on Monday, winning 10-3 in Game 3 of the American League Division Series to stay alive.

In their first home playoff game since 2013, the Rays thrilled a rare large, loud crowd by driving Greinke from the game in the fourth inning on their way to a rout of the AL's top seed.

Game 4 will be played on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.

Three takeaways from Rays' season-saving Game 3 win Greinke goes south

The Astros had every reason to believe Greinke would follow the dominant path carved by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole as he made his first postseason start for Houston on Monday.

The veteran's last regular-season start was his most effective this season, as he allowed just three baserunners and struck out nine in 8 1/3 shutout innings against the Seattle Mariners.

And the Rays' offense had been non-existent in the first two games of the series, hitting a combined .177 and failing to score off Verlander and Cole in their 14 2/3 total innings of work. 

But the Rays obviously found Greinke's array of softer stuff a relief after watching fastballs from the co-Cy Young favourites zip by them in Games 1 and 2. The three home runs Tampa Bay hit off Greinke came on a changeup, a changeup and a curveball — each of them traveling less than 80mph.

Those homers accounted for the first five of the seven runs charged to Greinke in an outing that bore eerie similarities to his poor season-opening start. Pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 28, Greinke also allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, surrendering four homers in the process. No one could have expected what might now end up being his final start of the 2019 season to match his first, but the veteran had no answers for a suddenly resurgent Rays offense on Monday. 

Morton proves his worth again

In his second win-or-go-home start of the postseason for the Rays, Morton once again put his team in a position to stay in contention.

After a rough first inning that saw him throw 31 pitches and surrender Jose Altuve's 10th career postseason home run, Morton eventually settled into a groove and kept the Astros' dangerous line-up at bay, holding them scoreless for the rest of his five-inning stint.

While Morton had better stuff on Monday, striking out nine, the outing largely mirrored his effort in the wildcard game at Oakland last week. He surrendered one unearned run in five innings of that one before handing a 5-1 lead over to the Rays' bullpen. Though Tampa Bay's relievers were not airtight in this one as they were against the A's, the offense kept adding on to keep them alive. 

Given the Rays must win the next two games to keep their season alive, this could well end up being Morton's final start of his first season in Tampa Bay. If so, he proved a bargain for the $15million the Rays paid him, serving as the anchor of a rotation strained by injuries and providing two season-saving starts when they needed him the most. 

Reminder: The Trop can be fun

Ridiculed just about as often as the fanbase that leaves it mostly empty throughout the season, Tropicana Field served up a reminder that it can in fact provide a home-field advantage. All people have to do is show up. 

After playing in front of an average crowd of 14,734 during the regular season, the Rays had to be delighted to have 32,251 on hand for the Game 3 matinee. And from the moment Kevin Kiermaier rocked Greinke with that second-inning homer, those fans kept the place roaring with every big hit by the home team. 

Though Tampa Bay has continued to enjoy strong local TV ratings even as attendance has sagged, it is rare that fans around the country get to see — and hear — how raucous it can get under the roof in St. Petersburg. 

Now we will see if they can do it again on Tuesday for Game 4.

The Houston Astros grabbed a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series (ALDS) thanks to a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.

Will Harris got a tough break last year. He was left off the Astros' playoff roster after a rough season and had to watch Houston lose in five games to the Boston Red Sox without being able to do a thing.

But in Houston's Game 2 win over the Rays, he came up big.

After closer Roberto Osuna gave up a run and loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, Harris came in and shut the door with a strikeout of Travis D'Arnaud and an easy groundout by Kevin Kiermaier.

 

Three takeaways from Astros' nerve-wracking ALDS Game 2 win over Rays

This game was Gerrit Cole's masterpiece

If anyone doubted that Gerrit Cole was going to be making more than $200million this year, or $300m or $400m, this game showed they were gravely mistaken.

This was Cole's masterpiece, his ninth symphony, his Mona Lisa. This performance was so good the 29-year-old was nearly untouchable in Game 2, going 7.2 innings, striking out 15 and walking just one while allowing four hits.

Cole broke the Astros' playoff franchise record of 14 strikeouts, became the first pitcher in playoff history to toss 6.2 innings while striking out 13 without walking a batter or allowing a run and he became the first pitcher since Statcast began tracking in 2008 to get 33 swings and misses in a playoff game.

Alex Bregman loves to show up All-Stars

There is no denying Alex Bregman loves the spotlight. If people are watching he is trying to put on a show whenever he can and he did that once again in Game 2, hitting a home run off Rays starter and 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.

Snell has had his moments against the Astros in his career but Bregman does not care much. He enjoys homering off All-Stars in the postseason and he especially loves homering off Cy Young Award winners.

Bregman's home run off Snell was the seventh of his postseason career.

 

Beating the shift is not that easy

Players and teams should try to exploit the shift more, but sometimes it is simply not that easy. A lot of times if a player beats the shift a team do not care. A perfect example is Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson.

Teams are not shifting so they can field one of his many ground balls, they are doing it because if he hits a ground ball to the left side they do not really care. In a way, if he does that, the shifting team have won because Olson did not hit a home run – or at least a hard-hit line drive or fly ball – which is what he is trying to do every single at-bat.

During the fifth inning of Game 2, A. J. Pierzynski and Joe Girardi were talking on the FS1 broadcast about how Kevin Kiermaier should try to beat the shift. The Astros had three men on the right side of the infield and the left side was almost completely open. But on the next pitch after they said that, Cole dropped in a nasty curveball down and into Kiermaier.

That is a very tough pitch to hit the opposite way, and another thing people do not talk about much with the shift is teams do not get into the shift and then throw pitches that make it harder to hit into them, with a few exceptions. They will throw pitches like the one Cole threw to Kiermaier knowing that it is hard to hit the other way, and a very hard pitch to make solid contact on anyway.

In a rather predictable Game 1 of the American League Division Series (ALDS), the Houston Astros walked away with a convincing 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. 

While some aspects were expected, we saw big performances from Tampa Bay pitcher Tyler Glasnow and a promising return from Houston shortstop Carlos Correa. 

With the Astros now leading the series 1-0, Houston (starting pitcher Gerrit Cole) will face Tampa Bay (starting pitcher Blake Snell) again on Saturday.

 

Three takeaways from Astros' Game 1 ALDS win over Rays

Rays proved why they are underdogs

The Rays entered Game 1 of the ALDS as big underdogs. Tampa Bay put up a fight to stop one of the most potent offenses in MLB, but it ultimately was not enough as the Rays made crucial mistakes. Houston arguably have the best starting rotation in MLB with Justin Verlander, Cole and Zack Greinke, though Tampa Bay held the Astros scoreless through four innings with Glasnow pitching for the majority of that time.

Houston finished the regular season winning an MLB-high 107 games. The Rays, who went 4-3 against Houston in the regular season, had 96 victories with a versatile roster in a tough AL East. But they did earn their spot in this series after knocking off the Oakland Athletics 5-1 in the wild-card round on Wednesday. 

The Rays missed out on key opportunities to change the course of the game, with the most notable mistake coming when Yuli Gurriel hit a popup to right field with two outs in the fifth. A miscommunication between second baseman Brandon Lowe and outfielder Austin Meadows resulted in two runs scoring for the Astros, giving Houston a 4-0 lead.

With Friday's loss, Tampa Bay's best chance of taking down the Astros likely came and went with Glasnow's start.

Tyler Glasnow kept Rays in game

One main reason the Astros did not score more runs in Game 1 – Glasnow kept the Rays in the game. Glasnow impressed in Friday's start, allowing four hits and three walks while striking out five. 

He did not allow a score from Houston until he threw a fastball up in the zone to Jose Altuve, who hit it into the left-field stands. The hit gave Houston a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning.

The throw ended up being the last of Glasnow's 76-pitch outing. He was replaced briefly by Brendan McKay and then Chaz Roe in relief.

 

Carlos Correa finally looks healthy

Correa, who hit .279 with 21 homers and 59 RBIs this season, is back and he looks healthy. The Astros shortstop played a career-low 75 games this season because of rib and back injuries. He missed nearly two months with a broken rib first and then another month with a back problem that also forced him to miss the last week of the regular season.

Correa, known to thrive when it matters most as he has slugged eight home runs in 32 postseason games, hit seventh in the Astros lineup behind six players who hit at least .290, further cementing Houston's depth. 

In his first at-bat on Friday, he got a two-out single. The hit marked the first scoring threat of the game, though the Astros were not able to capitalise on it.

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