NEW YORK — On Aug. 11, the Houston Astros caught the New York Yankees in the race for the best record in the American League and home field advantage.
One more win and the Astros will make home field advantage a moot point and can start enjoying a lengthy layoff before the World Series.
The Astros attempt to complete a sweep and advance to their fourth World Series in six seasons Sunday night when they face the scuffling Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
Houston is 6-0 in the postseason and, if it accomplishes a sweep, will tie the 2007 Colorado Rockies and 2020 Atlanta Braves for the second-longest streak in the wild-card era (since 1995). The Astros’ offense is not producing big numbers at the plate, but doing enough.
Jose Altuve is 1-for-28 in the postseason and Yordan Alvarez is 5-for-25, but others are contributing. The Astros followed up victories in Houston by rolling to a 5-0 win Saturday over the Yankees as ninth-place hitter Chas McCormick hit a two-run homer in the second inning.
Trey Mancini hit a sacrifice fly and Christian Vazquez produced a two-run single in the sixth inning. Both Mancini and Vazquez were acquired by Houston at the trade deadline.
“Obviously it feels good, but we’re not satisfied,” McCormick said. “We got to win one more. As soon as we can do this it’d be great. So, we’re not going to come out any slower than we did today. We’re going to be ready to play (Sunday) and go for the sweep.”
If Houston wins, it will start its second straight trip to the World Series at home Friday.
“The Yankees are always dangerous, especially here in New York, so we got an opportunity to close it out and win (Sunday), so we’re going to take every opportunity to try to do that,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said.
New York is batting .161 (40-for-248) in the postseason and .128 for the series. The Yankees are on the verge of being swept in a best-of-seven series for the first time since hitting .157 in the 2012 ALCS against Detroit.
On Saturday, Giancarlo Stanton doubled in the fourth inning against Cristian Javier before Matt Carpenter and Harrison Bader singled in the ninth against Bryan Abreu. New York also struck out 11 more times, giving it 40 in the series and 94 in eight postseason games.
Aaron Judge has 14 of those strikeouts and is hitting .156, including 1-for-12 in the ALCS.
On Saturday, the Yankees used their fourth leadoff hitter of the postseason. Judge batted leadoff in the first two games against Cleveland, Gleyber Torres led off the final three games and the first game of the ALCS before Harrison Bader did it in Game 2. Anthony Rizzo led off Saturday.
“Our backs are against the wall now,” Rizzo said. “As a competitor and as a baseball player, it sucks, but (Sunday) we have another game. Obviously, this isn’t ideal, but we just have to win (Sunday). It sucks tonight, it’s going to suck, it’s going to sting, but (Sunday) we have to figure out a way to win.”
After getting standout starts from Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr. goes Sunday.
McCullers is 2-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 17 postseason outings (10 starts) and allowed two hits in six innings in Game 3 of the ALDS last week when he also slightly injured his elbow in the celebration.
McCullers faced the Yankees twice in the 2017 ALCS when he allowed one run in 10 innings. He started Game 3 and then pitched the final four innings of Game 7 when he struck out six and threw curveballs for his final 24 pitches.
“That was a special type of night for me and kind of an event,” McCullers said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to top that. I think I’m more of a little bit of a complete pitcher now to rip off 24 in a row, but you never know.”
Nestor Cortes will make his third career postseason start after allowing three runs in 10 innings during the ALDS against Cleveland. Cortes started Game 2 on Oct. 14 when he allowed two runs in five innings and then returned on three days’ rest to allow one run in five innings in Game 5 on Tuesday.
Cortes faced the Astros on June 26 in New York when he allowed three runs in five innings of a no-decision. The former 36th-round pick allowed a homer to Altuve on the first pitch along with a two-run double to Mauricio Dubon.
“Obviously it’s a big situation for me and, like I said before, I’m up for the challenge,” Cortes said. “I feel like this is a win-win for me. I’m pitching in the ALCS and if we win, we have more life. So, just happy to be here and take advantage of the opportunity.”
–Larry Fleisher, Field Level Media