A year after a 5 seed beat a 1 in the ALDS, that 5 is a now a 1 and a game away from losing to a 5 seed in the ALDS. Lance McCullers, a week after his 22nd birthday, will get the call to try to put the Royals away; when he gets his first out, it’ll mark his 158th inning of the year, 54 more than he has ever thrown in a season.

Kansas City Royals (Yordano Ventura) at Houston Astros (Lance McCullers), 1:07 p.m. Eastern

PECOTA odds of winning: 59% Astros, 41% Royals

Projected Starting Lineups

Royals vs. McCullers (R)

Astros vs. Ventura (R)

Alcides Escobar (R) SS

Jose Altuve (R) 2B

Ben Zobrist (S) 2B

George Springer (R) RF

Lorenzo Cain (R) CF

Carlos Correa (R) SS

Eric Hosmer (L) 1B

Colby Rasmus (L) LF

Kendrys Morales (S) DH

Evan Gattis (R) DH

Mike Moustakas (L) 3B

Carlos Gomez (R) CF

Salvador Perez (R) C

Luis Valbuena (L) 3B

Alex Gordon (L) LF

Chris Carter (R) 1B

Alex Rios (R) RF

Jason Castro (L) C

Injuries/Availability: Carlos Gomez, limited to (unsuccessful) pinch-running duties in the first two games, started on Sunday and is presumably “recovered” from the intercostal strain that cost him two weeks in September and has had him grimacing this week. Jason Castro, who has been playing every day through a quad strain, is presumably still well enough to squat, despite the empty bat he has been swinging. Nobody else is unavailable, particularly on the Royals side, who in a must-win situation have three potential long-men (Medlen, Young, and Duffy) well rested in case Ventura should fail early.

Outlook: Among other things, the Astros have had the fifth-largest home-field advantage in baseball over the past decade, so if all you knew was that they were playing Game Four in Minute Maid Park, you’d give ‘em pretty good chances. The rest will depend on two second-half stories, and whether either of them was more than noise. For McCullers, the second-half story was that he went over his career-high in innings on July 29th, and since that start had a 4.28 ERA in the majors. (It was 2.48 before that.) But it’s easy to feel confident nonetheless: The bulk of the difference was in a few extra home runs and a higher BABIP; not wildness or a loss of the strike zone; his velocity hasn’t flinched

Month Fourseam
15-May 95.24
15-Jun 95.14
15-Jul 95.23
15-Aug 95.14
15-Sep 95.45
15-Oct 95.43

and about half the damage came in one awful outing, way back in August, right after clearing his previous innings high. Take out that outing and he’s put up a low-3s ERA in his past 50 innings. So while it’s always worth watching how pitchers wear down late, McCullers hasn’t shown reason to worry.

Ventura’s second-half story was a remarkable run after an extremely brief demotion to Triple-A. In his final 10 starts he had a 2.61 ERA and struck out 73 batters in 62 innings. He got serious! He got mature! He got motivated! He got… lit up in the two innings he threw in Game One of this series, before rain came and gave him the hook. For a guy pitching on short rest, he’s pretty well rested. The Astros hitters have been extremely aggressive this series, particularly early in counts, and in Game One Ventura came out firing strikes—32 in his 44 pitches. Expect him to adjust. —Sam Miller

Blue Jays/Rangers

The Rangers staved off elimination on Sunday night, meaning we will indeed have a Game Four.

Toronto Blue Jays (R.A. Dickey) at Texas Rangers (Derek Holland), 4:00 p.m. Eastern

PECOTA odds of winning: 57% Rangers, 43% Blue Jays

Projected Starting Lineups

Blue Jays vs. Holland (L)

Rangers vs. Dickey (R)

Ben Revere (L) LF

Delino DeShields Jr. (R) CF

Josh Donaldson (R) 3B

Shin-Soo Choo (L) RF

Jose Bautista (R) RF

Prince Fielder (L) DH

Edwin Encarnacion (R) DH

Mitch Moreland (L) 1B

Chris Colabello (R) 1B

Elvis Andrus (R) SS

Troy Tulowitzki (R) SS

Josh Hamilton (L) LF

Russell Martin (R) C

Rougned Odor (L) 2B

Kevin Pillar (R) CF

Robinson Chirinos (R) C

Ryan Goins (L) 2B

Hanser Alberto (R) 3B

Injuries/Availability: Adrian Beltre hasn't played since tweaking his back early in Game One. All indications from Jeff Banister are that he's willing to reinsert Beltre as soon as Beltre says he's ready to go. Since Beltre didn't play in Game Three, one must assume he's out for Game Four as well, barring a miraculous overnight recovery. That means his availability for the rest of this series is probably limited to a potential Game Five (if then). Chi Chi Gonzalez is unavailable to pitch following his prolonged outing on Sunday night.

The Blue Jays have no known availability issues on their active roster.

Outlook: After suffering consecutive disappointing losses to begin the series, the Blue Jays were able to stay alive thanks to a few timely hits and a strong outing from Marco Estrada. Toronto needs R.A. Dickey to pitch well in his first career postseason start if they're to push this series to its limit. With David Price presumably available out of the bullpen, that means John Gibbons will face a dilemma anytime Dickey is facing trouble in the early going.

The Rangers are countering with Holland, who, at one point, was in line to start Game One. He struggled in September—his totals: 39 hits, 25 runs, and 16 walks over 36 innings—but finished the season on a solid note by recording his first quality start in nearly a month. The Rangers are hoping that Holland shows up to work, not the other one. Of course, his performance won't mean much if the Rangers' lineup doesn't put forth a better effort than they did on Sunday. —R.J. Anderson

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Great write up. Looking forward to the games today.
Only quibble with the PECOTA odds are that they seemed to swing quite a bit in the Rangers favor today without much changing from yesterday.
"The Rangers staved off elimination on Sunday night"
C'mon, they didn't exactly give the game away. :-)