With heavy rain falling in New York on Wednesday afternoon and more expected at night, Game 4 of the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Houston Astros was postponed a day, until 8 p.m. on Thursday. Game 5, originally scheduled for Thursday, was pushed back to Friday, which was once a day off for travel — and the ripple effects of that shift will resonate throughout the rest of the series.
The Yankees’ pitching staff, already taxed from their heavy reliance on the bullpen, may have to play four times in four days, if the series goes a full seven games. And Wednesday’s postponement also meant the Astros most likely bypassed what would have been a bullpen game featuring a rookie pitcher, so they can turn instead to their other two aces, Zack Greinke in Game 4 on Thursday and Justin Verlander in Game 5 on Friday, both on regular rest.
“The sooner we can use our best pitchers, the better for us,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon. His team holds a two-games-to-one edge.
Should the series require a sixth game, the teams would play Game 5 at 7 p.m. Eastern on Friday and take a four-hour flight to Houston in order to play at 7 p.m. Central in Houston on Saturday.
The Yankees will counter with Masahiro Tanaka in Game 4 and James Paxton in Game 5. Tanaka is the only Yankees pitcher to log at least five innings in each of his postseason starts. In a Yankees win in Game 1, he flummoxed the Astros’ lineup over six scoreless innings.But aside from Tanaka, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone has been aggressive in pulling sputtering starters this postseason to turn the game over to his bullpen, the strength of the pitching staff.
The new schedule is a complicating factor. For the Astros, it means potentially having to decide whether to use ace Gerrit Cole for Game 6 on short rest or Game 7 on regular rest. The Yankees, who didn’t use any of their relievers for three days in a row during the regular season in hopes of preserving them for October, must now be more conservative than they would have preferred.
Boone said he would break that regular-season guideline on a case-by-case basis as long as the relievers’ bodies cooperated. His decision-making, of course, would become a lot easier if the Yankees starters can carry a heavier load in the coming games. “They’re going to need to give us some innings if we’re going to be successful,” Boone said Wednesday.
The Yankees, who endured an astounding run of injuries during the regular season, also face other personnel questions for the rest of the series. Left fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who suffered a right quadriceps strain in Game 1, has not played since then despite Boone’s insistence that Stanton remains available as a pinch-hitter. The Yankees already had a short bench entering the series when they opted to include 13 pitchers, instead of 12, on their A.L.C.S. roster.
Although the Yankees have hit better (.220) than the Astros (.173), most of their damage came in Game 1 and they struggled to drive in base runners against Verlander and Cole. Catcher Gary Sanchez and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, both of whom missed chunks of September with injuries, may still be rusty: They are a combined 2 for 25 this series.
Additionally, Adam Ottavino, a key Yankees reliever during the regular season, has sputtered this postseason. Boone said he would not bench Sanchez nor avoid using Ottavino, calling them both essential to the Yankees in this A.L.C.S.
The rainout will only cost the Yankees and Astros a day, but it scrambled the playoff plans of Yankee Stadium’s other tenant. New York City F.C., one of the top seeds in Major League Soccer’s playoffs, announced Wednesday afternoon that it would move its home playoff game next weekend to Citi Field, following through on contingency plans created when it became clear a collision of dates was likely.