Justin Verlander tries to pitch Astros into ALCS on short rest

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After two straight weekdays of four games a piece we have a quaint one game day today, with the Astros taking on the Rays this evening. If the Astros win they’ll move on to face the Yankees in the ALCS. If the Rays win it’s back to Houston for a deciding Game 5 on Thursday.

The Game: Houston Astros @ Tampa Bay Rays
The Ballpark: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida
The Time: 7:07 PM Eastern
The Network: FS1
The Pitchers: Justin Verlander vs. The Bullpen

The Upshot:

Technically Diego Castillo gets the start for the Rays but he’s the opener and this will be an all-hands-on-deck bullpen game for Tampa Bay. A.J. Hinch had left his fourth starter blank until yesterday, leaving open the possibility that he might go with rookie José Urquidy or Wade Miley, but Miley pitched out of the pen yesterday and Urquidy hasn’t seen action in 11 days.

Frankly, though, it’s hard to imagine that Hinch truly ever would go with anyone but Verlander here given that the current situation — Astros up 2-1 — is the most optimistic possible scenario in which a Game 4 could be happening from his point of view. I dunno, maybe he just wanted to keep the Rays guessing.

If you didn’t look I bet you would’ve figured that Verlander, the horse that he is, has done well on short rest in the past. You’d be wrong. Not that he’s done poorly either. Actually, he’s never really worked on short rest ever. See for yourself. He technically has one postseason start on three-days’ rest before, back in the 2011 ALDS, but that was because his first start was rain-shortened and he had only thrown one inning. This will be the first time in his big league career he has ever gone on three-days’ rest after a full start. Kind of shocking, but there you have it.

As for that last start, Verlander went seven scoreless innings in Game 1 on Friday, throwing 100 pitches while allowing just one hit and striking out eight. Not too bad.

Everything about Verlander suggests he should be OK on short rest, but you never really know. All the Rays do know is that, if they don’t beat him this evening, their season is over.

Phillies down Astros for 1st playoff berth since 2011

Philadelphia Phillies v Houston Astros
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HOUSTON – Aaron Nola took a perfect game into the seventh inning and Kyle Schwarber homered twice as the Philadelphia Phillies clinched their first playoff berth in 11 years with a 3-0 win over the Houston Astros on Monday night.

After Brandon Marsh caught Mauricio Dubon’s fly ball in center for for the game’s final out, players jumped and cheered in jubilation before meeting at the mound where they hugged and bounced around some more.

The video board at Minute Maid Park displayed the team’s logo and the words: “Congratulations Philadelphia” as the Phillies celebrated.

A small but vocal group of Philadelphia fans congregated near the team’s dugout and chanted: “Let’s go Phillies,” in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Phillies clinched at the same ballpark where they secured their last postseason trip on Sept. 14, 2011. That game was a 1-0 victory over the Astros highlighted by a complete game shutout by Hall of Famer Roy Halladay.

Philadelphia’s postseason drought was the longest active one in the majors after the Seattle Mariners clinched their first playoff berth in 21 years Friday night.

The Phillies entered the opener of the final regular season series of the year needing a win or a loss by the Brewers to get a National League Wild Card spot. The Brewers rallied to beat the Diamondbacks 6-5 in 10 innings a few minutes before Philadelphia wrapped up the victory.

Nola (11-13) struck out nine and didn’t allow a baserunner until Yordan Alvarez singled with two outs in the seventh. David Hensley followed with a single and Nola was replaced by Jose Alvarado, who struck out Kyle Tucker to end the inning.

Zach Eflin pitched a scoreless ninth to complete the shutout and get his first save in 11 years of pro ball.

Schwarber got things going for the Phillies in their first visit to Houston since Sept. 16, 2012, with a leadoff homer off Lance McCullers (4-2)

Philadelphia added some insurance when Bryson Stott and Schwarber hit back-to-back solo shots off Jose Urquidy to start the eighth inning.

It is the eighth multi-home run game this season for Schwarber, who leads the NL with a career-high 46 home runs, and gives him 199 homers in his career.

The Phillies have three players who will appear in the postseason for the first time after playing more than 600 career games. Jean Segura leads the group with 1,327, J.T. Realmuto has 1,004 and Rhys Hoskins is at 666.

McCullers allowed six hits and one run with five strikeouts in six innings.

Manager Dusty Baker replaced Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Jeremy Pena with Aledmys Diaz, Dubon and Hensley for the seventh inning.

He said before the game that he planned to get some of his starters out early to rest since Houston has already clinched the best record in the American League.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Phillies: LHP Brad Hand (elbow tendinitis) threw a bullpen session Monday in Houston and could throw live batting practice Wednesday. If that goes well, he could be ready to return for the postseason.

UP NEXT

Houston Justin Verlander, whose 1.80 ERA leads the majors, will try for his 18th win when the series continues Tuesday against Ranger Suarez (10-6, 3.37).