All of a sudden, the Astros have a bullpen problem in the ALCS vs. the Yankees

NEW YORK -- Game 4 of the ALCS was the type of game the Yankees are designed to win: a battle of the bullpens. But no one expected their bullpen to win by allowing four runs.

Ace setup man David Robertson hung a curveball that Yuli Gurriel whacked for a bases-clearing double in the sixth inning, giving the Astros a 3-0 lead. A Starlin Castro error led to an unearned run against Chad Green in the seventh for a 4-0 lead.

The only thing that stood between the Astros and a commanding 3-1 series lead was nine outs. Nine more outs to turn the series over to Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander with only one win needed to advance. 

The 4-0 lead lasted four outs.

The Yankees scored two runs in the seventh and four more in the eighth to turn that 4-0 deficit into a 6-4 lead and, eventually, a win by the same score. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, who went into Game 4 a combined 2 for 21 in the ALCS, had the game-tying and go-ahead hits, respectively. 

"We just couldn't get the inning to end," said Astros manager A.J, Hinch about New York's four-run eighth inning rally. "We were trying to match up and get and make pitches. They were putting really great at-bats together. Even their outs, they had productive outs, nobody likes that term, but they got 90 feet whenever they needed to." 

Hinch had to use three relievers to get three outs in that eighth inning, including closer Ken Giles, who faced five batters and retired one. Giles, Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove, and Luke Gregerson combined to allow five runs on six hits and three walks in two innings. Houston's bullpen had the second highest strikeout rate (10.9 K/9) in baseball during the season. In Game 4, they faced 15 batters and struck out zero.

"I don't think there's anybody that's losing their job over this. They're the guys we're going with. These guys are getting outs. They have gotten outs for us all season," Hinch said. "Obviously this next game, Dallas Keuchel, he's pretty good at getting deep in the game. We'll hand the ball to this bullpen with the lead tomorrow feeling good about it, if that's the case."

As good as Houston's bullpen was throughout the regular season, the staff quietly came into the postseason with some lingering questions. Devenski and Will Harris -- Harris gave up a three-run home run to Judge in Game 3 -- became very home run prone in the second half. Gregerson pitched his way out of high-leverage work. Trade pickup Tyler Clippard pitched so poorly he wasn't even included in the postseason roster.

The Yankees, even after Robertson allowed that three-run double in the sixth inning of Game 4, are feeling pretty good about their bullpen. That was Robertson's first hiccup since he returned to New York. Green sat down the middle of the order in the eighth to keep the game close, and was really the unsung hero of Game 4. He gave the offense a chance to get back in the game.

"Really good. I mean, their lineup is very potent. And they can beat you in so many ways up and down the lineup," said Joe Girardi. "It's what he's done for us all year long. He's been really, really good. And again, he was really, really good."

Aroldis Chapman retired the side in order in the ninth, getting the three quick outs Giles couldn't get in the eighth to protect the lead. Dellin Betances can't be trusted at this point because his control is non-existent, but Tommy Kahnle and Adam Warren were in reserve in Game 4 as well. The Robertson hiccup was more of a blip than the continuation of a trend, unlike the Devenski and Harris struggles.

Fortunately for the Astros, they have their two horses set to go in Games 5 and 6 in Keuchel and Verlander. Hinch can reasonably expect them to pitch deep into the games because they've done it all year. Giles has been a rock all season, Game 4 aside. I imagine Hinch is still very confident handing the ball to him.

The middle innings though? Those are becoming a problem. The bullpen melted down in Game 4 and some of those relievers who had a tough time in the second half have continued to have a tough time in the second half. Keuchel and Verlander will solve a lot of problems by going deep, but if not, the Yankees are going to feel pretty good about their chances to get to Houston's middle relief.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for,,,... Full Bio

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