Astros' Justin Verlander falters on short rest as Rays force decisive ALDS Game 5

The Houston Astros took a risk on Tuesday in Game 4 of their American League Divisional Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, starting Justin Verlander on three days' rest for just the second time in his career. (The first time came in the 2011 ALDS, when he was removed after an inning due to a lengthy rain delay.) The gamble -- intended to wrap up the series on Tuesday and avoid a decisive Game 5 on Thursday evening -- did not pay off with Tampa Bay getting to Verlander early in a 4-1 win (box score).

Verlander was uncharacteristically human. He finished the evening having thrown 84 pitches in 3 ⅔ innings while permitting seven hits, four earned runs (including two home runs), and three walks. He did manage five strikeouts, but labored to get there.

You wouldn't know it based on velocity. Verlander's fastball checked in at 95.1 mph on average during Game 4 -- or nearly a full tick higher than the 94.5 mph he threw in Game 1. That established, he did allow harder contact due to a combination of duller stuff and sloppier geography. Take a look at how his pitches fared in Game 1 versus in Game 4, per Statcast data.

Pitcher/Exit Velocity (BIP)Game 1Game 4

Fastball

81.2 mph (6)

91.9 mph (4)

Slider

86 mph (3)

97 mph (6)

Changeup

N/A (0)

103.8 mph (2)

Curveball

83.5 mph (3)

100.3 mph (1)

Much of the damage against Verlander was done in the first inning. He allowed a solo home run to Tommy Pham to make it 1-0, then a string of hits that enabled the Rays to build a 3-0 lead. A Willy Adames home run in the fourth made it 4-0 and that was about it for Verlander.

Obviously it's easy to question A.J. Hinch's decision afterward -- or beforehand, if you were so inclined -- but Houston's tepidness with regards to Wade Miley is reasonable enough. Miley entered September with a 3.06 ERA and by season's end it was up to 3.98. How? By yielding 28 hits, 21 runs (all earned), and seven walks in 11 innings while fanning just six over five starts. There's bad and then there's that. 

The Astros will now turn to Gerrit Cole in Game 5, hopeful that he can send them to the AL Championship Series. If not, the Astros will have to reflect on what could have been.

CBS Sports Staff

R.J. Anderson joined CBS Sports in 2016. He previously wrote for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to five of the New York Times bestselling annuals. His work has also appeared in Newsweek and... Full Bio

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