HOUSTON -- What does it say about the state of baseball that the Astros and Yankees -- the 107-win Astros and 103-win Yankees -- are both using a bullpen game in Game 6 of the ALCS? The Astros have a chance to clinch their second American League pennant in three years. For the Yankees, it's a win-or-go-home game.

"It's going to build a lot of drama," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Saturday. "Every decision is going to be scrutinized based on the results. Trust me, I'm going to scrutinize myself before you guys have a chance or any fans. It's crazy. It's thinking we're in the Game 6 of the ALCS and we're going to have upwards of double-digit number of pitchers pitching in a game of such magnitude. Welcome to 2019."

What it says is both teams are dealing with unforeseen circumstances and are willing to adapt. For the Astros, Wade Miley had a great regular season before collapsing in September, so much so that he was left off the ALCS roster entirely. Miley was expected to be their fourth starter in the postseason before pitching himself out of the picture.

The Yankees lost their fourth starter not to poor performance or injury. Domingo German was placed on administrative leave under MLB's domestic violence policy and was ruled ineligible for the playoffs. That's obviously a much more serious situation than Miley pitching poorly. The end result is the same: New York is without its fourth starter.

The Astros could have started rookie righty Jose Urquidy in Game 4. The Yankees could have given the ball to veteran southpaw J.A. Happ. Rather than go with a kid with seven big league starts or a 37-year-old who gave up 34 home runs during the regular season, each team will roll out a parade of relievers in Game 6.

"The challenges are you're not getting a lot of looks at one guy," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Saturday. "They're putting in pitchers in parts of the lineup that are designed for them to be successful. So therein lies the challenge of it."

The Game 6 starters: Brad Peacock and Chad Green. What happens after that? Who knows. Peacock and Green were announced as Saturday's starters and each is likely to work only an inning or two. Maybe three if things are really going well. Let's take a stab at figuring out how the Astros and Yankees will proceed with Game 6.

The plan for the Yankees

Setup man Chad Green will start Game 6 of the ALCS. USATSI

The Yankees are in a more dire situation than the Astros. Not only is Game 6 an elimination game for them, but they've had to work their bullpen hard in the series already. Tommy Kahnle has thrown the last two days and never once this year have the Yankees used a reliever three straight days. I bet that changes in Game 6.

Before we proceed, here is Houston's Game 6 lineup, which provides important context:

  1. CF George Springer (RHB)
  2. 2B Jose Altuve (RHB)
  3. LF Michael Brantley (LHB)
  4. 3B Alex Bregman (RHB)
  5. 1B Yuli Gurriel (RHB)
  6. SS Carlos Correa (RHB)
  7. DH Yordan Alvarez (LHB)
  8. C Martin Maldonado (RHB)
  9. RF Josh Reddick (LHB)

That's a string of three straight righties in the 4-5-6 spots and five righties in the top six spots, creating a clear "lane" for a righty reliever, as Boone likes to say. Alvarez and Reddick are both lefties, so the 7-8-9 spots are where the Yankees could use one of their two middle inning lefties (Happ and Tyler Lyons).

Given that, Green is an obvious candidate to start Game 6. He'll face mostly righties -- quality righties -- and he did open 15 games during the regular season, so this won't be a new experience for him. Green threw one inning in Game 4 and gave up a three-run home run to Correa, though he says he feels good. He just made a bad pitch.

"I've opened enough games where it's not anything out of the ordinary," Green said following Game 5. "I feel like I made one bad pitch that (Correa) put a good swing on. To be a bullpen guy in this game, you have to have a short memory. You can't have it carry over. You have to move on."

The second time through the lineup is where it could get interesting. Kahnle has pitched the last two days and Adam Ottavino, who was a shutdown right-on-right specialist all season, has been a disaster in October. The Yankees may not trust him in a win-or-go-home game. At the same time, they might not have any choice in a bullpen game.

Other righty relief options include Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Ben Heller, who was added to the ALCS roster to replace the injured CC Sabathia on Friday. Cessa held righties to a .223/.300/.436 batting line with a 21.7 percent strikeout rate this year, which is good, but not great. He was on the big league roster all year, start to finish. 

Loaisiga missed time with injuries and went up and down a few times. Heller returned from Tommy John surgery in September. They both have big velocity and good enough secondary pitches whereas Cessa is a slider specialist. Cessa has only pitched in one game this October. Loaisiga's appeared in four, which leads me to believe he's ahead of Cessa on the depth chart.

Plotting it out, New York's inning-by-inning bullpen usage could break down like so:



Chad Green

vs. top of lineup


Chad Green and Tyler Lyons

Green vs. righties, Lyons vs. 7-8-9


Tyler Lyons and Jonathan Loaisiga

Lyons vs. 7-8-9, then Loaisiga


Jonathan Loaisiga

vs. top six lineup spots


Jonathan Loaisiga and J.A. Happ

Loaisiga vs. righties, Happ vs. 7-8-9


J.A. Happ and Tommy Kahnle (or Adam Ottavino?)

Happ vs. 7-8-9, Kahnle (or Ottavino) vs. top of lineup


Zack Britton

regardless of matchup


Zack Britton/Aroldis Chapman

regardless of matchup


Aroldis Chapman

regardless of matchup

That's the perfect world scenario. Green and Loaisiga handle the righties the first two times through the lineup, Lyons and Happ get the lefties, then the regular late-inning relievers take it the rest of the way. Britton got five outs in Game 5 but only threw 18 pitches, so he's in good shape for Game 6. Chapman threw nine pitches in his 1-2-3 inning in Game 5.

Now, what is they say about the best laid plans? Right. All it takes is one guy being off their game to blow that whole thing up. In that scenario, Cessa is the man in reserve should the game go to extra innings, or someone need to be bailed out in the middle of an inning. Using Happ for three batters is less than ideal too because he's stretched out and can go long.

Because the Astros have a lineup heavy on right-handed power hitters, plus the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park reward righties with pull power, there does not appear to a way to use Happ for multiple innings in a close game. That's a real gamble given his homer problems and the makeup of Houston's lineup. Happ's role is a potential x-factor. 

At the same time, things can not go according to plan in a good way too. Green could cut through the top of the lineup on 19 pitches in the first two innings, leaving something in the tank for the third inning. The Yankees could score early and make it easier to ride someone like Cessa or Happ for 2-3 innings. The Yankees will hope for the bet and prepare for the worst.

"Not necessarily a pitch count, no," Boone said when asked about how long Green could pitch. "Kind of a baseline of hopefully where in the order he can get through. But if he looks strong and cruising along then we'll ride with him a little further. He's not built up to go too, too long but hopefully he can give us a little bit of length to start things off."

Chances are Boone and the Yankees are focusing on the first six innings. Britton and Chapman are the safety nets for the final nine outs. Regardless of where the Astros are in their lineup, Britton and Chapman are likely earmarked for the last three innings. Could be Britton for six outs and Chapman for three, or Britton for four and Chapman for five, whatever.

"Anything for a World Series championship," Britton said Friday. "Those are hard to come by, so all of us agree we'll enjoy the time off in the offseason if we're sore. It's all hands on deck."  

The plan for the Astros

How will rookie Jose Urquidy factor into the Game 6 bullpen game? USATSI

Peacock pitched the eighth inning in the Game 5 loss and will start Game 6. He'll become only the fourth pitcher in postseason history to finish one game and start the next on zero days rest, joining Doc White (1906 White Sox), Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown (1910 Cubs), and Firpo Marberry (1924 Senators). Those three did it in the World Series. (Firpo's a good name. Not enough Firpos in baseball nowadays).

"We decided to go with Peacock just because their lineup is really good at the top, and Brad's really good at matching up against those guys," Hinch said Saturday. "And he's got one of the calmest heartbeats in our club. He's kind of been there, done that. He's closed games in the World Series. He's pitched in a variety of roles for us. The moment is not going to be too big. He can execute pitches."

Here is the starting lineup the Yankees will use in Game 6:

  1. 1B DJ LeMahieu (RHB)
  2. RF Aaron Judge (RHB)
  3. 2B Gleyber Torres (RHB)
  4. CF Aaron Hicks (SWB)
  5. DH Edwin Encarnacion (RHB)
  6. SS Didi Gregorius (LHB)
  7. C Gary Sanchez (RHB)
  8. 3B Gio Urshela (RHB)
  9. LF Brett Gardner (LHB)

The Astros have an all-righty pitching staff in the ALCS, so in that sense the matchups are easy. There's no lefty specialist to save for Gregorius or Gardner in a big spot. That said, different pitchers have different strengths, and some righties are better against lefties than others. Here are the platoon splits for Houston's middle relievers.

Pitchervs. RHBvs. LHB

Josh James



Hector Rondon



Joe Smith



Jose Urquidy



What are the odds Urquidy is truly that good against lefties and that bad against righties? Pretty low, I think. Those numbers stink of small sample size noise. The Astros also have righty Bryan Abreu in their bullpen, but he threw only 8 1/3 innings during the regular season, and will likely to be held back for mop-up or extra innings duty in Game 6 rather than figure prominently in Game 6.

Smith has been death on righties this year and throughout his career, which isn't surprising given his funky sidearm delivery, and I have to believe he will be matched up again the 1-2-3 spots in New York's lineup. Those are the righties you have to neutralize. Rondon has trouble keeping lefties in the park, so bet on him being kept away from Hicks, Gregorius, and Gardner.

Closer Roberto Osuna and setup men Will Harris and Ryan Pressly are great against hitters on both sides of the plate. Osuna will of course pitch the ninth and should be available to get an out or two in the eighth inning as well if the Astros are in position to clinch. Pressly and Harris are likely earmarked for the top of New York's lineup, with Pressly an option to snuff out rallies mid-inning.

There are no right/left matchup games to play with the Astros bullpen, but Smith is the go-to option against righties, and Rondon isn't the guy you want on the mound against lefties. Houston's possible pitching plan could be laid out like so:



Brad Peacock

vs. top of lineup


Jose Urquidy

vs. middle and bottom of lineup


Jose Urquidy and Joe Smith

Urquidy vs. bottom of lineup, Smith vs. top of lineup


Joe Smith and Josh James

Smith vs. top of lineup, James thereafter


Josh James

vs. bottom of lineup


Ryan Pressly

vs. top of lineup


Will Harris

regardless of matchup


Harris and Roberto Osuna

regardless of matchup



regardless of matchup

That would leave Rondon and Abreu in reserve in case the game goes into extra innings or something goes wrong earlier in the game and a mid-inning fireman is needed. Because he's a starter, Urquidy could go a lot longer than an inning or two, if necessary. With Smith the best option for the top of the lineup, Urquidy may not get a chance to go long in Game 6, however. nor be needed to.

Despite the four-run first inning, Justin Verlander threw seven innings in Game 5 on Friday, and Peacock was the only reliever used. The Astros bullpen is very fresh -- as fresh as it gets in the postseason, anyway -- heading into Game 6. Much fresher than New York's bullpen, which has been pushed hard this month. That should be advantage Astros.

The hunch here is Game 6 will go to the team that has a reliever come up unexpectedly big, like, say, Cessa getting six outs at some point or Rondon cutting through the top of the lineup. The loser figures to be the team that runs into a weak link in the chain. That guy who just doesn't have it and an inning gets away in a hurry. That's the concern with a bullpen game.

"It's still a battle of execution," Hinch said. "It's going to be who executes the best or who comes up with a big hit or who gets a favorable matchup by accident, just by virtue of the way the game develops or who overcomes the matchup ... No matter what I script out right now or how we feel like it's going to be, there's going to be a change of course at some point during the game. There's going to be a big swing that sways a decision one way or the other. That's October baseball in 2019."