MLB playoffs: What a Game 4 rainout means for the Yankees and Astros in the ALCS

NEW YORK -- Thanks to Gerrit Cole's bend-but-don't-break act in Game 3 on Tuesday, the Houston Astros hold a 2-1 series lead over the New York Yankees in the ALCS. They will not get a chance to take a 3-1 lead on Wednesday, however.

Wednesday morning MLB announced Game 4 has been postponed due to the heavy rain expected in New York. The forecast has improved slightly over the last 24 hours, though rain is still expected from approximately 3 p.m ET Wednesday until 12 a.m. ET Thursday. MLB doesn't wait for possible playable windows in the postseason. They called the game early.

Here is the hourly forecast via CBS New York (times U.S./Eastern):

  • 5 p.m. -- 62° -- Rain (83% precipitation)
  • 6 p.m. -- 62°  -- Rain (100% precipitation)
  • 7 p.m. -- 62° -- Heavy rain (100% precipitation)
  • 8 p.m. -- 64° -- Heavy rain/wind (100% precipitation)
  • 9 p.m. -- 64° -- Rain/wind (97% precipitation)
  • 10 p.m. -- 65° -- Rain/wind (79% precipitation)
  • 11 p.m. -- 61° -- Showers/wind (49% precipitation)
  • 12 a.m. -- 59° -- Showers/wind (43% precipitation)

Game 4 will be made up Thursday, so the Astros and Yankees are losing the only remaining scheduled off-day in the ALCS. Games 4-7 will be played on four consecutive days from Thursday to Sunday. Here is the before and after schedule:


Original scheduleSchedule after rainout

Wednesday

Game 4 in New York (8:08 p.m. ET)

Rainout

Thursday

Game 5 in New York (8:08 p.m. ET)

Game 4 in New York (8:08 p.m. ET)

Friday

Off day

Game 5 in New York (7:08 p.m. ET)

Saturday (if necessary)

Game 6 in Houston (TBA)

Game 6 in Houston (8:08 p.m ET)

Sunday (if necessary)

Game 7 in Houston (TBA)

Game 7 in Houston (7:38 p.m. ET)

With the NLCS over, MLB opted to play a night game Friday rather than a 4 p.m. ET getaway day start. The Astros and Yankees will play Game 5 on Friday night, fly to Houston overnight, then play Game 6 on Saturday night. That, of course, assumes Game 6 is necessary. At this point it might not be.

Needless to say, the Game 4 postponement will have a dramatic impact on the ALCS, particular with the way the Yankees and Astros line up their pitching. Four games in four days also create potential bullpen management headaches, especially for the Yankees given the how much they rely on their relief crew.

Both teams announced a bullpen game for the originally scheduled Game 4 on Wednesday. Those plans will change. The Astros announced Thursday that Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander will now start Games 4 and 5, respectively. Yankees manager Aaron Boone strongly indicated Masahiro Tanaka will start Game 4 on normal rest Thursday.

"Good chance of that," Boone said following Game 3. "That's something we'll talk through, also, but a good chance of that, yes."  

Here are the possible post-rainout starting pitching matchups. Every starter will be on normal four days rest:


YankeesAstros

Thursday, Game 4

Masahiro Tanaka

Zack Greinke (confirmed)

Friday, Game 5

James Paxton

Justin Verlander (confirmed)

Saturday, Game 6 (if necessary)

Bullpen game

Bullpen game

Sunday, Game 7 (if necessary)

Severino

Cole

Both the Astros and Yankees will have to use a bullpen game at some point during Games 4-7 and the rainout allows them to push it back as far as Game 6. The Astros are doing that. For the Yankees, it might not be the best idea. Two things to consider:

  • Game 6 will be three days into a four games in four days stretch. The bullpen could be taxed come Saturday.
  • Game 6 is a potential elimination game and they may not want to trust a bullpen game in that situation.

At the same time, there might not even be a Game 6 -- that would require Astros wins in Games 4 and 5 -- so it's possible the bullpen game won't even happen. Avoiding the bullpen game would be ideal, but at this point only the Astros can do it and win the series, so the Yankees still have to plan for it.

I think the larger concern is the bullpen workload. Games 4 and 5 could be taxing, leaving the Yankees short in the bullpen going into the bullpen game in Game 6. Imagine facing elimination in Game 6 with a taxed bullpen and a bullpen game on deck? That would be disastrous. It could all work out fine, sure, but it's probably the nightmare scenario.

Even with the rainout, the best plan may be to go ahead with the bullpen game in Game 4 just to get it over with. The Yankees will be coming off an off-day Wednesday, so the bullpen will be is rested, and Game 4 won't be an elimination game. The stakes are relatively low compared to a potential Game 6 (or even Game 5 if they want to use the bullpen game that day).

The Astros have two workhorses in their rotation in Verlander and Cole, and while Greinke has labored a bit this postseason, he can still give his team 100-plus pitches, if necessary. Jose Urquidy and possibly even Brad Peacock are candidates to provide length out of the bullpen. (I assume Urquidy is earmarked for multiple innings in the bullpen game.)

The Yankees do not have starters who can chew up innings like the Astros. Severino is still not stretched out to 100-plus pitches after missing 5 1/2 months with injuries, and Tanaka admitted he was "gassed" after throwing only 68 pitches in six innings in Game 1. They lean on their bullpen much more heavily. Four games in four days could hinder their plan of attack.

For now, the rainout gave both the Astros and Yankees additional flexibility with their rotation, flexibility that didn't exist previously, but it may also complicate things later in the ALCS. It's a headache both teams will have to deal with, but because the Yankees are down in the series and rely more on their bullpen, they're at the greater disadvantage.

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 MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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