The American League Championship Series will culminate on Monday night with Game 7 between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. Sunday night's Game 6 saw the Rangers win by a 9-2 final behind a strong start from Nathan Eovaldi and some timely hitting. The Astros nevertheless have one more chance to secure their third consecutive pennant. The Rangers, for their part, are seeking their third ever trip to the World Series, and their first since 2011.
Monday night's pitching matchup will be a repeat of Game 3. The Rangers will start deadline acquisition Max Scherzer. The Astros will counter with Cristian Javier. The Astros won Game 3 by an 8-5 final. At the time, that left the Rangers with a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.
With due respect to Javier, himself a quality pitcher who dazzled the Rangers for much of Game 3, the spotlight entering the contest will reside over the more storied Scherzer. (The same would be true if this matchup pitted Justin Verlander against Jordan Montgomery.) As such, here are three things to know about Scherzer heading into Game 7.
1. This is only his second start since injury
Scherzer's Game 3 start happened to be his first appearance since Sept. 12, when he strained the teres major muscle in his right shoulder. That injury was supposed to sideline him for at least two months, ending his year in the process. Scherzer somehow made it back in about five weeks' time.
How did Scherzer perform? From a results perspective, it's fair to write that his line was worse than his usual standard. He surrendered five runs on five hits and a walk. He struck out four batters and required 63 pitches to get through four innings of work. He played a part in the decision, receiving the loss.
From a stuff perspective, the Rangers can at least be encouraged by Scherzer's fastball. Not only did it average 94.1 mph, or nearly a half tick better than his 93.7 mph regular-season mark, but it featured nearly an inch more "rise." Granted, that didn't stop the Astros from recording three hits off Scherzer's fastball, including a home run from José Altuve. All the Rangers can do is hope that Scherzer's fastball will achieve better results in Game 7.
2. Situation is eerily similar to 2019
So far, the road teams are batting 1.000 this series. Six ALCS games, six wins for the road team. There's been just one seven-game set in Major League Baseball postseason history where the visiting club has won each contest. That occurred with the 2019 World Series, when the Washington Nationals defeated these Astros. The Nats won Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at Minute Maid Park for the first title in franchise history.
Who started Game 7 for the Nationals? You guessed it, one Max Scherzer. Indeed, Scherzer went five innings in that contest, surrendering two runs on seven hits and four walks. He struck out just three batters and generated only 11 swinging strikes on 103 pitches. The Nationals prevailed by a 6-2 final.
Coincidentally, Scherzer's physical wellbeing was a question mark entering that contest, too. He had a mid-series start scratched because of a neck issue.
3. Rangers bullpen should be ready to roll
Manager Bruce Bochy figures to be aggressive with his relief corps in Game 7 if Scherzer shows any signs of being compromised. With that in mind, just what is the state of the Rangers bullpen entering Game 7? As good as it could be.
Bochy used just three relievers in Game 6: setup man Josh Sborz (16 pitches), closer Jose Leclerc (16 pitches), and Andrew Heaney (four pitches), who started Game 4 and was removed after struggling in the first inning.
In other words, everyone should be available if Bochy calls upon them.
Given the nature of Monday night's game, that figures to include lefty and Game 5 starter Jordan Montgomery. After all, the Rangers need to advance to the World Series before they can worry about how their rotation sets up.