As CC Sabathia ices his arm after another brilliant performance in his 2017 campaign, Sonny Gray will get the ball for Game 4 of the ALCS. To say this game is the biggest of Gray's career would be an understatement. Not only will he look to even the series at 2 games a piece, he will be pitching his way into the hearts of Yankee fans across the nation. At least he hopes.
It may seem self explanatory, but here are the 3 key reasons why tonight is the biggest game of Gray's career and why I believe, as stated in our podcast, tonight will decide who wins the American League pennant.
1) BATTLE OF THE ACES
As much as we don't want to admit it, or even think about it, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander are waiting in the distance to shut down this Yankees offense yet again. Tonight is a pivotal game for the Yankees to win, not only to tie up the series, but to avoid facing Keuchel in Game 5 of an elimination game.
A loss tonight for the Yankees would mean they would have to beat Dallas Keuchel AND Justin Verlander just to force a Game 7 in this series. I don't know about you, but that is not something I feel optimistic about. With a Houston win tonight, it would look like their chances of winning the AL pennant are pretty strong.
On the contrary, if the Yankees win tonight they will even the series at 2 and go into Game 5 with a clean slate. With Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino lined up, you feel confident that the Yankees could find a way to win one of those 2 games, and force a Game 7. Who would pitch a Game 7 for the New York Yankees? Who better than CC Sabathia. That's when you hand the ball to CC and tell him to take any last bit of gas he has in the tank and leave it all out there on the field. Winning this game tonight puts momentum back in the Yankee clubhouse, and gives them hope they can win the pennant.
2) HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
The goal in the postseason is to win all of your home games. If you can accomplish that, you will win the series. As the underdog, if you can win all of your home games, and steal one on the road, you win the series. That is exactly what the Yankees need to continue to do, WIN AT HOME.
As stated above, facing Keuchel and Verlander in back to back elimination games is not an easy task. But having to face them back to back and ALSO have to win two games on the road, in Houston, makes this an even more difficult uphill battle. Almost impossible.
3) EXHAUSTING THE BULLPEN
With Tanaka and Keuchel set to pitch Game 5, you would have to imagine Girardi and Hinch will have very short leashes on Gray and McCullers. This could mean that both teams are in the bullpen as early as the 3rd inning tonight. When any team is exhausting their bullpen that early in a pivotal postseason game, it becomes a crucial win.
If the Yankees can find a way to get to the Astros pen early again in Game 4, and win the game, it simply means Dallas Keuchel will have to be close to perfect in Game 5. The Yankees have a very well rested bullpen. Even if they have to exhaust some guys early tonight, they should still be available for Game 5 if necessary. However, we've seen how some of these guys lose effectiveness throwing back to back days, such as Chad Green. If the Astros can ruffle some feathers early, and hang on to take a 3-1 series lead, it will only add to their chances of winning the pennant.
We will see tonight, Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, as Sonny Gray looks to earn his pinstripes. Tonight decides who will win the pennant. Yankees or Astros. You heard it here first.
-Chris Jr. (@ChrisJr_NYYST)
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