The Houston Astros may not have their backs against the wall, but they know they are one backward step away from feeling its full force.
The Astros certainly are in must-win mode as they tackle the red-hot Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night in Arlington, Texas.
The Rangers went on the road to win the first two games of the best-of-seven series by scores of 2-0 and 5-4 to run their postseason winning streak to seven games.
Houston needs a quick turnaround to get back in the series against their American League West and in-state rival.
“I am not thinking about being down 3-0,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said on Tuesday. “That’s the last thing on my mind. My mindset is to be down 2-1, and then be even 2-2, and then, hopefully, get to 3-2 and, hopefully, get to the World Series. That’s how my mind thinks.”
One positive for the Astros is that they shellacked the Rangers during a three-game series in Arlington in early September. Houston smacked a stunning 16 homers while outscoring Texas 39-10.
“All I know, certain places that you go you feel very comfortable as a hitter offensively,” Baker said. “And I know our guys see the ball well here.”
Texas will go for the 3-0 lead behind right-hander Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.77 ERA regular season), who is making his first start since Sept. 12 after sustaining a teres major muscle strain in his pitching shoulder. Postseason force Cristian Javier (1-0, 0.00) will start for the Astros.
Scherzer, 39, was activated for this series after missing the first two rounds of the postseason.
“When this injury happened, we were kind of in that four-to-six-week window,” Scherzer said. “… I took one day to feel bad about it and the next day I was back to grinding because I knew we have a team that can compete with anybody.”
Rangers manager Bruce Bochy is confident Scherzer can throw at least 70 pitches.
“He threw 69 pitches facing hitters a week or so ago, so that’s the starting point,” Bochy said. “Obviously, we will watch the innings and how stressful they are and how he feels.”
Scherzer was torched by the Astros for seven runs and six hits in three innings of a 12-3 loss on Sept. 6. Jose Abreu hit a grand slam off him, Yordan Alvarez hit a two-run shot and Michael Brantley smacked a solo blast.
Brantley is 20-for-54 (.370) with three homers, eight doubles and one triple against Scherzer.
Scherzer is 5-2 with a 3.84 ERA against Houston in 10 career regular-season appearances (nine starts). He also went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in two starts in the 2019 World Series when he helped the Washington Nationals beat the Astros.
Scherzer is 7-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 27 career postseason appearances (22 starts).
Javier hasn’t allowed a run in three career postseason starts. The right-hander has allowed two hits in 16 1/3 innings in those outings, including a stellar six innings in Houston’s historic combined no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 4 of last year’s World Series.
Javier, 26, will be making his second start of this postseason. He defeated the Minnesota Twins in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, when he allowed one hit in five scoreless innings.
“My job is to go out there, not let the game speed up on me and just try to stay relaxed,” said Javier, who is 5-1 with a 1.91 ERA in 15 postseason appearances.
Javier is 5-1 with a 3.84 ERA in 14 career appearances (10 starts) against Texas. But the Rangers roughed him up for eight runs and nine hits over 4 1/3 innings during a 12-11 Houston victory on July 3.
Corey Seager (5-for-20) has hit two homers off Javier.