3 keys for the Astros in Game 4

3 keys for the Astros in Game 4

HOUSTON -- The Astros are one win away from reaching the American League Championship Series for the first time in their history after beating the Royals, 4-2, on Sunday at Minute Maid Park in Game 3 of the AL Division Series. They'll send rookie right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. to the mound in Monday's Game 4 (live on Fox Sports 1 at 1 p.m. ET) against Game 1 starter Yordano Ventura.

Here are three keys that Houston will need to win.

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Game Date Result
Gm 1 Oct. 8 HOU 5, KC 2
Gm 2 Oct. 9 KC 5, HOU 4
Gm 3 Oct. 11 HOU 4, KC 2
Gm 4 Oct. 12 KC 9, HOU 6
Gm 5 Oct. 14 KC 7, HOU 2

1. Get an early lead
This will be easily the biggest game of his life for rookie McCullers, who began this season pitching in Double-A. He has the stuff and the ability to dominate, and getting him an early lead and taking some of the pressure off will be key. McCullers has no shortage of confidence, and that figures to increase if he pitches with a cushion.

Astros eye clincher, while Royals out to stay alive

2. Start from the top
The top five hitters in the order went a combined 3-for-17 in Game 3, with Carlos Gomez (sixth), Chris Carter (eighth) and Jason Castro (ninth) providing much of the damage down low. If Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa can get going for red-hot Colby Rasmus in the cleanup spot, runs could come in bunches.

3. Play mistake-free
The Astros made their share of mistakes in Game 3 and were able to overcome them, including a baserunning gaffe by Carter and a bad error by Luis Valbuena at third base. All three games of the series have been tight, and a mistake on the bases -- which Houston has done quite a bit -- or a misplay on defense could loom large.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.