Onto the ALCS

Agree or disagree, Hinch has the Astros in the ALCS with a gutsy move

A.J. Hinch made a bold move and it paid off. Jason Behnken / Getty Images

The Astros and Yankees will square off in the ALCS starting Friday. John Granato, the dean of radio hosts in Houston, tells you how the Astros got there.

Game 4, Bottom of the 5th, Astros lead the Red Sox 2-1. With one out Charlie Morton walks Xander Bogaerts. Out of the dugout comes A.J. Hinch. In the bullpen for the first time in his adult life Justin Verlander is warming up. The right hand goes up and in comes Verlander with Andrew Benintendi waiting at the plate. After four fastballs topping out at 96 mph Verlander comes in with an 88 mile an hour slider that Benintendi deposits into the right field seats.

Cue twitter.

A.J. is an idiot and needs to go.

Worst decision I’ve seen in 50 years watching baseball.

This move reeks of desperation.

After Verlander shut the Sox down for the next 2 ⅔ and the Astros went on to win with a clutch 8th inning, twitter calmed down. It was pointed out that even though they won it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the right move (think back to last year’s World Series and how Joe Maddon used Aroldis Chapman.)

That’s fair. Everyone has a right to their opinion. Mine is exactly the opposite. When he put Verlander in here’s what I tweeted:

AJ put himself out there with that move. Verlander not a reliever or 3 days rest guy but I can’t fault him for trying to win now. Love that

A couple weeks ago I wrote that I hoped that A.J. had learned something from his first playoff experience in 2015 and it appears he had. In ‘15 he stuck with Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena even though they were awful at the plate. My contention was that you can put up with an extended slump in a 162 game season but in a five game series you don’t have that luxury. I thought A.J. lacked the urgency you need as a manager in the postseason.

In game 3 I was wondering whether or not he still lacked it. Carlos Beltran got the start at DH against Doug Fister which was understandable. Against lefties this year Carlos was good not great, but in that locker room no one is more respected. The guys look up to him and want to see him succeed. The bench exploded when Beltran had that huge hit in the 8th in game 4. Exploded. You can tell how much they revere him.

That said, when John Farrell went to left hander David Price in game 3 it was time for Carlos to sit down. He was overmatched as a right handed hitter this year. He hit .185, .228/.277/.505. Those numbers are just plain bad. Yet A.J. let him hit twice against Price in a one run game. You just can’t give away at-bats like that in the playoffs. You just can’t.

So when A.J. went to Verlander in the 5th inning in game 4 trying to hold onto a one run lead and end the series with his best pitcher I certainly couldn’t be critical.

Did he put himself out there for criticism? Absolutely. First, using Verlander on 3 days rest doesn’t happen. Coming in in relief had never happened and bringing him in in the middle of the inning as opposed to starting it was even ballsier.  He went for the jugular. (If you know poker it was like pushing all-in with just a 50-50 chance of winning the hand. But he was doing it with plenty of outs. He had Keuchel waiting on the river if he got beat on the turn and that’s a pretty good ace in the hole).

Was it the right call? That’s arguable. I can see both sides. But they won and that’s all that matters. How will Joe Maddon be remembered, as the guy who misused Chapman or the guy that ended the Cubs 108 year run of futility?

Time for the Astros to end their run and they’re one step closer whether you think it’s because of A.J. or in spite of him.     

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The Texans have a big decision to make. Composite image by Jack Brame

The last few weeks have brought us some very interesting episodes of "As Kirby Turns." Cal McNair has admitted he hasn't spoken with Deshaun Watson and has also doubled down on his affinity for Jack Easterby by saying he's staying around. The franchise's only member of their Ring of Honor, Andre Johnson, came completely out of character by tweeting his support for Watson to "stand his ground" in what most assume is his desire to play elsewhere. Newly hired general manager Nick Caserio has the hardest job in the NFL because he's basically a one leg man in a bleep kicking contest. National and local media are all floating rumors and opinions about Watson's status with the team. Meanwhile, Watson himself has been cryptic and hasn't come out and said one thing either way about his status with the team.

My opinion is that he won't be traded and this is his way of using the leverage he has to get some things done his way to ensure more of his career won't be wasted. Once they hire a head coach he approves of and they talk, he'll be back in the fold and blow things over by saying he never demanded a trade and was only upset about some things due to miscommunication. Blah blah blah. However, where there's smoke, there must be fire. I'll examine some pros and cons to a potential trade of Watson.

Bad news first. This franchise has waited its entire existence for a franchise quarterback like Watson. Finally getting one and having to deal him amidst the bumbling owner and charlatan right-hand man would be a big blow to overcome. This coming year is shaping up to be difficult as it is, but doing so with Watson wearing a different jersey could prove to be a near fatal blow. It would take an additional year or so to recover. The only way this timeline is expedited, is if they get a quarterback back in the trade or with one of the draft picks that they feel can be the man moving forward.

The bright side. Watson is this team's most attractive asset as it looks to rebuild. There are teams in the top five of this year's draft who need quarterbacks, and a couple of them have multiple first round picks. The Jets, #2 and #23 overall in the first round this draft, are the most intriguing destination because they may be bad next season with Watson if you get that pick in the trade as well. Throw in Sam Darnold, who's still young and salvageable, and this could be a hard reset that may not take as long. The Dolphins, #3 and #18 overall this draft, also have a lot to offer. Rumor has it Watson would like to go to Miami in a deal that includes Tua Tagovailoa, who was a guy Caserio liked when entering the draft. Again, another potential hard reset that may not take long if either young quarterback pans out. You could also trade back from those top slots to acquire more picks to help fill some of the many holes you have.

I reiterate, I do not believe Watson will be traded. I'm not even sure his no trade clause is applicable since he's still under his rookie contract and his extension hasn't kicked in yet. The new CBA rules call for stiffer penalties for players who refuse to report, so a holdout is highly unlikely. I'll be glad when they hire a coach Watson likes, and we get the happy family press conference introducing him, so this soap opera can move on to its next episode.

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