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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After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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