A closer look at Houston's winning manager

AJ Hinch continues to be the driving force of Astros success

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With the win on Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs, AJ Hinch hit a milestone; 500 managerial wins. While that doesn't have him climbing to the top of the all-time manager win chart just yet, it does keep him moving up the list of best Astros managers.

The 2019 team is battered and beaten right now with injuries, yet still, they keep winning. Undeniably a lot of that has to do with the team playing well and executing on the field, but it also takes a captain who can overcome adversity to keep the team's confidence high.

Great fit for Houston

Hinch took over the helm for the Astros in 2015, taking over a historically bad team that was just a year removed from three consecutive 100-plus loss seasons. AJ could have taken the first year with his new team to take things slow and learn more about the players and pile up small improvements to build on for future years. Instead, he had the Astros in the playoffs in that first year, a pleasant surprise for many despite the early exit.

2016 wasn't quite as successful, missing the playoffs but still posting a record above .500 on the season. Then, the year we all remember, 2017 was the magical year of Houston's first World Series win, the highlight of Hinch's career so far. 2018 was another impressive year, making it to the ALCS with nagging injuries before eventually being outed by the Red Sox. All of this makes it no surprise that Houston locked him up for several years, giving him an extension through the 2022 season.

Now in 2019, Hinch has Houston out to a hot 40-20 start, making the Astros one of the best teams in the league even with injuries, and definitely the best team when healthy.

Manager of the Year frontrunner

Speaking of that hot 40-20 start; we haven't even made it to the halfway point of the season, but it's fair to be thinking about the potential Manager of the Year contenders. There are some other candidates like the Twins' Rocco Baldelli, who is making a huge splash in his first year as a manager, and Aaron Boone who has willed the Yankees to a division lead while also being decimated by injuries, but Hinch deserves to be very much in those conversations.

Not only has Hinch worked through significant injuries to keep his team on top of their division, but they also currently flirt with the best record in baseball. The team is riddled with great talent that Hinch would probably say make it an easier task than most, but taking some of these younger guys that are making the leap from AAA to the majors and getting them to contribute immediately is the testament of a great manager.

Already one of the Astros' best managers, ever

Let's address the elephant in the room; Hinch has a ring, and that should easily be grounds for him being the best manager in Houston's history since he's alone in that feat. Still, there are some other statistics that he can and likely will improve on that will solidify him as the undisputed best manager in an Astros uniform so far.

First, let's talk about regular season performance. Hinch is 414-294 all time so far, putting him third on the list in wins behind Larry Dierker (1997-2001) who sits with 435 and Bill Virdon (1975-1982) who had 544. Hinch not only boasts the best winning percentage of the three at .584, but he will also almost certainly pass up Dierker for second place this year and Virdon before his contract runs out in 2022. I would say that has him a lock as being the best in this category by the time all is said and done.

Then, there's postseason performance. Hinch currently sits at 18-14 in his postseason career with the Astros, while Virdon went 4-6 and Dierker went 2-12. There's a lot more behind those records that I won't get into now, but for the sake of simplicity, that puts Hinch ahead in this category.

That leaves awards. The Manager of the Year award started in 1983, so Virdon was not able to win one in his tenure with Houston. Two managers since the awards' inception have received it for Houston, Hal Lanier in 1986, and Larry Dierker 1998. While Hinch has come very close, coming in second in voting in 2015, third in 2017, then fourth in 2018, he has not yet taken home that award. As mentioned before, he's currently well in the running for that award again in 2019, but even if he never gets one, the number of wins and playoff success he's had for the Astros should cement him as one of the greatest managers ever.

So, while recent injuries to this 2019 team have created some mild panic and concern, AJ Hinch has shown that a great manager (along with a great team) can sustain a little adversity and still come out ahead over a long baseball season. Even more exciting, he's also shown what a manager of his caliber can do with a healthy, star-studded lineup, which we should get to see once again in a few weeks when the team is healthy again.

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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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