It's playoff time

Astros manager Hinch should not forget his bench in the postseason

Astros manager A.J. Hinch Jason Behnken / Getty Images

 A.J. Hinch has forgotten more baseball than I’ll ever know but

Hinch forgot something back in the 2015 playoffs that I hope he remembers this time around: his bench.

 I know in basketball, coaches shorten their rotation in the playoffs. Montrezl Harrell must have hit on Mike D’Antoni’s wife this past postseason. He did something to piss him off because he was not getting on the court no matter how many big men they were short.

 I guess baseball is somewhat the same; at least it was for Hinch in 2015. Jose Altuve was bad that postseason. He hit a measly .154 (4-for-26 with just one walk and no extra base hits.) It was very un-Altuve, but he’s your cornerstone you ride or die with. You’re not taking that dude out of the lineup. Ever. So Hinch stuck with him hoping that at some point he’d pull out of his nosedive but that never happened.

 With Evan Gattis, though, I don’t think you take that same approach. You will remember that Gattis came up with some huge hits for the club that year (the tomahawk chop homer to beat the A’s comes to mind). But unlike Altuve he is not a ride or die guy and he may have been worn out by season’s end. He had 566 at-bats -- second most on the team that year -- but he only hit .246 with a .285 on-base percentage. Those are not ride or die numbers and come playoff time he looked lost at the plate. He was 4-for-23, all singles and six strikeouts, some in critical situations. By Game 5 of the Royals series he was just plain overmatched.

 Same thing for Luis Valbuena. He was a mere 3-for-17 and eight of those 14 outs were strikeouts.  He did homer though in the postseason and that Astros team lived and died by the long ball that year. In the end though, it ended up killing them.

I remember wondering why Hinch wasn’t shaking it up to find someone who’d give them a spark. The history books are filled with the unlikely postseason heroes. For those of you that are a bit older, Mark Lemke and Aaron Boone come to mind.  

 You never know who will step up and do something that will live forever in playoff lore. Brad Ausmus’ homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the Braves in game 4 of the 2005 NLDS was as astonishing as it was dramatic. Ausmus averaged a home run about once every 90 plate appearances. The likelihood that he would homer was about 1.1 %. Those are pretty long odds. Chris Burke winning that game in the bottom of the 18th was almost as surprising. He averaged a homer every 63 plate appearances which gave him a 1.6% chance of doing it. Add to that the pressure of the situation and the odds are even greater. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s not always the Bagwells and Biggios or Altuves and Correas that save the day. Sometimes it’s a Lemke or a Burke or an Ausmus. You just never know.

The point being that I hope Hinch shakes things up if he has to this postseason. He had Marwin Gonzalez, Preston Tucker and Hank Conger on the bench that series. Marwin only had three playoff AB’s and Tucker had two. Conger, a guy who was a big locker room presence, didn’t see the plate. I don’t know if they would have done anything special in large part because they never got the chance. We do know now that the stage isn’t too big for Marwin. He’s arguably their second most valuable player this year. He’s going to get his at-bats this postseason and deservedly so, but we will never know if this Marwin wouldn’t have begun his run back then with a big hit in a huge situation. Tucker was another guy who contributed but was relegated to the pine that postseason. In the regular season he hit 13 homers in 300 at-bats. Over the course of an entire season that would be 25 or more homers. And Conger hit 11 in 201 at-bats, some of them huge. He was one of the guys that everyone was rooting for because he looked like he was genuinely having a great time. That spark they needed to get past the Royals with one big hit may have been sitting right there but it never got the chance to ignite.

 My hope is that if someone is worn out, struggling or lost at the plate that Hinch isn’t afraid to hit eject and find a Chris Burke who will step up and give the team a lift. Almost everyone on that team popped their playoff cherry in 2015 including Hinch. Hopefully he learned to use the whole bench if he needs to.

Now I’m not so sure that applies to Gregerson coming out of the bullpen…  

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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