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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Coming off one of the worst performances of the year, Lovie Smith met with the media and addressed some questions about if the Texans would make any changes to the team or coaching staff this week. Here are some quick observations.

1. Washington was just better. Before taking the first question, Lovie said after watching the film it was clear Washington was the better team on Sunday. The team didn't play well upfront (on offense) and didn't have much of a chance to win the game. He believed the team did some good things on defense and played the run better, but were unable to take the ball away.

2. Lovie made it seem like changes are definitely coming at QB. When asked if any changes would be made this week to the QB or the coaching staff, he basically said he would talk to the players before the media if changes were in the works. Smith said the players were off today and not in the building. He followed that up by saying, “We're not pleased with where we are. Do we need to do some things differently? Yes, and we will.”

3. Hitting that “rookie wall.” Coach Smith was asked if hitting the “rookie wall” could be causing some of the team's struggles. He brought up Kenyon Green's challenges at guard, admitting that taking a “pounding every time” can be tough. But if they have hit the rookie wall, he hasn't “noticed it.”

4. Sometimes you need a spark. When asked if football teams sometimes require a spark, he said yes. “Especially when you've lost as many games as we have.” Davis Mills and Kenyon Green have to be the first names that come to mind, and making a change on the o-line probably doesn't qualify as a spark.

5. At a certain point, you are who you are. Lovie didn't dance around it, he said “What's been put on video is probably who we are now, I acknowledge that.” This is the type of statement the fans really needed to hear. Owning up to what everyone can clearly see and addressing this head on matters. Most fans fully understand the team is in a rebuild, just be as honest as you can with everybody. Not doing this in the postgame press conference on Sunday, had to be a big part of why the media was coming at him with more conviction.

6. Expect Kenyon Green to keep playing despite Sunday's performance. This is why I believe a change will be made at QB this week, and not offensive guard. Lovie talked about if a player is struggling and he's still your best option, they'll have to get their “nose bloodied” and get better. No argument here. Green is a first round pick at guard, he's only going to get better if he plays. Give him some help if he needs it, but has to be out there. And let's face it, he is the best option at left guard.

7. Coaches decide who will play if there's going to be a change. When asked, Smith said the coaches decide who's playing. GM Nick Caserio and CEO Cal McNair will be in the loop, but coaches make the call on who starts.

8. “Kyle Allen can make all the throws.” Lovie was asked his thoughts on the Texans backup QB and said, “He (Allen) has a history of good play in the NFL.” When asked about Mills, he said he's seen some growth from the second-year QB, but it's hard to talk about how much someone has grown after yesterday. Yikes, that says it all right there.

Final thoughts

You really get a sense of the tone by watching the full presser above, so I do recommend it. I came away also feeling this possible switch to Kyle Allen may only last a week or so. But at this point in the season, everything has to be evaluated. Including OC Pep Hamilton. If Kyle Allen plays a game or two and the offense still stinks, some of the blame must fall on Pep. But if Allen plays well and long enough to where it doesn't look like the offense is the problem, you have your answer on Davis Mills. At least this season, anyway.

Of course, many fans want the Texans to finish the season with the worst record, so they get the first pick in the draft. If Kyle Allen does get to play and ends up winning a few games, it could be bittersweet. The Texans do have some cushion in the standings for the first pick. Hopefully, the team can get all their answers at QB and OC while still locking up the first pick in the draft. Alabama QB Bryce Young would be a nice Christmas present for Texans fans after a tough year.

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