A.J. Hinch has forgotten more baseball than I’ll ever know but the Houston Astros manager 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. Rockets forward 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 percent. 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 percent 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.
This article originally appeared on SportsMap.