For much of the season, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch has pushed all the right buttons. Hinch trusted Josh Reddick against left-handed pitching. Hinch put Alex Bregman at the top lineup at the right time. Hinch trusted Charlie Morton with the bases loaded with no out early in game four.
But Hinch had his first major move that could have been questioned on Monday when he put No. 1 starter Justin Verlander in relief for the first time in his collegiate and professional baseball career.
The move could be questioned right away after Andrew Benintendi hit a two-run home run off Verlander to take a 3-2 lead. But in the end it was the right move to get the Astros through to the ALCS on Monday.
Andrew Benintendi had no regards for Justin Verlander the reliever pic.twitter.com/VFS9DIYChC— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 9, 2017
I only question the move because it changes the schedule for the Astros starters. Instead of sending out Justin Verlander against a surging Red Sox team with the series on the line, the Astros would turn to Dallas Keuchel five days after his game two start.
For course, Dallas Keuchel is no slouch. Keuchel has a proven playoff pedigree, he is 2-0 with 0.96 ERA in three career starts in the playoffs. Again, the move wasn’t wrong for trusting Keuchel in Game five.
Keuchel will now start in Game one of the American League Championship Series. Which again isn’t bad and Verlander will slide into the No. 2 spot in the rotation.
But I have this itch in the back of my mind from the 2005 playoff run: What would have happened if Roy Oswalt was able to start game one of the World Series instead having to close out Game 6 of the NLCS?
It’s a silly question, I admit. And it's probably the fact that I’ve been watching Astros baseball all my life and finding reason reasons for Houston to fall apart.
But did A.J. Hinch overplay his hand to counter Chris Sale? Did he show lack of trust in his bullpen minus Ken Giles? I don’t think anyone would have fault Hinch for turning to Will Harris, who was also warming up with Verlander in the bullpen at the time.
Harris had struggled in the second half but he had only given up two earned runs over his last nine innings of work after coming back from shoulder inflammation.
But in general, the bullpen has struggled over the past 30 days, the bullpen ranked 23rd in fWAR (0.3), and had a .311 BABIP and a 3.83 xFIP.
Why not stay with Charlie Morton? He looked like he was gaining momentum in the later innings. Morton had retired the Red Sox in order in the fourth and got Dustin Pedroia out before walking Xander Bogaerts. Not necessarily a sign of breakage.
All of these questions can be answered in one way or another. But in the end the Astros are moving to the ALCS and have an extra day or two to rest up players and watch the Indians/Yankees in game five. That alone might just be worth it even if Justin Verlander isn’t pitching game one for the Astros.