A.J. Hinch's Managerial Genius Solves Astros' Closer Nightmare with His Starters

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterOctober 28, 2017

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 27:  Manager manager A.J. Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros speaks to pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. #43 during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game three of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Hey look, the managers still matter.      

Flexibility still matters. A plan is only good until your eyes tell you it's time to change the plan.

Brad Peacock never expected to get the final 11 outs of a World Series game. There's a pretty good chance A.J. Hinch never thought he'd have Peacock get the final 11 outs of a World Series game.

But Hinch saw what you saw, if you were paying attention during the Houston Astros' 5-3 Game 3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Made Field on Friday night. The guy he had on the mound looked great. Why go to someone else who might not be?

Credit to Hinch. Credit to Jeff Luhnow, the Houston Astros general manager who believes in analytics as much as anyone alive but also believes in allowing his manager to do the job. Luhnow and his staff give Hinch plenty of information, but they also give him leeway.

They didn't have an issue when he let Justin Verlander go a third and even (gulp!) a fourth time through the order in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. They understood when he turned Verlander into a key reliever in the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox and when he had Lance McCullers Jr. pitch the final four innings in Game 7 of the ALCS.

The Astros bullpen has been an issue in this postseason. Closer Ken Giles has allowed runs in five of his six postseason appearances. Plenty of people saw the Dodgers keeping Friday's game close and predicted a comeback win.

Hinch saw that with Peacock on the mound, the Dodgers weren't getting anyone on base. It didn't matter to him that the 29-year-old right-hander had never gotten a save in the major leagues, the minor leagues or probably anywhere else. Hinch brought Peacock into the game with one out in the sixth inning. He left him in the game for the seventh and for the eighth.

"I didn't think they were going to give me the ninth," Peacock said on MLB Network. "I'm glad they did. I'm glad they did."

Peacock pitched 3.2 innings and didn't allow a hit.

Joe Torre taught us long ago that managing in the postseason demands a sense of urgency. Hinch is reminding us this month that it also demands flexibility and creativity, and now he and his Astros have a two games to one lead in the World Series.

Brad Peacock never expected to get a World Series save. But when your pitcher isn't giving up any hits, why go to someone else?
Brad Peacock never expected to get a World Series save. But when your pitcher isn't giving up any hits, why go to someone else?Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Torre's Yankees won in October with the most dominant closer of all time, but history reminds us there are other ways to do it. Mariano Rivera saved 11 World Series games, but Madison Bumgarner saved a huge one for the San Francisco Giants three years ago.

No one should understand it more than the Dodgers, who advanced through the first round a year ago with closer Kenley Jansen appearing in the seventh inning of Game 5 and Clayton Kershaw following him to the mound for a two-out save.

In this World Series, though, the Dodgers are the team that has seemed chained to a plan. Rich Hill gave up just three hits in the first four innings of Game 2, but for the third time through the order, the Dodgers followed their formula and went to the bullpen. Eventually, that forced Jansen into a two-inning save opportunity he didn't convert, and it forced manager Dave Roberts to whatever pitchers he had left when the game went to extra innings.

When Yu Darvish allowed five straight Astros to reach base in the second inning Friday, you could almost see the Dodgers analytics guys wondering how to fix problems with a pitcher the first time through the order. Soon enough, Darvish was gone, and the Dodgers were in a bind.

The game was too close to give up on, but there were too many innings to go. Like it or not, Roberts ended up using almost his entire bullpen again.

I'm not sure Roberts actually did anything to damage L.A. on Friday, but it was clear that Hinch did basically everything right. He only made one pitching change, but in this era of matchups, that's what was so brilliant. He trusted what he was seeing.

As MLB Network's Brian Kenny relayed on Twitter:

Brian Kenny @MrBrianKenny

AJ Hinch on Peacock long relief: "It was obvious he was cruising. I've enjoyed bringing back the 3 inning save" #WorldSeries

He's right. In the same month Hinch let Verlander face 32 batters and throw 124 pitches, he has had McCullers and now Peacock join Bumgarner as the only pitchers since 1997 with postseason saves of three innings or more.

"It doesn't map out this way," Hinch said. "You have to react to the game."

You have to have a manager who can adapt. You have to trust your manager when he wants to trust his eyes.

Managers still matter.

Who knew?


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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