All of last postseason Astros manager A.J. Hinch dealt with a less than ideal bullpen situation. Scraping by on recycled starters and questionable relievers, he helped lead the Astros through a complex postseason to their first ever World Series championship. On Tuesday night, with one of the league's best bullpens at his disposal, Hinch put in questionable relievers in high leverage situations and left arms on the mound longer than he should have. The result was a brutal 8-2 loss at Minute Maid Park to put the Red Sox up 2-1 in the best-of-seven ALCS.
The first mistake was pulling starter Dallas Keuchel after five innings, giving up two runs on four hits, and replacing him with Joe Smith, his first appearance in the postseason. Smith gave up a home run to put the Sox back up after the Astros had tied the game up. Smith lasted one-third of an inning.
Perhaps Hinch's biggest mistake, however, came in the eighth inning. With the Red Sox clinging to a 3-2 lead, Hinch went to his closer, an odd choice considering he still had Colin McHugh in the bullpen. Roberto Osuna gave up five runs on two hit batsmen and a grand slam to light hitting Jackie Bradley.
But, make no mistake, Hinch doesn't bear the burden of this loss alone. Once again at home, where the Astros struggled most of the season offensively, the bats were mostly silent, generating only two runs on seven hits. Both Jose Altuve (knee) and Carlos Correa (back), two of the 'Stros best hitters, are struggling with injuries, and it's readily apparent in the lineup.
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The end result was a tough loss forcing the Astros to win three of the next four games. The good news is the next two are at home and they will likely need both of them to win the series. No one should be counting out the world champs, but they will need to hit better and make better decisions with their pitching if they are going to knot the series up and, ultimately, move on to the World Series for a second year in a row.