Hinch 'very, very proud' of Astros' stellar season
HOUSTON -- On Thursday afternoon, Astros manager A.J. Hinch gathered his coaching staff in their conference room inside the clubhouse for a meeting none of them wanted to attend.
All will return next season, according to general manager Jeff Luhnow, but none are ready to analyze an unexpected, storybook season that came to an end just hours earlier in a 7-2 loss to Kansas City in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
"We didn't have this meeting planned," Hinch said bluntly. "We planned on being in a different city today and having a different type of press conference."
Sitting alongside Luhnow to address the media following the season, Hinch was visibly and vocally upset that he and his team weren't in Toronto for an AL Championship Series workout day -- all the while pontificating on the higher standards the 2015 Astros had set for a franchise that, until this surprising slate, was starved for success.
Asked if he'd had time to reflect on the job he'd done, Hinch -- the consummate competitor -- said he'd probably never live up to his own expectations, but consented he was proud of the culture he'd helped to establish alongside Luhnow and his coaching staff.
"Am I satisfied?" Hinch asked to end his answer. "No. We got beat out in Game 5 of the Division Series and that's not what we set out to do when we got to Spring Training. That'll be what drives us into the future."
Luhnow was able to lend perspective to this 2015 campaign, which followed a 19-win improvement in 2014, meant to encourage the organization as it keeps on the upward track.
"Right now, my feeling is that's made us all hungrier to advance even further next year," Luhnow said. "Expectations will be higher, clearly, based on what we accomplished. We're pleased with the progress of the team, we're pleased with the progress of the organization. A.J. and his staff did a tremendous job of allowing the players to be themselves and be the best players they could be this year, and the result is what we saw on the field."
If Luhnow could bring back the entire roster, he said he would. That obviously won't be the case, as impending free agents like Colby Rasmus, Scott Kazmir and Tony Sipp will join an attractive list, forcing decisions in Houston.
Luhnow said it's too early to speculate for any of that, but did laud the remarkable depth with which the Astros played all season, making those decisions even more difficult.
"This is a fun team, and I think they have to do again next year like they did this year," Luhnow said. "That's always a desire when [we] have a good team that's working well together. We'll bring back the whole staff and a large part of the team, and we'll see about the others.
"The reason the whole was more than the sum of the parts was that they played together as a team, picked each other up, and the coaching staff allowed them to be themselves and to achieve what was possible. A lot of credit goes to A.J. and his staff and to the players themselves who created an environment where everybody could succeed."
Hinch, who juggled various lineups throughout the season with position battles at the corner infield spots, and an outfield overrun with speed and defense, relishes such a problem. Throughout the season, he jokingly referred to his problem of "too many good players."
He hopes that's the case next season, where all will walk into a new clubhouse culture cultivated by this 2015 group -- a group that, at its core, will remain hungry, but will remember the joys of this season.
Hinch said that after Wednesday's loss, numerous players trickled in and out of his office, their message the same: This was the most fun they'd ever had on a baseball team in their careers.
"As a manager, that's a big moment, to have provided that kind of environment, that kind of culture," Hinch said. "What that's going to create for our players is a high standard of what's expected for seasons ahead, and what kind of environment we expect to have when we put on our uniform. I walk away from this season very, very proud of how we went about it, what our personality became and the expectations and the standards we set."
He'll walk away proud, sure. And in time, Hinch said he'll come to appreciate the accomplishments and results. But the end was still hard to grasp on Thursday.
"To put it bluntly, we were five wins away from the World Series," Hinch said. "When you put it in that respect, that's a pretty productive, positive season. Our guys last night had the right balance of pride and disappointment. ... but hungry enough to be devastated that the season came to an end."