AJ Hinch: ‘Haven’t Played Our Best Yet’

After three straight seasons of at least 106 losses, the Houston Astros went from awful to below average last year, going 70-92. That was a step in the right direction.

Well, this year, the Astros haven’t just taken another step forward; they’ve sprinted a 40-yard dash. Houston is 20-12 entering play May 12 and leads every team in the AL West by at least five games.

Did even first-year manager A.J. Hinch think that a start this good was possible?

“Well, I think we felt like we could match up pretty well on a daily basis,” Hinch said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “The mindset of this team is more about winning today’s game (and) less about putting together 32 games or even more. From where this organization came from the last couple years – building a talent base and suffering through some really rough seasons – and I was fortunate enough not to be a part of them. You don’t want to be a part of a 100-loss team. But our team has a pretty good mindset. We knew we were pretty good on a daily basis. Certainly we got hot on our road trip.”

The Astros went 8-1 on a nine-game road trip against Seattle, Oakland and San Diego in late-April and even had a 10-game winning streak earlier in the season.

“It really started to build confidence,” Hinch said. “Our players started believing. Hey, we can win more and more. We went through our division a couple different times, and I just think we’re standing up for ourselves a little bit. We got a long way to go. We’re not a perfect team. We’re playing well and we’ve gotten good results, (but) we haven’t played our best yet. That’s the optimism that keeps growing. You just want to get a group of players that starts to believe we can stick around and belong. That’s a good thing.”

The Astros have done a great job getting on base and getting guys over. They rank fifth in baseball in walks (113) and second in stolen bases (36). Houston’s 3.45 team ERA, meanwhile, is third in the AL. The Astros haven’t shown many glaring weaknesses yet.

Still, Hinch knows it’s early.

“You’ve got to endure six months of this stuff,” he said. “It’s really nice that our team doesn’t get too high or too low. We’re even keel. We bring energy every day. We’ve got different ways to beat you. I think the stolen bases have been good. The team defense has been good. Our hitting comes and goes. I think that’s the source of concern or area where we can improve – a little more consistency with the bat against the better pitching. But look, the good part about our guys is we have short memories. We punch out a little bit. We don’t carry that to the next at-bat, and we’re one swing away from being in the game, even when we do trail. So we have an interesting team that has a real good camaraderie, a real good chemistry – which I believe matters. And we’re starting to believe. We’re six weeks into the season. We’ve got four-plus months left, but look, when you keep score and you keep standings, you want to be at the top if you want to win every day. So we’ll take it.”

The Astros open a nine-game home stand Tuesday against the Giants (16-16). First pitch is slated for 8:10 p.m. ET.

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