With chance to clinch, Hinch comes 'full circle'

Manager returns to Arizona looking to lead Astros into postseason

With chance to clinch, Hinch comes 'full circle'

PHOENIX -- Don't expect Astros manager A.J. Hinch to take a dive into the pool at Chase Field if the Astros clinch a postseason spot this weekend.

Hinch, who went 89-123 in parts of two seasons (2009-10) with the D-backs in his first try as a Major League manager, returns to Arizona for the regular-season-ending series with a chance for his team to clinch its first playoff berth in 10 years.

In the race for the second American League Wild Card spot, the Astros are one game ahead of the Twins and Angels, who fell, 5-3, in the opener of a four-game series against first-place Texas. The Astros are three games behind the Rangers in the AL West with three to play, meaning Texas needs one win or one Houston loss to win the division.

"Clinching in any city would be pretty cool, but for me to personally do it in Arizona would be full circle," said Hinch, who was 34 years old when the D-backs tabbed him to manage.

Hinch joined the Arizona front office shortly after his playing career ended in 2004 and was eventually named director of player development. That's the role he held when he was surprisingly thrust into the manager's chair. Now he returns with a chance show how far he's come.

"I'm looking forward to getting back there," he said. "I'm glad these are meaningful games. I'm glad we have a chance to finish off a special season. I'll do it in familiar territory because it's where I cut my teeth post playing days. It's where I learned the most. I'll see a lot of familiar faces and people, and hopefully we'll have some good results."

As far as the Astros are concerned, the playoffs have already started. Houston enters its final series of the season this weekend against the D-backs back in control of its own destiny after temporarily falling out of the second Wild Card spot on Tuesday.

The Astros, who send ace Dallas Keuchel to the mound in Friday's series opener in search of his 20th win, can do no worse than earn a one-game playoff with the Angels for the second Wild Card spot if they win 2 of 3 vs. Arizona. 

"To us, the playoffs have already begun and we have to treat each game like a playoff game, and I know our players will be ready," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "It's just exciting for Houston Astros fans that the final series of the year actually means something. The fact we're in this position with these last few games is a big change for us."

The Astros entered the month with a four-game lead in the AL West, but will finish September with their first losing record in any month of the season. A four-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers two weeks ago likely cost them the division, but there's still chance for a champagne celebration.

"We've had to be resilient the whole year," Hinch said. "We've been questioned all year. We've had a few streaks that were less than our best and we've come out of it every well each time. ... We've been going at this for a long time. We've earned it, and we're going to finish strong."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.