Imagine having a player who can play all four infield positions, in addition to left field, is a switch-hitter and has power as a run producer? That's Marwin Gonzalez, who's had an under-the-radar breakout season and could be the Astros' difference-maker in October.
In a lineup filled with All-Stars like George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Brian McCann, Gonzalez is the razor-sharp Swiss army knife who's shed his role as a super-utility player. Entering the final weekend of the season, Gonzalez was leading the Astros in RBIs and set career highs in pretty much every offensive category, including home runs.
"You can't under understate his performance," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, whose club opens the American League Division Series presented by Doosan on Thursday at home vs. the Red Sox. "Obviously, he's been a key cog in everything that we do. When you write your initial lineup out in Spring Training, you push him towards the bottom of the order.
"There was some appeal to him in the two-hole because of the switch-hit ability, and when all the dust settled and at our top, at our best, he's hitting fifth or six every day because of his production. On a team full of a lot of good stories, it's how you roll out 100-plus wins. Marwin's place on this team has never been more important, and that's because of those things."
The Astros were able to persevere through injuries to Correa, Springer, Jake Marisnick and Josh Reddick in part because they could plug Gonzalez into the lineup without any drop in production. In recent weeks, he's played more left field, which is where he'll get the bulk of his time in the playoffs.
"I think his ability to move to the infield is always possible, which would be more of a late-inning decision I have to make about pinch-running for Yuli [Gurriel] or defending," Hinch said. "Without Marisnick, I'll consider Marwin in the outfield a little bit more than I anticipated, based on how productive he's been. His bat is going to be in the lineup virtually every playoff game."
Gonzalez is the only player in history to have a 30-double, 20-homer season while playing multiple games at first, second, short, third, left and right field. He hits right-handers better than left-handers, but does well enough against lefties to warrant daily playing time as his right-handed swing has improved.
In 2015, Hinch went from pinch-hitting Gonzalez against lefties to using him as a pinch-hitter as a right-hander in the playoffs facing power lefties such as Danny Duffy of the Royals.
"Last season, I was very comfortable with him either way," Hinch said. "This year he got into a little bit of a lull and a rut early in the year on making good decisions of what to swing at. He got a little pull-conscious. The swing the other day here, the bases-loaded double [Friday against lefty Eduardo Rodriguez of Boston], is a great sign if he's going to be able to stay in the ball that way."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.