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Monday, October 18, 2010
Should Jorge Cantu start Game 3?

By Jeff Caplan

NEW YORK -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington has a choice to make at first base. Does he stick with his usual platoon and start right-hander Jorge Cantu against New York Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte, or does Washington go against the grain and go with rookie Mitch Moreland, a left-handed bat that has started to make things happen?
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Cantu is 0-for-7 in two postseason appearances. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS and 0-for-3 in Game 1 against the Yankees in the ALCS. It's not easy to come in cold after long stretches and hit against good pitchers. But, this is the postseason and that's the job.

Though, it's not a job that Cantu performed with great efficiency during the regular season. The Rangers acquired him on July 29. He played in 30 games and had 105 plate appearances. He hit .235 and remarkably did not drive in a run until the day the Rangers clinched in Oakland.

Defensively, Cantu has not made an error in the postseason, however it is debatable if he should have been able to get rid of the ball quicker and get it to C.J. Wilson covering first base on the Brett Gardner infield hit that started the Yankees' devastating eighth inning in Game 1.

Ron Washington likes to say that he sticks with what's worked when it comes to personnel decisions. He's taken great pride in utilizing the full 25-man roster and would prefer not to stop now. But, the platoon at first ceratinly hasn't been productive.

Moreland was drafted as a first baseman, but he started this season at Triple-A Oklahoma City playing right field. After Justin Smoak was traded to the Seattle Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal, Chris Davis again became the Rangers' first baseman, but not for long.

"[Oklahoma City manager] Bobby Jones said look, 'You need to start taking some balls at first. You’re going to be playing a few games over there and you need to be ready,'" Moreland said. "I think I started 11 or 12 games there and that’s when I got called up."

Moreland didn't tear it up once he came up, but he's been making steady progress in the postseason to the point now that he is a threat every time up at the plate. Washington turned to Moreland's his left-handed bat in Game 5 of the ALDS against Rays lefty David Price. Washington said he didn't want to throw Cantu back in the mix after not playing since Game 1, so there is precedent to go with Moreland.

After his 2-for-3 performance in Game 2, Moreland is batting .316 in the postseason. Against the lefty Price in Game 5, Moreland was 0-for-2 with a strikeout and fly out to left. During the regular season, Moreland hit .200 (4-for-20) against left-handed pitchers. But, against left-handed starters, his average dips to .118 (2-for-19).

Before the start of the ALDS, Washington referred to Moreland's defense as "adaquete." He's been solid so far, which makes Washington's decision for Game 3 that much more difficult.