Monday, October 25, 2010
Rangers can play it NL-style, too
By Jeff Caplan
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cliff Lee thinks the most fun in baseball is hitting. Ron Washington loves National League-style baseball. Bengie Molina, a former National Leaguer on the San Francisco Giants, thinks the Texas Rangers play a pretty darn good brand of small ball.
Sounds as though the Rangers, once known only for their big bats, are a perfect fit for the style predominantly played in the NL. Good thing since Texas will open its first-ever World Series on Wednesday night at AT&T Park, the home of the NL champion San Francisco Giants.
"I love playing National League baseball. I do," Washington said. "You get every single person engaged. It's a little different than the American League. We went through two series [the ALDS and ALCS] here where some guys didn't get a chance to play. Now everybody's available because there will be certain moves that have to be made."
Which can be a blessing and a curse. For instance, what happens in a tie game or if the Rangers trail 1-0 in the sixth or seventh inning, have the bases loaded with two outs and Lee -- despite his love for hitting (and he was a .273 postseason hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies last year) -- is up? Do you let him hit so he can stay in and pitch or do you pinch-hit for him and put the game in the hands of the bullpen?
"If that opportunity presents itself," Washington said. "We'll react to it."
Lee could very well be called upon to bunt, the calling card of every NL pitcher. That's why the top 12 teams in the majors in sacrifice bunts hail in the NL. The AL-leader in sac bunts? The Texas Rangers. They were also third in the majors in sacrifice flies and seventh in stolen bases. meaning they are proficient in moving and scoring runners without needing a home run.
Yes, the Rangers have the classic AL bashers -- they have 17 in the postseason to lead all teams -- but they've also done a masterful job this season of manufacturing runs. But, anybody who has watched this team in winning the AL pennant has discovered that. The Rangers scored two runs from second base on balls hit in the infield in Game 5 against Tampa Bay, and Elvis Andrus scored the first run of the ALCS clincher against the New York Yankees on a fielder's choice.
"The small ball we play here is amazing, too," Molina said. "We play great small ball. And the National League is known for small ball, so I think you can compare."
Both teams hit 162 home runs in the regular season and the Giants actually hit more extra base hits than the Rangers, who led the majors with a .276 batting average. Equalizing things in the small-ball category could be key as Texas faces its most daunting pitching staff of the postseason.
"I think we can play any way it's necessary to score runs, honestly, whether that's National League or American League ball, however you want to label it, we can do it," second baseman Ian Kinsler said."Like Wash always says, we're going to do what's presented to us. Whether that's move a runner with a ground ball to second, or a sac fly, or a bunt or a hit-and-run, we're going to do it."