Texas Rangers: Rocco Baldelli
Does he go back to the right-handed-heavy lineup that produced one run and eight hits combined in Games 1 and 2 against Lee and C.J. Wilson? Or does he stick with some of his lefty bats that heated up in Arlington and racked up 11 runs and 23 hits against Rangers righties Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter?
Maddon used six left-handed hitters in Game 3 and seven in Game 4.
"I'm debating a couple little things quite frankly, but more than likely you're going to see a very similar lineup for us vs. a left-handed pitcher," Maddon said Monday afternoon. "I do have a lot of confidence in this group. Our record against left-handed pitching has actually been very good this year."
Just not of late, losing five in a row against southpaws. Although, the Rays take stock in having beaten Lee in all three regular-season matchups as well as having ace David Price throwing in an redemption effort against a Rangers lineup that has hit the skids.
Maddon has changed his batting order in each of the first four games. He practically made wholesale flip-flops against the Rangers' lefties and righties, strategies he's employed throughout the year, such as inserting lefties in rookie left-handed catcher John Jaso, right fielder Matt Joyce and designated hitter Dan Johnson, and even going with shortstop Reid Brignac in Game 4.
Maddon has also made key changes in the order. He dropped the struggling duo of B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena to the bottom in Game 3 to sort of create two hearts of the lineup with Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria at the top of the lineup. Pena returned to the five-hole in Game 4, while Upton stayed down. The moves paid off. Upton got key hits in Game 3 and 4 and Pena heated up.
Now the question is where will Maddon go now? We know Rocco Baldelli won't be in the lineup as the DH as he surprisingly was in Game 1. He is no longer on the playoff roster. Switch-hitter Willy Aybar will likely (1-for-5 in series) get the nod. Maddon also assured that the lefty slugger Pena will play. The usual five-hole hitter sat in Game 2 against Wilson after going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against Lee in the opener.
Catcher and Fort Worth-product Kelly Shoppach (0-for-6 in series) could be back in the lineup as well as second baseman Sean Rodriguez (1-for-7).
"Joe has a ton of versatility over there and he's used his lineup the way he's used it against us all year, so I don't see anything different in what he's doing," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It's just that his left-handers have been giving him some very good at-bats, and those guys do that. But he has a ton of versatility over there. He can mix and match and it doesn't really matter, and he can set that lineup where it doesn't matter what you do, they can handle it, even if they leave a lefty on our lefty."
The Rays announced that Baldelli has left leg fatigue symptomatic of his mitochondrial disorder.
Baldelli was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and he left three runners on base in Game 1, a 5-1 victory for the visiting Texas Rangers. Aybar hit .220 this season in 100 games. Nineteen of his 62 hits went for extra bases, including 13 doubles, and he drew 30 walks.
Baldelli played just 10 regular-season games with the Rayslate in the year and hit .208.
"We think about that all the time," Crawford said. "Me, him and Rocco Baldelli. That was supposed to be the outfield. We just think how great that outfield could have been and then what kind of numbers we could have been putting up and how many championships we probably could have won. It was just one of those things where we didn’t get to see it, but we think about it all the time."
Everyone knows what happened to Hamilton, how he nearly threw away his career in a swirl of drugs and alcohol, and how a terrific player almost never was.
"It’s amazing that he was able to go through the stuff that he did and still come back and be arguably the best player in the game," Crawford said. "I didn’t know he could come back from such a tough situation like that, but I’m definitely happy for him. We were real close in the minor leagues."
Hamilton last wore a uniform in the Rays organization in 2006 with the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League where he won a championship in his first year as a pro in '99.
"I remember the things that you guys see right now," Crawford said. "He was just an unbelievable athlete, had a great talent and I had a chance to see it every day at a young age, when we were 17 years old. That’s what I remember."
Hamilton's road to the Texas Rangers went like this: Drafted by the Chicago Cubs from Tampa Bay in the 2006 rule 5 draft on Dec. 7; purchased by the Cincinnati Reds from the Chicago Cubs on that same day; two years later traded by the Reds to the Rangers for Danny Herrera and Edinson Volquez.
As Hamilton has now come full circle -- the 2010 American League batting champ and a leading MVP candidate playing against the team that drafted him in the playoffs -- he said he, too, thinks about what might have been in Tampa.
"It would have been a pretty disgusting outfield. It would have been sick. You probably would have had to hit it over the fence for a ball to drop in, really. So you think about that," Hamilton said. "But I mean, that's what's so hard to predict, like when you're scouting and you're predicting and projecting players. I mean, that's what's so difficult about it, because you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know what life is going to throw at them or injuries or anything like that. So when you project things like that, that's exactly what it is, a projection, because a lot of times it doesn't end up that way. But to think about it, it would have been a pretty good one."
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