Rangers suddenly look vulnerable
October, 3, 2012
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
The Texas Rangers took over possession of first place in the American League West on April 9, the fourth game of the season. They held that position every day since then, all by themselves, 182 consecutive days.
Now they're in danger of ... well, I don't know exactly what to label it. It's not a collapse like last year's Red Sox and Braves suffered; the Red Sox went 7-20 in September, the Braves 9-18. Those teams did fall apart.
The Rangers haven't exactly done that. They went 15-13 in September but have gone 0-2 in October and now they're tied for first place and have a winner-to-take all showdown Wednesday afternoon, Ryan Dempster taking on A.J. Griffin.
If momentum does exist in baseball -- and I'm in that group believes it doesn't -- then the A's certainly own it. They're riding this wave like Laird Hamilton on the north shore of Maui. Sure, it's not exactly a winner-take-all game, since the Rangers would still back into the wild-card game on Friday against the Orioles or Yankees.
But that's how it would feel: Backing in. And that's not the situation the Rangers expected to be in last Monday, when they beat the A's in the first game of a four-game series to take a 5-game lead with nine games left.
AP Photo/Ben MargotRon Washington's refusal to tinker much with his lineup is one reason for Texas' predicament.
Look, the Rangers have won 93 games, but they're not this powerhouse we've sort of assumed they were all season, and not just because of injuries to their rotation. (I'm not diminishing the effect of those, but keep in the mind A's lost Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson at various points.)
Issue No. 1: Ron Washington's determination to stick with Michael Young. His artificially OK batting line of .277/.313/.370 masks that he just isn't very good. His OPS+ of 78 is higher than just four other AL qualifiers -- Mike Aviles, Alexei Ramirez, Yunel Escobar and Jemile Weeks. Those guys are all middle infielders; Young is the team's primary designated hitter. We get it; Young is a respected veteran making a lot of money who helped the Rangers reach the past two World Series. This is a case where the front office needed to step in and acquire a better player or tell Washington to give those at-bats to somebody else.
As we've seen these past two nights in Oakland, the Rangers aren't the same offensive juggernaut away from Arlington.
Road: .262/.321/.423 (before Tuesday's game)
Ian Kinsler may be the biggest culprit here. His dead-pull swing works great in the left-field launching pad in Texas, where he's hit .293 with 14 home runs. But on the road he's hit .223 with five home runs. Yet Washington continues to him leadoff because he's the leadoff hitter and Washington prefers a set lineup.
The front office also could have upgraded first base. Rangers first basemen (mostly Mitch Moreland) -- despite playing in a great hitter's park -- rank 12th in the AL in OBP, 12th in home runs and 12th in RBIs.
But mostly this is a reminder that pennants aren't won on paper. The Rangers had eight All-Stars this season; the A's just one. The Rangers signed Roy Oswalt and traded for Dempster. The A's called up more rookies.
The A's will start one of those rookies on Wednesday in Griffin. But when the Rangers dig in against him, they won't see a rookie: They'll see a rival.