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Thursday, October 20, 2011
Is Rangers' lineup becoming an issue?

By David Schoenfield

Here are the Rangers' nine regular hitters, ranked by regular-season wOBA, with their postseason OPS in parenthesis:

1. Mike Napoli, .444 (.776)
2. Adrian Beltre, .379 (.813)
3. Josh Hamilton, .371 (.726)
4. Ian Kinsler, .370 (.846)
5. Michael Young, .360 (.593)
6. Nelson Cruz, .352 (1.084)
7. David Murphy vs. RH, .350 (1.047)
8. Elvis Andrus, .323 (.531)
9. Mitch Moreland, .317 (.490)

You see the issue here, right? Andrus hits second even though he's clearly one of least valuable hitters on the team. He's also struggling in the postseason, with a .205 average. Hamilton, batting a groin injury is hitting .293 -- but an empty .293, with no home runs and just two walks in 10 games. Cleanup hitter Michael Young is hitting .209, with most of that damage coming in the ALCS Game 6 blowout.

The problem is Ron Washington is hitting Beltre, Cruz and Napoli -- arguably his three best hitters right now -- in the 5, 6 and 7 spots in the order. Studies have shown that an optimal order has your best hitters batting 1, 2 and 4. In Game 1, Andrus batted four times, while Napoli batted just three times. It's a minor thing, but possibly an important thing. Of the course of the series, Andrus may get four or five extra plate appearances over Napoli.

There isn't much Washington can do about Hamilton. Before Game 2, Napoli said, "We want Josh to be 100 percent, but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of guys in that clubhouse fighting injuries. ... But he'll find a way, we're confident of that." Washington said Hamilton has been battling the injury for a month and a half. Hamilton did hit six home runs in September, but he's now gone 62 at-bats without a home run. Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas asks "How bad is Hamilton hurt?"

Washington's lineup for Game 2 sticks with the status quo (with Craig Gentry hitting eighth and playing for Murphy with left-hander Jaime Garcia on the mound); that's no surprise, since it's the lineup that got him here. Asked if he'd considered sitting Hamilton, Washington said no. "Hamilton has been sitting in the third spot all year," he said in his pregame media conference. "He'll figure it out. ... He's a big part of our lineup sitting right where he is. I can't afford to take him out. Even if he doesn't do anything, he gives us a presence."

It's easy to criticize Washington; I think the most egregious move is leaving Andrus in the No. 2 spot. But Washington believes in his players, and that belief is no doubt part of the reason for the Rangers' success. He even issued a warning about Hamilton Thursday:

"Don't be surprised if he comes up big, because I certainly won't."

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.