Commentary

Ian Kinsler is Rangers' 'on' switch

When leadoff hitter reaches base like he has been, offensive machine revs up

Updated: August 27, 2012, 12:32 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- We can debate the merits of the trickle-down economic system. But it seems clear there's a huge upside to the trickle-down offensive system.

And for that to pay dividends for everyone, the guy at the very top has to set the tone and provide the spark to get the rest of the lineup going.

"This offense works when Ian Kinsler is getting on base consistently," Texas Rangers hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh said. "It starts at the top. When he finds a way to get on and create pressure on the bases, good things happen. It gets everyone rolling."

[+] EnlargeIan Kinsler
Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesOver the last eight games, Ian Kinsler has hit .375 while the Rangers have gone 6-2 and scored 63 runs.

That's just the way it is. When Kinsler is playing his game and feeling good at the plate, it seems like his teammates follow. When he isn't, they seem to struggle to get going.

Kinsler understands his importance to the lineup. He doesn't look at it as any added pressure, but he knows if he can make something happen, especially early in the game, the entire offense flows better.

Perhaps it's good timing for the Rangers that Kinsler is doing that now. Kinsler got on base and scored in the first inning for the fourth consecutive game on Sunday, helping give the Rangers a 2-1 lead after they fell behind in the top of the first (and then sat through a nearly 90-minute rain delay).

"When he does it right away, it really gets the bats swinging well quickly," Coolbaugh said. "He's been getting the job done for us."

If he can keep it going through the postseason, the club has a great chance to bring the championship trophy to Arlington. If he doesn't, it makes it very difficult on Texas to score enough runs consistently to get the job done.

It sounds like a lot of pressure, doesn't it? But Kinsler isn't worried about it. He prefers to think of the Rangers' offense like a machine.

"If one piece is not working, it's tough for the machine to function," Kinsler said.

"But I think it's got to start with an 'on' button, right? If I'm able to get on, Elvis [Andrus] is able to bunt, hit and run, move me over and do the things he does well. Then, obviously, Josh [Hamilton], Adrian [Beltre] and Nellie [Cruz] can drive in runs.

Kinsler If one piece is not working, it's tough for the machine to function. But I think it's got to start with an 'on' button, right?

-- Rangers leadoff man Ian Kinsler

"Then it starts over with Mike [Young]. We really have two lineups that work together."

And that makes it awfully tough on opposing pitchers.

After scuffling for most of June and July, the Rangers are swinging the bats again. They are getting hits with runners in scoring position, having productive outs again and putting together big innings.

Everyone is contributing, but it's Kinsler leading the way. If he gets on base early, it seems to inspire the rest of the lineup. The reverse is in effect, too. If he pops up to the infield on the first or second pitch, it can deflate the group. Or at the very least, it can cause the offense to need a few innings to get into a flow.

Kinsler has had an up-and-down season. His overall numbers through Sunday are a .271 batting average with 15 homers and 64 RBIs. The homers and RBIs are second most among AL leadoff hitters (Angels rookie Mike Trout leads in both categories). But Kinsler has gone through swales and reached peaks. And it's not a coincidence that they've mirrored the offense as a whole.

His best month was April, when he hit .298 and scored 28 runs for a Rangers team that was 17-6 and built a sizeable lead in the AL West. As a team, the Rangers had an MLB-high .292 average in June and scored 124 runs, second most in the league.

Kinsler's worst month? July. He hit .244 and scored 22 runs in 90 at-bats. The club finished last in the MLB with 81 runs that month and batted just .243.

And in the past eight games, Kinsler is batting .375 (12-for-32) with three doubles, a triple, two homers, nine RBIs and seven runs scored. In that span, the Rangers are 6-2 and have scored 63 runs, including eight or more in five of those games.

It's amazing how Kinsler's numbers correlate to the club, isn't it?

"It's not the case for every team, but I've always had a pretty strong belief in the fact that when Ian is performing well, our offense is performing well," outfielder David Murphy said. "I don't want to say that and add pressure to what he's doing because everybody has slumps and everybody struggles. If there's two or three guys in this lineup that when they go, we go, he's definitely one of them."

It's clear how much Hamilton means to the offense. But his impact only grows when Kinsler or Andrus are on base ahead of him.

Kinsler's versatility also allows him to alter the score of the game with one swing. He hit his fifth leadoff homer of the season Saturday. Kinsler has a club-record 25 leadoff home runs and Texas is 21-4 when he hits one.

Kinsler can set the tone with a walk, working a pitcher and sending a signal that the Rangers are willing to stay patient. He can attack, getting a quick hit and then stealing a base to see if the opposing pitcher can get rattled right away. When he does that, it allows the offense to get into a groove behind him.

"Everyone gets more comfortable at the plate," said Beltre, who had a three-homer game and hit for the cycle over a three-game span last week. "When you score early, it relaxes guys. When we are scoring a lot of runs, you don't feel that pressure of doing this or hitting a homer. You ease up and it can be easier knowing you don't need to produce by yourself."

The runs are coming early and often right now for the Rangers, something they'll need to continue as the games become more and more important.

"You're always looking for that consistency," Coolbaugh said. "Right now, we've got that and we just have to focus on quality at-bats and doing what the situation calls for when asked."

It starts with Kinsler.

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