Rangers' bats whiffing on consistency
Road trip highlights lineup's struggle to pull together as Texas slips to second place
OAKLAND, Calif. -- When it comes to offense, the Texas Rangers seem to lack cohesion.
Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz shouldered a huge load early in the season and others, such as shortstop Elvis Andrus, have sprinkled in help here and there. But there's no consistency throughout the lineup.
"It's not together," said Josh Hamilton, who has picked up his play the last few weeks but was 1-for-4 with three strikeouts in Wednesday's 4-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics. "It's sporadic. One or two guys will be hitting and the other two or three won't. I don't know. We just have to get it going as a team with at least four, five six guys at the same time. If the top or bottom is off, another part has to pick them up. We're just not doing it right now offensively."
The Rangers went 4-2 on this six-game road trip through Seattle and Oakland. They return home a half-game behind the A's in the AL West after losing the final two games of the series to slip from first place. But they are winning games thanks to solid pitching and just enough hitting to get by. Texas averaged only 3.6 runs per game on this trip. That's down from the 4.4 the Rangers are averaging for the season.
They know finding a more productive offense is important if they want to go on a winning streak that can put them back in first place and generate a bit of a cushion in the AL West.
In the major offensive categories -- runs scored, RBIs, batting average and average with runners in scoring position -- the Rangers are hovering in the middle to lower tier of the AL.
Rangers manager Ron Washington had four players in his lineup Wednesday with batting averages below the Mendoza Line.
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Of course, the Rangers don't have their full lineup on the field. Cruz is out with a strained right hamstring. Their opening day catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, is still in the minors attempting to return from a lingering shoulder injury. Justin Smoak is trying to figure out life in the major leagues. So is Julio Borbon, for that matter, who was switched from leadoff to No. 9, sending Andrus to the top of the order.
"We have some young guys and they are learning," Washington said.
It's an offense that has a few sparks but has been unable to sustain a flame. It managed to get enough runs to beat elite pitchers Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez and even Doug Fister, who has one of the lowest ERAs in the AL. But the Rangers couldn't drive home enough runs to beat Vin Mazzaro, who started the season in the minors, and Trevor Cahill, who had a shoulder injury to start 2010.
"We have to execute better," Washington said. "We will get guys on, but sometimes we don't get that one hit. It's consistency.
"But we go as the middle of our lineup goes."
And that group has had its ups and downs in the first 28 games of the 2010 season. Michael Young is batting .256. He was batting just .212 with runners in scoring position, a spot where he is usually one of the best in the league. Josh Hamilton started the season batting just .205 with only three RBIs in his first 13 games, but he's battled back to hit .339 in his last 14 games with 11 RBIs. Still, he knows he's missed chances to drive in runs in key situations.
"It's something I'm working on," Hamilton said. "I'm doing a better job of putting the ball where it needs to be, but I can be more consistent."
That word -- consistent -- was uttered by quite a few folks on Wednesday.
Guerrero has delivered when it comes to that term. He has a .333 average and a team-high 19 RBIs.
But the team is also adjusting to having Ian Kinsler back in the lineup. Washington said he thinks it may take time for Kinsler to be totally in his groove. He was 1-for-8 in the final two games of the Oakland series but has gone 7-for-24 to start his season. And he gives the Rangers speed in the middle of the order.
Clearly the Rangers miss Cruz, who was an offensive force the first month of the season before landing on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. He is due back during the Oakland series at home next week.
In the meantime, David Murphy is getting more playing time.
"We have to get Murph going too and get him some more at-bats," Washington said.
Murphy is 8-for-53 (.151) so far this season.
"They are better hitters than that," Washington said. "We just have to wait for things to come around, and they will."
Hamilton agrees, shaking his head at the fact that the club isn't putting up more runs. Wednesday was another example, as the team got hits and drew walks to get baserunners but couldn't get them home. Three double plays served as rally killers.
"I think it's more frustrating knowing it's going to happen, but not knowing when it's going to happen," Hamilton said. "The being patient part, as far as waiting for it to happen, that's the most frustrating part. We know it's going to happen, just hopefully sooner rather than later."
The good news: No one has taken firm control of the AL West. And the Rangers have had enough pitching to help them grab a .500 record, which has them right in range in the division.
Imagine what they can do once the offense gets on a roll.