Commentary

Rangers' hitting staples punchless

2-3-4 trio of Young, Hamilton, Guerrero batting .200 collectively against Rays in ALDS

Updated: October 10, 2010, 9:36 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero had an opportunity in the seventh inning of Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays to help the Texas Rangers find the momentum they apparently left in Florida last week.

After Texas had finally put two runs on the board to get what had been a quiet crowd of 49,218 interested in the game again, the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters stepped to the plate and saw a combined seven pitches for three straight outs.

Young hit a 1-2 pitch hard, but right at first baseman Carlos Pena. Hamilton grounded an 0-1 curve to Pena, who stepped on the bag, and Guerrero popped the first pitch he saw from right-hander Grant Balfour to Pena as well.

[+] EnlargeElvis Andrus
AP Photo/David J. PhillipElvis Andrus and the Rangers have scored just five runs in the last 22 innings in the ALDS.

It didn't take but a few minutes, and the sellout crowd seemed more interested in checking their cell phones for updates on the Dallas Cowboys game across the street.

Young, Hamilton and Guerrero are a combined 9-for-45 in this series. That's a .200 batting average through four games in the ALDS.

"We haven't gotten the job done," Hamilton said. "We haven't put runs on the board. You can't think about what you've done good or bad. You just have to focus on your job at the plate."

They came up with chances to drive in runs Sunday and couldn't. Young flied out with a runner at second and one out in the third. Hamilton followed with a ground out to end the inning. Guerrero came up with the bases loaded in the fifth with two outs and struck out on a slider low and outside.

It was not the kind of production the Rangers normally get from that trio.

The long ball made the difference for the Rangers in Tampa Bay. They hit four homers and scored 11 runs and were 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

But back in Arlington, the Rangers managed five runs. In fact, they scored those five runs in the last 22 innings dating to Game 2. It's an offensive outage that has become habit in the postseason at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Texas has now scored 11 runs in six playoff games at home and is 0-6 in those games.

The Rangers have been a different team at the plate in the daytime, and Games 3 and 4 were no exception. In the regular season, Texas averaged .281 at night but batted .264 under the sun. The last two days, batters on both sides dealt with shadows setting in over the ballpark (Saturday) and a bright sun (Sunday).

The lack of offense in Games 3 and 4 puts the Rangers in an elimination game in Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. They are trying to avoid becoming only the second team to win the first two games of a best-of-five series on the road and lose.

The only other: the 2001 Oakland Athletics, who lost to the New York Yankees. Rangers manager Ron Washington was the third base coach on that team.

"We have to get better," outfielder David Murphy said about the offense. "I felt like I was waking up in 0-2 counts today. If they put a fastball in a spot where we can hit it and we don't, that's our fault. But if they are hitting their spots, that's baseball. If guys pitch well and hit their spots, it makes it more challenging."

One guy that made it challenging all season on pitchers was Hamilton. Despite cracked ribs that forced him to miss most of the final month of the season, Hamilton had good at-bats in the final three regular-season games and came into the series thinking he could have an impact. But the MVP candidate, who hit .359 in the regular season to lead the league, has just two hits in the series and is batting .143 with no RBIs.

"I've got 48 hours to figure it out?" Hamilton asked after Sunday's loss. "I will figure it out."

He's seen a steady diet of off-speed and breaking balls in this series, especially in Arlington. He's drawn a few walks, but the Rays have kept the ball out of the strike zone and tried to get him to chase. They've been able to get ahead in the count, making the strategy more effective. And the Rays have used a similar approach with many of the Rangers' hitters.

"They know we can hit fastballs," Hamilton said. "They saw how we hit [David] Price. So we saw the game plan switch up. They might try to get ahead with a fastball away or an off-speed for a strike and then expand the zone on us. That's what they did the past couple of days. We need to make the adjustment as a team to either spit on those pitches or hit them."

Hamilton, who is still wearing protection under his jersey for his cracked ribs, refused to use his health as an excuse.

"I wish I could use it as an excuse," Hamilton said. "But I feel fine. It's just baseball. You figure them out, they figure you out. It's what makes the game fun. If it was easy, nobody would play."

It's certainly not easy now. An offense that has hit a drought returns to Tampa for a winner-take-all Game 5. They'll again face David Price, who made mistakes in Game 1 that led to five Rangers runs -- all of them by the fifth inning -- that helped take the crowd out of the game. It was a lot like what the Rays did to the Rangers on Sunday.

"It's back to Square 1," Murphy said. "It's Game 5. We're going to go out there and take a good approach and try to get the job done. We're looking forward to it. We still have a lot of confidence."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.

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