The Catalyst Is Back
The game notes before Texas took the field June 19 against Oakland spelled out the Rangers' recent woes in sober, staccato detail: "Team has lost 7 of 8, 10 of 13, and 12 of 17 games, going 7-of-15 in last 22 contests."
In that span, the Rangers’ healthy, comfortable lead in the American League West evaporated and the Rangers fell behind the A’s by as much as three games entering their four-game series at Rangers Ballpark.
That series ended on Thursday. The Rangers took three of four games from the A’s, reducing the deficit to one game. So here’s another note to review: “6-of-14 hitting, 4 runs, 5 RBI.”
"I think we’re competitive and that we have the monkey off our back as far as a total drought offensively," Ron Washington said.
That was the batting line of second baseman Ian Kinsler in the four-game series.
The stat underscores Kinsler’s value to this lineup and is part of the reason why Ron Washington is optimistic that the worst is over for the Rangers’ summer hitting slump.
"I think we’re competitive and that we have the monkey off our back as far as a total drought offensively," Washington said. "We have some guys that are starting to figure things out. I think we’ll start getting more consistent and get back to playing our baseball."
It’s probably not a coincidence that the Rangers’ slide began when Kinsler bruised his ribs on May 17. The Rangers finished that day with a 6.5 game lead in the division, but Kinsler was headed for the disabled list.
By the time Kinsler was healthy enough to play on June 15, the Rangers were two games behind the A’s and in the throes of a six-game losing streak. After Toronto swept the Rangers last Sunday, Washington hosted a frank, closed-door meeting with his team. In that Toronto series Kinsler went 0-for-8. He bounced back nicely against Oakland.
Kinsler is not your traditional leadoff hitter in that he has power and is capable of hitting 30 home runs in a season. He’s done it twice. He strikes out a little more often than some Rangers fans would like, and that uppercut swing can be, at times, feast or famine.
But there is no denying that he is the catalyst of this lineup. He has stolen at least 20 bases in a season five times. He’s scored 100 or more runs four times. Good leadoff hitters set the table, steal bases and score runs. Few come with the added intangible of home run power, which makes Kinsler a hitter no pitcher can afford to overlook.
That intangible is something that Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar, the two players that hit in Kinsler’s spot during his injury, cannot emulate. It isn’t a knock on either player. It’s just that neither of them has that in his toolbox.
It’s also not to say that Kinsler’s injury was the only reason the Rangers fell into a tailspin. Injuries to the pitching staff haven’t helped. Neither did the downturn of other Rangers hitters like outfielder David Murphy.
It’s only to say that, in perhaps their biggest series of the season to date, the Rangers won three of four games, and their catalyst had a huge hand in making that happen, including driving in the go-ahead run in Thursday’s getaway game.
If the Rangers get away from this slump, Kinsler will have a great deal to do with it.