See, why can’t every game look so easy?
The Rangers ended a brutal 7-game losing streak — spanning three teams, two sweeps, and obviously some very ugly baseball — defeating the Rays 7-1 on Tuesday night. The unassuming troika of Ian Kinsler (12), Elvis Andrus (3) and Leonys Martin (8) all went deep, and Alexi Ogando provided 5.0 solid innings and arguably the 69 most important regular season pitches of his career.
In an attempt not to overdose on hyperbole, this was probably the biggest win of the Rangers season to date.
The scoring got started on the game’s opening pitch, a Jeremy Hellickson fastball that Ian Kinsler leaned on and deposited into the left field seats (because what other direction is Kins going to hit the ball?). With a 1-0 lead, and the vague promise that Texas might hold on once they possessed it — for the first time since beating the Angels two Sundays ago — I was slowly becoming engaged in a Rangers game. Shocking, I know.
In his second at bat, Kinsler delivered the Rangers’ 2nd and 3rd runs of the game, ripping a single to center to score Mitch Moreland and Leonys Martin. The next hitter, Elvis Andrus, bombed away to left-center for his 3rd homer of the year, and at 5-0 it was a form of the “floodgates opening” that has become completely foreign to Ranger fans this season.
Being the Ian Kinsler apologist that I am, I still don’t think there’s a way I can frame his 2013 season in a light other than “disappointing” or “underwhelming.” I can cycle through all the tepid language at my disposal, but in the end all I am really describing is a bland, average year. Compared to his 2012 — where he finished at a pedestrian .256/.326/.423 (100 wRC+) — Ian now sits at .273/.338/.404 (also a 100 wRC+). Essentially, he has a marginally higher on-base percentage and marginally lower slugging percentage in 2013.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a 2nd baseman who hits league-average, but when you consider this is Ian Kinsler we are talking about — who posted wRC+’s of 102, 108, 133, 105, 114 and 123 between 2006 and 2011 — then it’s hard not to expect more. While 2012 was almost universally viewed as an aberration, it now may be looking like this is the hitter Ian Kinsler will be moving forward. Again, there is nothing especially problematic about an average offensive player, however, with Jurickson Profar going from no-shit shortstop of the future to franchise’s 2nd baseman of the future (now that Elvis Andrus is extended longterm), Kinsler’s shift to 1st base in 2014 seems inevitable, a position where offensive production is required more than any other on the diamond. A 100 wRC+ doesn’t do the trick.
I say this as a mild precaution moving forward, but right now the only thing that matters is that Ian Kinsler is still one of the team’s most reliable bats, and if the Rangers are to maintain their current stake as one of the American League’s two wild card teams, Ian will need to produce as he produced tonight against the Rays.
Other noteworthy performances on Tuesday came from Leonys Martin, who went 3-4 with two doubles and a home run, and Elvis Andrus, who went 2-3 with a homer, a walk, and 3 runs driven in. The Rangers 9, 1 and 2 hitters combined to go 7-12 with 3 HRs, 2 2Bs, and all 7 of the team’s RBI. The rest of the lineup was 3-28.
Alexi Ogando reportedly had a strict 65-pitch limit, though it appeared he was running out of gas as early as the 3rd. With men on 1st and 2nd and only one out, he retired the final two hitters in the 3rd, and managed to efficiently throw two more frames unscathed.
The bullpen was lights out, with Joakim Soria, Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers and Joe Nathan throwing 4 shutout innings while only surrendering 2 hits. It was a reasonable facsimile of what the postseason is going to look like if the Rangers happen to make it.
With Cleveland’s win in Kansas City, the Rangers and Rays are only a half-game in front in the wild card race, making these next two games in St. Petersburg all the more critical.