The Texas Rangers played two fantastic games in Tampa Bay, punching their ticket to the ALDS and a meeting with the Baltimore Orioles. Most things went the Rangers way, but there are still some things that can be tweaked and changed up. One of the issues at hand, is who manager Bruce Bochy should pencil in the third spot in the lineup.
For most of the regular season, Nathaniel Lowe occupied the third spot in the order, but September wasn't kind to the lefthanded hitting, first baseman. From September 1st to October 1st, Lowe had 126 plate appearances, slashed .160/.294/.245, hit two home runs, had 12 runs batted in, and scored 10 runs. His numbers for the year are solid, but he has been in quite the slump over the last month of the season. A 2 for 10 showing in the two playoff games doesn't exactly scream, "I'm back", but it could have been worse against solid pitching.
Robbie Grossman should not be hitting third for the Texas Rangers
The two AL Wildcard games featured Robbie Grossman in the third spot in the lineup. For many fans, this was a bit of a head scratcher, but if you look at Grossman's September numbers, the fact that he is a switch hitter, and one of the toughest outs on the team, it is understandable why Bochy went that direction. In the month of September, Grossman had 76 plate appearances, hit .268/.434/.429, had two home runs, drove in nine, and scored eight runs. As evident by the Evan Grant tweet below, the on base percentage played a big part in the decision.
When you look at the splits of hitting righties very lefties, the switch-hitting Grossman is far superior in hitting lefties. That fact right there goes against the idea of starting him against right-handed pitchers. For the season Grossman has hit just over a hundred points less against right-handed pitching (.309 vs LHP and .206 vs RHP), same for OBP (.416 LHP vs .304 RHP), and his output drops even more drastically when it comes to slugging percentage (.536 LHP vs .329 RHP).
Grossman is a good veteran player, but he doesn't need to be hitting third in this Rangers lineup. Look, two games is an incredibly small sample size, and I am not advocating that Grossman be moved to a different part of the order based solely on his 1 for 9 performance. If that was the case, Marcus Semien should be moved down as well, because he too went 1 for 9. The issue facing the Rangers is protection for Corey Seager. Even with Evan Carter bursting onto the scene, Seager is the heart and soul of the Rangers offense and when he starts getting walked intentionally, like he did in game 2, Bochy needs to take a second look at the order.
No matter who is hitting behind Seager, the other team will want to face that person as opposed to Seager. He isn't at a Barry Bonds level, where pitching around him is the best play most all of the time, but there isn't anyone on this Rangers team that is close to him offensively, and it is starting to show with how he is being pitched.
Adolis Garcia or Mitch Garver top choices to hit third
With that said, in my mind, one of the best options is to move Adolis Garica up in the order, from hitting cleanup to batting third, behind Seager. Garcia has had his struggles at times, but he is the most feared hitter in the Rangers lineup not named Seager or Semien. That tends to happen when you put up 39 home runs, drive in 107, and score 108 runs. He too went 2 for 10 in the two Wildcard games but did break the Rangers homerless streak with a no doubter in game two. While his average was down a tick in the month of September at .219, he slugged .609 giving him an OPS of .934. That's a guy that might make opposing managers think twice about pitching around Seager.
Another solid option would be to put Mitch Garver into the three hole. He has been on fire the last two months of the season and has plenty of pop. From August 1st to October 1st, Garver had 209 plate appearances, slashed .283/.389/.548 and hit 14 home runs. Garver a veteran hitter that, when healthy, is a great hitter. Is he the best guy to hit third, behind Seager? He would be a much better option than Grossman. If Bochy isn't going to believe that Lowe is going to bounce back, then Garver or Garica are the other options.
Bochy's other options - Josh Jung or Evan Carter
Josh Jung has hit in the third spot in the order for 31 plate appearances and is an option as well. But he hasn't quite been his first half self since returning from his broken thumb and tends to have two much swing and miss when he is off with his stroke. Fellow rookie Carter would seem like an option, as he has been tearing it up since his promotion September 8th, but hitting lefties has proven to be an issue. Plus, that would be a huge ask for the recently turned 21 year old with less than 100 at bats in the majors. I'm not saying he couldn't handle it, but I really dig how he keeps and gets things going at the bottom of the order.
Bochy has three World Series rings for a reason and has access to all of the numbers plus having a pulse on his individual players. Without his leadership guidance this season, the Rangers probably wouldn't have made the playoffs much less be playing in the second round. He will put the guys on the field that he feels gives him the best chance to win. That doesn't mean that we have to agree with every decision, and that is one of the great things about sports and being fans. There are multiple ways to attack this issue, and some people, might not even see it as an issue.
At the end of the day, whoever bats third is saddled with the tall task of hitting behind one of the best players in baseball. We will find out Saturday morning who that person will be in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Orioles.