An American League team playing small ball? Is that for real? Is it possible to win that way?
Truthfully, though, it should not come as a surprise.
To be sure, the Rangers are no ordinary American League team. Although, they are one of the most potent lineups, sporting an AL-best .283 team batting average, while ranking second in home runs, total bases and OPS and third in runs scored. However, as they proved throughout the season, the Rangers are a versatile squad.
Fearsome at the plate, Texas also demonstrated their ability to play fundamental station-to-station baseball, ranking fourth in the AL in stolen bases and fifth in sacrifice hits. Furthermore, they are natural contact hitters, striking out the fewest number of times. Essentially, the Rangers are built for small ball.
Last year’s team floundered against the pitch-heavy San Francisco Giants. Critics pointed to the Giants’ otherworldly starting rotation as the kryptonite to the Rangers’ bats. The Rangers were held to a minuscule .190 batting average, and critics pointed to their inability during the series to manufacture runs at the right moments.
Though ultimately there wasn’t a lot to be done against Tim Lincecum, et al., the Rangers took to heart the need to generate offense when their bats were not working.
That meant running more and playing sound, situational baseball.
True, Texas has thus far clobbered 14 home runs this postseason—Game 2 of the World Series was an example of what the Rangers can do when not playing long ball. As a result, Texas swiped the game from the clutches of the Cardinals in the ninth inning, tying the series going back to Arlington.
Fortunately, for the Rangers return home to their launching pad at The Ballpark. But it’s inspiring to know that the team has the fortitude and skill to make things happen when their bats aren’t smoldering fastballs. Undoubtedly, Texas will likely not stay sizzling hot the entire way.
At some point, there will be a close game that requires one team or the other to make a move, assembling a run in a variety of methods. The Cardinals, behind manager Tony La Russa’s mechanical devises, will certainly be able to manufacture a run the old-fashioned way—but Texas, with their incredibly balanced lineup, can build runs of their own.
Shortstop Elvis Andrus handles the bat well, and has two sacrifice hits in the postseason. Meanwhile, Josh Hamilton is the most clutch hitter, providing three sacrifice flies so far in the playoffs. Moreover, the team as a whole has eight stolen bases—but a more telling sign is their willingness to run, as the Rangers have 14 total attempts.
Yes, Game 2 was a display of how far the Rangers have grown as a team from last year. In the 2010 World Series, it’s difficult to envision the team coming back against the Giants bullpen in the ninth inning without trying in vain to swing for the fences.
Instead, there is no panic. The Rangers are aggressive yet patient; risk-takers yet confident; powerful yet speedy. Their balance is one of the most admirable and exciting aspects of this World Series.
Watching manager Ron Washington construct his counterpoints to La Russa’s intense stratagems is inspiring. Hit-and-runs, stolen bases, walks, bunts. Washington has signaled them all. Every step of the way, the Rangers have pulled through.
If their bats are not mashing home runs, the Rangers are dashing on the bases. It’s one of the many reasons to root for them. When the long ball gets tough, the tough play small ball.
And that is why this time around, the Rangers will win the World Series.