Ron Washington is running out of ideas. He has managed his bullpen well to this point in October, and has kept his team motivated for the long final month of the season. But Washington may need to change something if the Rangers want to win the World Series.
Their lineup has stayed consistent almost all year. While it built a sense of purpose in the organization and a established a known role for each player, the strategy is failing him in this series.
Josh Hamilton has a groin injury that is noticeably restrained by his lack of power. He is drawing his swing strictly from his arms and hands, he can't generate any power from his hips and legs which is how he usually hits his bombs. Washington has repeatedly refused to move Hamilton down in the lineup and has kept him in the three spot.
Nelson Cruz, who has hit seven home runs in 47 playoff at-bats this year, has stayed in the seven hole in the order, hitting behind Michael Young, Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre.
The top of the lineup is where Washington can flex his managerial wit. Kinsler and Andrus are a dynamic one, two at the top of the Rangers' lineup and their speed is menacing to pitchers.
Kinsler's steal of second in the ninth inning of Game 2 catalyzed the comeback, which further developed when Elvis Andrus missed a bunt early in his at-bat, then blooped Kinsler to third. The Rangers need to focus on small ball from the first pitch.
Their strong-suit, while they have the sluggers, is their speed and base-running ability. If they can put the Cardinals on their heels in the first inning they will gain the momentum they need to tie the series. Washington has options, but his pitching staff needs to help him out.
Texas' starting pitchers have combined for a 5.14 ERA over 65.2 innings and 13 combined starts in the playoffs. C.J. Wilson, who the Rangers consider their ace, has four starts and has a 7.17 ERA over 21.1 innings. Wilson, who is a free agent at the end of the season, could have used this October as a stage for potential buyers.
That's not to suggest the Yankees won't be interested in the Winter because C.J. has performed so poorly, but the Rangers need him and the other starters to pitch the Rangers to a World Series win.
It starts with Derek Holland, 5.84 ERA in 12.1 playoff innings this year, who will start for Texas in Game 4 on Sunday. Holland is a young, deliberate left-hander who needs to keep the ball down in the zone to have any chance of keeping the Cardinal hitters at bay.
The bullpen needs to find their brilliance from the AL Division and Championship Series', as well. Alexi Ogando, who was lights out in both series' leading up to this one, has been less than effective against the Cardinals. Albert Pujols hit one of his three Game 3 home runs off of Ogando, and it clearly affected the pitcher's performance afterward.
Scott Feldman, Mike Gonzalez and Neftali Feliz have also been lacking their normal spark out of the bullpen. The Rangers relied on their relievers in September and early in October, and they will need to get them back to form to continue winning in the postseason.
As the Cardinals displayed in Game 3, the ball jumps off of bats at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The bats need to come alive for Texas, and St. Louis' bats need to be put to bed by Texas' pitching. The Rangers are at home in Game 4, but it may come to be their downfall. Only the pitching staff, bullpen included, can keep them in the game.
The Rangers lineup will produce their normal numbers in Game 4 and beyond, but to get the ring, Ron Washington needs his starters to pick up the slack.