Texas hitters show their range in atypical lineup
Cruz and Co. might seem out of place, but order suits Rangers
ARLINGTON -- Never before had the No. 7 spot in a postseason team's lineup received such notoriety, or such scrutiny. Then again, never before had a seventh hitter accomplished so much in a postseason series.
But the record-setting, MVP-winning power surge by Nelson Cruz in the American League Championship Series is really a demonstration of just how deep and dangerous the Rangers' lineup can be.
As the Rangers head into their second consecutive World Series, they do so with a collection of hitters capable of putting together a nine-run inning, as they did in the third frame of Game 6 against the Tigers on Saturday to punch their ticket to the Fall Classic, where they'll face the NL champion Cardinals on Wednesday on FOX.
It's obviously not your ordinary lineup card manager Ron Washington has been penning, with hit machine Michael Young at cleanup after years at the top of the lineup, and Cruz acting like a cleanup hitter in the bottom third of the order.
"Nellie's not a typical No. 7 hitter, and I'm not a typical No. 4 hitter, but this is a lineup that works," Young said. "We're all good hitters. We know that up and down we have nothing but good offensive talent, and the lineup we put together is the one that Wash thinks clicks."
In the ALCS at least, it's one that has shown a knack for the extraordinary, from Cruz's historic walk-off grand slam in Game 2 to Saturday's dagger of a third inning that included no homers but four two-RBI hits and four walks.
Young has shared the Rangers' lineup with bigger boppers than are in it now. But he's never been in one quite like this.
"This is the most versatile lineup I've been a part of," Young said.
It's not just a lineup that can give you a little bit of everything. It's a lineup of hitters who can give you a little bit of everything.
"That's something the guys really stress themselves," said Scott Coolbaugh, who took over as the team's hitting coach in June. "They take pride in the fact that we do have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, but we also have the ability to create runs, move guys over, get guys in from third with less than two outs with situational hitting. I think that was proven in this series."
Indeed, the Tigers hit 13 home runs and the Rangers had seven -- six by Cruz -- but the Rangers wound up outscoring Detroit, 36-25, in the six games. In Game 6, seven players scored twice and seven delivered multi-hit performances.
That the Rangers' lineup card looks the way it has this postseason was at first a matter of necessity, but it became a wondrous invention.
Cruz hit fifth or sixth all season, batting seventh only eight times, but he was struggling to regain his stroke after a late-season hamstring injury. So heading into the postseason, the No. 7 spot made the most sense, especially with catcher Mike Napoli finishing the regular season on such a high note offensively and holding down the No. 6 spot.
What emerged was a stroke of genius. After an athletic 1-2 punch at the top in Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus, the Rangers now have sluggers in the third, fifth and seventh slots in Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Cruz, respectively, and the team's top two on-base performers in Young at fourth and Napoli at sixth.
That's a solid road map to a rally that could produce a two-run homer or a 14-man merry-go-round.
"Right now we have cohesiveness," Washington said. "And [Cruz is] doing a great job in the seventh slot. I just haven't -- since we started the playoffs against Tampa and now against Detroit -- felt the need to make a change. So I haven't."
That, despite daily questions of whether he has considered moving Cruz up from No. 7.
"He's doing well right there," Washington said before Game 6. "He's picking up big RBIs right there where he is."
It doesn't hurt when eighth hitter David Murphy is batting .391 (9-for-23) with three extra-base hits in postseason play, or that backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba has gone 4-for-12 in his limited opportunities. While the No. 9 spot was not productive in the ALCS, the Rangers have options there with Craig Gentry providing an in-game spark in Game 6. First baseman Mitch Moreland and outfielder Endy Chavez have struggled, but they lend Washington different looks at the bottom of the order.
"It's almost like we're spoiled," Murphy said. "Our front office did a great job building this team, and when the MVP of the series is hitting in the seven-hole and hits six home runs, I think that says a lot about our depth. We talked a lot about our depth in Spring Training, and that's one of the reasons that got us here.
"You can do so many things with this lineup. There are so many interchangeable parts. But if it's not broken, don't fix it. And right now it's working."
For Young, the beauty isn't just in the order, and how a No. 7 hitter has turned conventional postseason wisdom upside down. The beauty is in the individuals who collectively can generate offense in so many ways.
"The thing is, it doesn't matter where we hit," Young said. "I mean, if we all do our jobs, we're going to wind up with guys on base and wind up scoring runs. That's the way we look at it."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.