Rangers suited to excel at NL style of play
From stealing to manufacturing runs, Texas 'built for anything'
ST. LOUIS -- The World Series opens on Wednesday at Busch Stadium and that means National League rules in the National League city. That primarily means there will be no designated hitter.It also suggests the game will be played with a "National League style" with less emphasis on sheer power and more on the need to manufacture runs. Rangers manager Ron Washington loves that style and has good reason to feel that way right now. The Rangers go into the World Series against the Cardinals with a much more balanced and multidimensional offense than their NL counterparts. The Rangers -- just like the Cardinals -- have power all through their lineup. But the Rangers also can run at will and are encouraged by their manager to be aggressive on the basepaths. They can run, they can steal bases, they can bunt and they have versatile players on their bench. If it comes down to it, the Rangers have everything they need to beat the Cardinals at their own game: on the road using the National League style of play. "We're built for anything," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "Any way we can score runs we will, whether it's hit the ball out of the ballpark, steal bases, bunt guys over, go from first to third. Whatever the game asks, we will do it. If that's National League-style ball, then we're prepared to do it." According to the preconceived stereotypes, American League-style baseball is defined by power, slugging and big innings while the NL emphasis is on speed, running and "small ball." But the Rangers can run, and they have more speed than the Cardinals. Elvis Andrus had 37 stolen bases and Kinsler had 30 as the Rangers ranked fifth in the Major Leagues with 143 stolen bases. The Cardinals had just 57 stolen bases, the second lowest total in the Majors. Infielder Tyler Greene led them with 11 -- the same as Rangers outfielder David Murphy -- and he's not even on the postseason roster. Next up was Albert Pujols with nine. Washington said it's also not just about stealing bases but also putting pressure on the opposing team. Just the threat of the stolen base can cause problems with the opposing pitcher trying to control the running game while trying to get hitters out. "If you make them aware of what you are doing, it may change their focus," Washington said. "You may get a pitcher who is trying to slide-step and he can't slide-step. You may get a guy trying to quicken his delivery and he's not a guy who can do that while still keeping his command and stuff." The Rangers' advantage in speed over the Cardinals could show up in other areas besides stealing bases. Consider how many times the Rangers took advantage of an opportunity to go from first to third on a single during the regular season. According to STATS Inc., the Rangers have three regulars who have been successful going from first to third on a base hit over 45 percent of the time: Andrus (59 percent), Kinsler (57.1) and Adrian Beltre (47.4). The Cardinals' best among their regulars is Rafael Furcal at 42.9 percent. Next is Matt Holliday at 34.6 percent and David Freese at 31.8 percent. The Rangers led the Majors with 177 infield hits and had 19 bunt hits. The Cardinals had 131 infield hits and 12 bunt hits. Rangers hitters also led the Majors in reaching base by error. They did so 75 times, a sign of the pressure they put on the opposition. The Cardinals reached by error 49 times, sixth fewest in the Majors. The Cardinals also led the Majors in hitting into the double play. "Our speed is going to be really important this series," Andrus said. "We're going to be aggressive. We're going to look for opportunities. We're going to find a way to score runs. It could be with a home run, but it could be with a bunt, it could be stealing bases and it could be being aggressive on the basepaths. We're going to find a way." The Cardinals, with their lack of speed, do like to sacrifice bunt. They ranked third in the Major Leagues with 84 sacrifice hits. The Rangers ranked fifth in the AL with 39 sacrifice hits. They were also second with a .460 slugging percentage. Over the past 30 years, only 10 AL teams finished with a slugging percentage of at least .460 and still had at least 39 sacrifice hits. In other words, the Rangers can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but Washington is still willing to move a runner over with the bunt if needed. He is especially inclined to do that when facing a No. 1 starter, and the Rangers will be doing so on Wednesday against Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter. "You make that decision according to how you feel the opposing pitcher is able to dominate," Washington said. "For instance, Carpenter, if I get a runner on second base and Elvis comes up, I'm going to [bunt] him to third. If those guys are dominating, there will be a premium on runs and you have to get as many runs as you possibly can when the opportunity presents itself." All of this is part of Washington's imprint as manager. When he was hired five years ago, he talked immediately about the importance of pitching and defense. But he also made two points about his style of offense: He wanted his players to be fundamentally sound in situational hitting and he wanted them to be aggressive on the basepaths. "That's the style of baseball I grew up in," Washington said. "That's the only way I know how to play. You take the action to the opponent before they take the action to you." That's the way they do it in the NL. "We're capable of adjusting to whatever we need to do that day," Washington said. "Right now the schedule calls for us to adjust to National League-style baseball. So we're going to play National League baseball with our own American League style."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.