"... Believe you me son I hate to do it just as bad as you hate to see it done ..." - Jay-Z, "Friend or Foe"
Alright. I didn't want to have to do this, but I'm going to have to do this. Before I do, though, let's go ahead and get a couple of things out of the way: Yes, I readily acknowledge that the Rangers lost Game 3 as a result of teamwide dysfunction -- that they lost because Colby Lewis wasn't good enough, because Koji Uehara hasn't curtailed his post-season struggles, and because the middle of the Rangers' batting order didn't produce as needed. Yes, it was a single loss, and the Rangers still boast the series lead and the better odds of advancing to the World Series. Yes, I guess I am sort of violating my own no-finger-pointing edict from a couple of weeks back.
And no, I don't hate, dislike, resent, or otherwise harbor any sort of ill will towards Michael Young. I may not have an especially high tolerance for some of the ridiculous Young-deifying narratives that the media has been known to roll out there, but I want to see him excel and contribute significant value to this team just as much as everyone else, and I want to see him get that elusive World Series ring.
Which, I suppose, is why I'm writing about this in the first place. I don't know if I think this post is going to do something to light a fire underneath him, or if I'm trying to anti-jinx him (sounds silly, I know), or if I'm just trying to purge my frustration in a moment of catharsis -- but, hey, I worked hard enough to build up this platform, so I might as well use that platform to line up the crosshairs and fire away for a few minutes.
In the first inning, Young strode to the plate after a string of three consecutive hits to lead off the game, and promptly rammed a first-pitch Doug Fister sinker into the dirt for a rally-strangling 6-4-3 double play. In the fourth inning, he worked his way into a 2-1 count and then grounded out harmlessly to shortstop ... again. In the sixth inning, with the Rangers trailing by a 2-1 margin and Ian Kinsler standing on second base with two outs, Young rapped another first-pitch sinker out to shortstop for a harmless inning-ending ground out ... again.
And in the ninth inning, with the Rangers still gasping for breath after a Josh Hamilton lead-off double, Young struck out swinging against Tigers closer Jose Valverde on three pitches. That's 0-for-4 out of the cleanup spot, with a single-game win probability added of -.207 -- the worst mark on the team by a wide margin. *
[* Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, and a hobbled Adrian Beltre themselves combined to go 0-for-11 behind Young, so this clearly wasn't a solo failure. The difference, though, is that none of them failed in such high-leverage situations as Young did ... and each of those three has also contributed in some significant way to at least one of the Rangers' five wins during this current playoff run. The same really can't be said for Young.]
This is still unofficial, but that -.207 WPA presently ranks as the fifth-worst single-game WPA posted by a Rangers hitter in this franchise's post-season history. That, of course, encompasses a grand total of just 325 individual batter games (the Rangers had, after all, played only 32 post-season games in their history before last night's Game 3), but it's painfully apparent that his performance -- or lack thereof -- was a big part of the reason why Texas lost last night. A real bummer, that is -- but, hey, good players, struggle, bad games happen, and Young excelled during the regular season, so where's the problem?
The problem is that Young, despite ending the regular season on a strong note (.469/.469/.500 over his last eight regular-season games), is giving the Rangers nothing at the plate right now. He's giving them even less this post-season than he gave them last post-season, when his solid ALCS showing was sandwiched between a pair of lousy ALDS and World Series showings en route to a .254/.275/.343 post-season run. This year, he's mired in a powerless 3-for-27, two-walk slump, and actually seems to be slipping further away from his desired offensive approach as time progresses.
Initially, Young was a victim of the BABIP gods. There were outs, yes, but they were comparatively hard-hit outs, and even though he wasn't getting the desired results, you came away with the sense that he wasn't really all that far away from where he needed to be. That defense, though, has slowly withered away as his signature abilities -- namely, his penchant for fighting back from behind in the count and against tough pitchers, as well as his ability to send line drives zinging to all fields -- have continued to recede. He's stranded out in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight, and now his myriad October problems are being reflected in his fast-eroding post-season numbers.
To what extent, you ask? Well, after last night's debacle, Young's career post-season WPA across a grand total of 98 plate appearances is -.748. That's worse than the career post-season WPA of any other Rangers hitter in franchise history. And that, in conjunction with a career post-season OPS spiralling uncontrollably towards .500, just does not fly. I realize that he's not purposefully killing this thing, and that he wants that ring just as badly as everyone else on this team ... but damn, really? That's what you're bringing to the table? At this rate, how far off can we really be from the first article to portray Young as the so-called team leader who conveniently disappears from the face of the earth when the calendar flips over to October and the games really begin to matter?
Now, of course, we understand that 100 plate appearances spread out over a period of a couple of years isn't a good reflection of a player's talent ... but we also don't have a good grasp on the underlying cause of Young's struggles at this point, as far as whether this is just horribly timed random chance or fatigue or excess pressure conspiring to screw with him. To that end, I'm going to trust in Ron Washington -- who seems to lean towards the "random slump" explanation -- and his judgment on the issue, and I'm going to continue to actively search for some kind of positive sign out of Young. Hard-slumping players turn things around on a dime all of the time. Perhaps the same can yet happen here.
And if it doesn't? Well, then this team is going to have to go out and win this World Series with a huge chunk of dead weight occupying a spot in the heart of its batting order -- and if it doesn't win that World Series, then I guess we'll have a target ripe for that sort of finger-pointing that Barry Horn opined about not so long ago.
Oh, how I hope things don't come to that.