You could see the grimace on his face when he checked his swing. You could sense the absence of power in his lower half as he ran down a ball gingerly in center field or took a loopy, arm-powered cut at the plate: Josh Hamilton is hurting.
Hamilton has acknowledged the injury, telling a Dallas-area radio station earlier this week that he is playing at about 50 percent of full health (but vowing to “give 100 percent of my 50 percent).
Before Game 2, Hamilton revised that figure to “75 to 80” percent, adding, “When I try to do too much, the pain goes up considerably.”
At this point, 75-80 percent of Hamilton is still better than 100 percent of anyone else the Rangers could put out there in his place. So Hamilton will keep playing, and the Rangers almost certainly will keep batting him third, the spot generally reserved for a team’s best all-around hitter.
“You’ve got six games left,” Hamilton said. “I’ll do everything I can to be productive in those six games.”
Hamilton said he has been dealing with the groin injury for almost two months, and acknowledged if this were the regular season he would probably be on the disabled list.
“We don’t have that luxury [now],” he said.
But an ineffective Hamilton in the No. 3 spot changes the entire complexion of the Rangers’ lineup, which seemed so deep and powerful in pummeling the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. The numbers say it all: Hamilton is hitting .267/.286/.378 this postseason — well below his career marks of .308/.366/.543. He hasn’t homered all postseason. On Wednesday night, he looked awful in his final at-bat, against Cardinals lefty Arthur Rhodes, ultimately flying to center with a weak swing.
“I can’t afford to take Hamilton out of my lineup,” Rangers Manager Ron Washington said before Game 2. “Even if Hamilton doesn’t do anything, he makes a difference just with his presence in our lineup, and I want his presence in it.”
But here’s why a reduced Hamilton is such a problem: The top half of the Rangers’ lineup is short on power to begin with, with light-hitting Elvis Andrus woefully miscast as a No. 2 hitter, and with No. 4 hitter Michael Young lacking the pure power of a typical cleanup man (and hitting .191/.224/.319 this postseason, to boot). It’s almost as if the Rangers’ lineup is upside down, with the power coming from the lower-half trio of Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz. But since all three swing right-handed, it is easier for Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa to match up against them with his deep well of right-handed relievers.
At his best, Hamilton is capable of carrying an offense for large chunks of time. But at this point, it is fair to question whether we will again see Hamilton at his best this postseason — and whether the Rangers can survive if we don’t.