OAKLAND -- Third baseman Michael Young has a solution for the Rangers' slumping offense. "Hit better," he snapped. Young refused to figure out what's gone wrong.
"I'm not wasting my time thinking about that," he snapped again. "Tomorrow we're going to come out and prepare and be better hitters." The Rangers haven't been good hitters on this road trip, and it's getting worse instead of better. On Thursday night, they almost hit rock bottom, managing one measly infield single against Oakland starter Dallas Braden and reliever Brad Ziegler in a 5-0 loss to the Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum. The Rangers, with their fifth loss in seven games on this road trip, now have a seven-game lead over the Athletics with 10 to play in the American League West. The Rangers' magic number remains four, and the numbers that go with their offense on this road trip remain meager. "No, it doesn't seem to be getting better," outfielder David Murphy said. "It's an inopportune time for our offense to be slumping as a whole. We just have to fight through it. We can't dwell on it. We need to get back to basics. Basically it comes down to executing: not talking about it, it's about doing it." The Rangers can still wrap up the division with two wins in the next three days, but the Athletics don't seem to be sweating it. "We're having fun," Braden said after eight terrific innings. "We know what position we're in. We know what we're dealing with, but that's not going to deter us from coming in and getting our work in and getting to where we want to be. There's no obese lady in sight, and she ain't singing. I can't hear nothing." The Rangers' offensive slump is about as inexplicable as Cliff Lee walking two batters in a row. But Lee, after three dominating innings, did just that to start the fourth, and it cost him two runs. The Athletics pounded out two more runs off him in the fifth, and that was more than enough for their pitching. This came from a pitcher who, in his first 26 starts, had walked just 16 batters in 200 1/3 innings this season. Lee's 10.88 strikeouts-to-walks ratio was the best in the Major Leagues and so was his 0.72 walks per nine innings. He had walked two or more batters in just three of 26 starts. But he walked Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki to start the fourth, the first time he has walked consecutive batters in a game since a start for the Indians against the Rangers on June 4, 2008. That was 80 starts and 585 1/3 innings ago, when he walked Milton Bradley and Marlon Byrd. "For whatever reason, I just lost command," said Lee, who was making his third start since returning from his back injury. But that is not an issue, Lee said. "I feel unbelievable," Lee said. "I feel great. There's nothing physical. I just lost command for a few innings. Braden threw an unbelievable game and put a bunch of zeroes on the board. I'm not trying to walk anybody. I'm not happy when I walk anybody, much less two guys in a 0-0 game." Lee came back to strike out Kevin Kouzmanoff, but Jack Cust singled up the middle. Barton scored and Suzuki went to third. Chris Carter then hit a sacrifice fly to center that gave the Athletics a 2-0 lead. The fifth inning didn't start any better for Lee. Gabe Gross led off with a single and scored on a double by Steve Tolleson. Mark Ellis' single put runners on the corners and Barton hit into a double play that scored Tolleson. There wasn't any no-hit drama in this one, but the Athletics came close. The Rangers' only hit came with two out in the first inning. Nelson Cruz hit a bouncer up the middle and second baseman Ellis got to it but his off-balance throw was off-target and way too late. Braden was somehow able to recover from that disappointment and retired the next 19 batters he faced. He ended up going eight innings before Ziegler took over. With a shutout in Arlington on Aug. 18, Braden now has thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings against the Rangers. "We're trying too much, trying too hard," Cruz said. "The guy threw well, especially with his changeup. We'll come out tomorrow with a different mindset and get it done." The Rangers need to do something different. They have been shut out in two of their last three games. Over the past 30 innings, they have scored two unearned runs while going 11-for-98 (.112). The Rangers are hitting .202 with 14 runs scored in seven games on the road trip. They are hitting .154 (8-for-52) with runners in scoring position, including 1-for-14 in the last three games. "We know what kind of team we are," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "We know how good we are. We're not frustrated. Like every team, we want to win every game. Win or lose, we still just need to win a couple more games. We know what we need to do."
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.