Ron Washington regularly talks about how crucial the sixth inning is in a big league baseball game. It's generally when hitters are getting to see the starting pitcher for the third time, and if it's a night on which the starter doesn't make it that far, you're getting into the soft underbelly of the opposing bullpen.
As far as good teams are concerned, if you can get through the sixth with a lead, you generally feel good about your chances to shut things down in the final three frames, assuming a solid bullpen is part of what makes you a contender.
Going into tonight's game, the sixth inning has been the Rangers' pitching staff's worst in almost every category: .284 batting average, .371 on-base percentage, .477 slugging percentage, 20 home runs, 85 runs (19 more than in any other inning), and 59 walks (10 more than in any other inning).
Of course, the sixth-inning futility, relative to other innings, only got worse after tonight's disaster in that frame.
As for the Rangers' offense, its OPS in the sixth inning is lower than it is in the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth. Not a great fact considering how things have gone in the other half of the sixth.
But the Rangers' team OPS is lower in the seventh than in the sixth.
And lower in the eighth than in the seventh.
And lower in the ninth than in the eighth.
There have been too many nights in 2009 on which a late one-run deficit has felt like a five- or seven-run gap, and this was one of them.
All that said, this team is a game out of a playoff slot. It's been an entertaining, energizing, sensational season.
But man, I can't wait for 2010, as this club continues to grow. Some roster spots will get younger and better, and the young players already playing key roles will be more experienced.
An important aspect of that experience, the experience of battling through a pennant race in the season's final fourth, will be invaluable.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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