Before the season, if I had told you one of the Rangers' corner infielders would be carrying the offense in April, that wouldn't really have been saying anything. After all, Adrian Beltre has assumed the title of Best Hitter In The Organization since Josh Hamilton signed with the Angels a couple off-seasons ago; if it wasn't him, then logically it would be Prince Fielder, who many thought was due for a breakout season after being traded for Ian Kinsler last November. He's going to take advantage of that short porch in right field. Am I Right?
But as reality has it -- because nothing ever seems to go according to plan for the Rangers -- it's instead Kevin Kouzmanoff. Kevin Kouzmanoff. But we'll get back to him in a minute.
Adrian Beltre went down with a leg injury after playing in only 8 games, in which time he produced a .286/.394/.393 (128 wRC+) triple slash line in 23 plate appearances; Fielder, on the other hand, is sitting at .164/.271/.262 with one HR and two 2Bs in 16 games. (Author's note: IT'S EARLY. NUMBERS DON'T MATTER YET.)
Kouzmanoff was called up April 9th, after the Rangers decided not to gamble on Beltre's aging legs getting worse before they got better. Sure, it's reasonable to think Adrian could have played through it -- he has every season he's been with Texas -- because it's not like he wanted to go on the DL, and it's not as if Texas's front office was all that thrilled displacing the club's most capable offensive threat from a lineup that was already starving for runs. The idea that he was going to be replaced by Kouzmanoff, a journeyman at this stage of his career, signalled either (a) the pitching staff would need to overachieve for a couple weeks, or (b) that Prince Fielder would somehow need to burst out of his early-season doldrums and supplement for some of Beltre's lost production. Or else.
Enter Kevin Kouzmanoff, a 32 year-old who hadn't played even as many as 73 big league games since 2011, who most Ranger fans probably didn't even know was part of the organization until Adrian Beltre's quads began acting like Adrian Beltre's quads again. Kouz has hit in every game thus far, producing a necessary 12-29 (.414/.469/.690) clip that includes a homer, five doubles, one walk and four strikeouts. He's not only been making contact, but meaningful contact. (Sort of appropriate when you get called up from Triple-A and immediately get placed in the 5-hole behind Prince Fielder.)
The Rangers have gone 5-2 in the seven games Kevin has started, and although he hasn't done it all by himself -- three of those five wins were shutouts by the pitching staff -- he has unequivocally been Texas's most potent offensive player this season, proven by the fact he's generated more fWAR (+0.7) than any other Ranger in about half the plate appearances.
On Wednesday night, with the Rangers trailing the Mariners 2-1, and down to their final out, Kouzmanoff stepped up to the plate against Fernando Rodney. At that moment Texas had just a 4.4% win expentency. On the second pitch -- a 96 mph fastball that Kouz connected with on the bad part of the bat -- the ball somehow evaded the grasp of a diving Brad Miller at shortstop, and into center field;
That brief BABIP luck then transmogrified into a Mitch Moreland walk (who knew?), a botched force play at 2B that would have ended the game (which is such a Mariners thing to do), a wild pitch that tied the game (because Fernando Rodney), and an opposite-field bloop single from Leonys Martin to win it for the Rangers.
It takes an excessive amount of good fortune to win games like that; it might be a year or two or three before the Rangers turn a 4.4% win expectancy into an actual win; but the fact that they did it, that they did it against a division rival, and that if it wasn't for Kevin Kouzmanoff -- a guy no one expected anything from, ever -- well, we don't know what would have happened.
I may not have another opportunity this season to praise Kouzmanoff, because his early 3.3% walk rate and .458 BABIP are plain indicators that all good things will probably come to an end in a hurry, but this is something, at least. Even the most optimistic of fans couldn't have expected more than 7 or 8 wins out of the Rangers with Adrian Beltre on the disabled list for two weeks, particularly given the current state of the roster.
With that in mind, anything the club gets out of the Kouzmanoff's and Donnie Murphy's and Josh Wilson's can only be considered a welcomed bonus, which is the reason it's so hard to take for granted any win the team gets while Beltre, Jurickson Profar, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Geovany Soto are on the shelf.