ARLINGTON, Texas — In Game 2 of the World Series, Marcus Semien made the Texas Rangers’ first out, whiffing weakly at a pitch that ended up diving down and away from the plate in the top of the first. Later, he flied out and struck out looking before leading off the ninth with a futile single that ultimately left him stranded when the game ended in a 9-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Perhaps that particular snapshot of Semien at the plate is unfair. After all, many of his teammates were equally flummoxed by Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly. They managed only four hits and one walk in the loss that evened the series at a game apiece. But unlike the rest of the Rangers, Semien’s struggles are not so isolated.
Four times in the Rangers’ 14 postseason games, the All-Star who led the American League in hits this year was held hitless. While all around him the Rangers' lineup has slashed, smacked and slugged its way to the pennant and the best all-around offense in the postseason, Semien has batted just .194. He is the only regular Rangers starter without a home run this month. He has just two extra-base hits in the postseason, and the last one was on Oct. 10. He is part of the team’s $500 million middle infield, one of the twin pillars signed after the 102-loss 2021 season to signal a new era in Texas. Semien, along with Cory Seager, was brought in to make the organization respectable, appealing and, most importantly, a winner.
Now, in the Rangers’ first postseason since 2016, their first World Series since 2011, Semien is his team’s worst hitter.
Before Game 6 of the ALCS, Rangers manager Bruce Bochy voiced his confidence in and commitment to Semien.
“I don't think I need to say anything, just stay behind him and put him in a leadoff spot,” Bochy said. “He's one of our guys. He's been there every day. I mean, played every game, every postseason game in a leadoff spot. I'm not going to change that right now.”
The Rangers won that night and again the following game to stun the Houston Astros and advance to the World Series. Semien rewarded his manager’s faith with as many hits in two games as he recorded through the series’ first five: three.
But through the first two games of the World Series — played in Texas, where Semien had an OPS of .895 in the regular season — it has become clear that the slump is not so easy to escape. The Rangers enjoyed a dramatic, cinematic win and suffered a deflating defeat. Semien led off both games, but he has gone just 2-for-10 without a walk so far in the Fall Classic.
“Sometimes I feel like he tries harder,” first baseman Nathaniel Lowe said. “But it's a natural thing to do because I do the same thing — trying to get two hits in one at-bat or hit a ball so hard. Everything just falls apart.”
Semien, for his part, insists that he isn’t letting this rough patch affect his approach at the plate.
“Pressing gets you nowhere,” he said after Saturday’s game. “I’ve been playing this game a long time, and I'm sure, early on in my career, I learned pressing gets you nowhere. I just want to build off my last at-bat.”
But that hasn’t happened yet; his 10th-inning single in Game 1 didn’t factor into the final result and failed to open the floodgates. Semien is dutiful in addressing the media, in being measured but insightful when he talks — after every win in which he fails to reach base and after every loss. He says the right thing, and often, he probably says the true thing, too. But it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t want to hit the ball twice in his next at-bat if he could.
Even if he doesn’t, though, the Rangers have made it this far. They’re three wins away from their first title. You could say they’ve done it without Semien, but his teammates wouldn’t.
“I wouldn't necessarily say he's not performing,” left fielder Evan Carter said.
Carter called Semien the “best second baseman in baseball defensively.” And beyond that, Semien is the team leader. When the rookie Carter got called up in September, he had never met Semien, “but then he knows where you’re from, he knows your name, he wants to learn about your family."
“I mean, honestly, he just makes everybody around him better,” Carter said. “So no matter what his stats say on paper right now, he's gonna make everybody around him a better player at the end of the day and a better team for him.”
Lowe echoed those sentiments, saying, “He makes me a better player, regardless of whether he's having success or not, because there's days where I don't want to go out and take ground balls, but he goes out every day.”
That is the beauty and torture of being a Marcus Semien-style baseball player: the opportunity to improve is always right around the corner, but the latest failure is never that far away. Come Game 3 on Monday in Arizona, he’ll be back out there taking grounders, and almost certainly, he’ll be the first to step into the batter's box.
“Baseball’s a grind,” Semien said after the Game 2 loss. “It always will be a grind.”
He would know. Since 2019, no one has appeared in more regular-season games than Semien, baseball’s modern ironman — 700 in total, across three teams, slashing .265/.337/.483 in that span and accumulating the eighth-most fWAR in all of MLB.
Now he has played 14 more that are out of character. At most, he has five games left before the realities of the calendar force him to stop in the way a slump never could. Ultimately, it’s a tiny sample size relative to his especially industrious career. Even if he never gets a key hit in this World Series, it won’t ruin his reputation.
But if he does start contributing, he could add a whole new chapter to his legacy.