ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -That hole in the middle of the Texas lineup is getting harder to ignore, no matter how much the AL West-leading Rangers insist they can win without injured slugger Josh Hamilton.

While the Rangers have reached mid-June as the division leader for the first time in 10 years, their hitters are slumping and their lead shrinking.

“It’s not that we’re downplaying missing Josh. We’re a good team without him, we’re a good team with him,” Ian Kinsler said. “We have won without him and we need to continue doing that until he gets healthy. We can’t sit around and blame our offensive woes on that.”

But their June swoon does directly correspond with Hamilton’s second trip to the disabled list this season. The center fielder who bats third last played May 31. He is recovering from surgery last week to repair a tear in his abdominal muscle and expected to be out another month.

Before a day off Monday, Texas was 2-4 on its current homestand and hit .197 with 14 runs in that stretch against Toronto and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Rangers (35-27) were held to one run twice and scoreless another game. The Los Angeles Angels have moved within 21/2 games, the slimmest margin in three weeks.

“We’re not panicking when it comes to our offense,” Michael Young said. “We know we’ll make adjustments. … We’ll get there. We’re confident. It’s a matter of time.”

The last time the Rangers led the division in mid-June was 1999, the season they won the last of their three AL West titles. They were 71/2 games back by this point a year ago, and a whopping 28 games behind in 2001.

There are 100 regular season games left, and things are out of whack for a team long known for potent offense and miserable pitching.

Rangers pitchers had a string of 24 consecutive scoreless innings last week, including back-to-back shutout victories at home for the first time in 29 seasons. But they won one of those by the smallest possible margin, 1-0 when they scored on a sacrifice fly.

Texas is hitting only .223 with 39 runs and a 5-7 record so far in June.

“Everybody kind of needs to take it upon themselves to try to be a leader and make something happen,” outfielder David Murphy said.

That has been a struggle lately for several of the everyday players.

Kinsler, the leadoff hitter whose torrid start included a 6-for-6 game with a cycle April 15 that had him third in the majors with a .474 batting average, has dipped all the way to .260. He was 4 for 33 the last eight games.

Young was in an 0-for-17 slump, two at-bats short of the longest drought in his career that includes five 200-hit seasons, before an RBI single on Friday night. While still hitting .316 overall, he is 3 for 24 (.125) during the homestand.

Andruw Jones, whose playing time has increased with Hamilton out, also had an 0-for-17 skid before hitting two home runs this weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Add a homer Jones hit in a spring training game against the Dodgers and he has three in three games against them this year, after three homers in 75 games for them last season.)

Since nine homers in a 15-game stretch, Nelson Cruz is 6 for 33 with one homer the past nine games. He had three of those hits in one game.

Chris Davis has hit .303 (10 of 33) the past 10 games, but the 23-year-old first baseman is hitting .208 overall and on a record strikeout pace. His majors-high 92 strikeouts in 59 games includes 22 Ks his last 13 home games.

“We’re all confident,” Kinsler insists. “We know we’re capable. We’ve just got to move on.”

The Rangers did go 9-4 when Hamilton missed 13 games earlier this season with a strained ribcage muscle after crashing into an outfield wall while making a catch. He got hurt again when he ran into another wall making another catch less than a week after returning from the first DL stint.

Hamilton, who hit .304 with 32 homers and an AL-high 130 RBIs last season, was hitting .240 with six homers and 24 RBIs in 35 games when he got hurt again. But the Rangers depend on him for more than just his bat.

“There are some intangibles that come with him being on the field, whether it’s leadership or defense, base running,” Murphy said. “He brings so much to our team and so much to the game that we’re easily a better team with him on the field and with him in the lineup.”

AP-ES-06-15-09 1824EDT


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