There was a time, about a month ago, when it appeared the Texas Rangers' offense could survive Nelson Cruz's 50-game absence. They immediately stressed versatility by putting all kinds of pressure on the opponents by running wild on the bases. They got some key hits, found a way to drive in runs with less than two outs with a runner at third and took advantage of opposition mistakes.
When Cruz accepted MLB's punishment for his role in the Biogenesis mess, he was hitting .269 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs. He led the team in homers and runs scored and the Rangers won six of the final seven games in which he played. Cruz even hit a home run in his final game (and three in his final five).
For a while, the Rangers kept things going. In fact, they sustained a decent clip through most of August, going 16-5 in the first 21 games after Cruz exited. They hit .278 as a team and stole 34 bases in that span. Texas had 10 games of at least 10 hits in that stretch and on Aug. 29, the Rangers were three games up on the Oakland A's in the AL West. The offense had 6.4 runs per game in those 21 games without Cruz. They were steaming along. It helped that they were playing teams that were struggling, too. But they were doing the job.
But in the 12 games since that point, things have totally flipped in the AL West. The Rangers' offense is scoring just 3.2 runs per game. The starting pitching has faltered in September, and the defense hasn't been as crisp. The normally reliable bullpen couldn't even get the job done Wednesday in the final game of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Pirates.
Where Cruz is missed is with those bats, which aren't delivering in the clutch and just don't have any power right now. The Rangers are 3-9 in the last 12 games and have turned a three-game lead into a three-and-half-game deficit. They have only 11 homers in those games.That's one fewer than the number of ground-ball double plays they've hit into. The Rangers have just 30 walks while striking out 90 times.
Not having Cruz in the middle of that lineup is clearly an issue now. And in the process, I wonder if his value isn't actually increasing as he sits out. Every MLB team can see what he means to this Texas lineup because he's not in there providing some pop. Cruz is getting himself ready to play for the postseason, but he'll have to jump into the playoff fire without having played in a regular season game in the days and weeks leading up to it (and at this point, that would be a one-game AL wild-card game to determine if they advance to the divisional series).
Cruz left his team at the worst possible time and they managed to get along without him for a few weeks. But right now he's sorely missed. And there's nothing he can do about it. This current group has to find a way to score some more runs to make sure Cruz gets another opportunity to help his club in 2013.