Now that Nelson Cruz has reportedly determined that the best course of action for him -- again, him and not his teammates -- is to take the 50-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball rather than appealing, he has one chance to alter his legacy in Texas. One. And it depends upon the very teammates he's leaving behind for the rest of the season. Cruz must be a beast in the postseason. The rest of the guys in the clubhouse have to get him there first. And they have to welcome him back, too. They'll have to want him to return.
Cruz has now left his teammates at the worst possible time. After searching for weeks for an offense that ran away and hid, the Rangers found something when the Angels came to town. The clutch hits returned, and so did the dramatic comebacks. That came after a critical meeting following a lackluster weekend in Cleveland. And Cruz was able to help them get back on track. Texas went from six games back in the AL West to 2.5 in just a week. Now this Rangers team must fight through losing its leading home run hitter and run producer.
Cruz won’t be able to do anything but watch and hope his teammates give him a chance to try to make up for his mistake, one that could cost them a chance at the postseason. If the Rangers are to make the playoffs, others must fill the void -- and it’s a large one -- that Cruz created. Don’t blame MLB for the timing of the suspensions. It’s Cruz’s fault that he was involved in the Biogenesis mess in the first place. He put himself in this position. But based on the fact that he's 33 years old and has one final shot at a nice multiyear deal, he had to get this cleared up before hitting the open market in the offseason.
Cruz has one chance to change how fans and players see him as his career in Texas could be ending, and that's to produce when the lights are brightest in October. Then, and only then, will he have a chance to atone for his sins. To do that, the team not only has to get to the postseason, but has to be willing to put him back in the lineup.
Few current players are better in the postseason than Cruz. In 34 playoff games since this group’s first appearance in 2010, Cruz has 14 homers and 27 RBIs. He’s hitting .273 in those games. That includes a ridiculous 2011 ALCS against Detroit. He had a flair for the dramatic and hit a crazy six homers and drove in 13 runs in six games, an MLB record.
I know, I know. You’re thinking of that fly ball to right field in the 2011 World Series. A long run in the playoffs with his bat scorching -- culminating in a title -- would change all that. It would also have Rangers fans and his teammates forgetting that he abandoned them at the worst time.
For Cruz to get the opportunity, his teammates have to pick him up first. He’ll be waiting and watching. And he’ll be hoping.