With their big boomstick out of the lineup, the Texas Rangers are going to have to adapt to get in the playoffs again.
“This is a club that has never shied away from a challenge before,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “It’s got a track record of success and we believe in this team, believe in the guys on the club and our pitching staff, our athleticism and the leadership there. We have every expectation that we are going to continue to win and make it to the playoffs, in spite of the situation.”
Without Nelson Cruz, the suspended All-Star right fielder and 2011 AL championship series MVP who leads the Rangers with 27 home runs and 76 RBIs.
“The game doesn’t stop because one guy is not there,” manager Ron Washington said.
Texas will be without Cruz the rest of the regular season after he was suspended 50 games Monday by Major League Baseball following its investigation into the Biogenesis clinic accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs.
While the absence of Cruz will be noticeable, Ian Kinsler and the rest of the Rangers insist that shouldn’t affect their playoff chances.
“None. We’re missing a guy. Someone is going to have to step up and play right field,” Kinsler said. “That’s the way this team works. We’re not really worried about who’s not on the field. We’re worried about who’s on the field, and winning.”
Instead of having another slugger to take over in right field, and more pressing in the middle of the batting order, the Rangers for now have five outfielders that will be in some sort of platoon system.
David Murphy, primarily a left fielder, was in right field for the first game without Cruz while Engel Beltre, recalled from Triple-A, was in left. Leonys Martin started in center, and later moved to right when Craig Gentry came into the game. Joey Butler, called up without ever playing in a major league game, is a right fielder to be used against left-handers.
“Certainly it makes it more challenging on us offensively,” said Murphy, whose 12 homers and 34 RBIs top the group that has a combined 19 homers and 70 RBIs.
Even with Cruz, who is eligible for free agency after the season, the Rangers were averaging about 4.3 runs per game and on pace for their fewest runs in a full 162-game season since 1992.
The Rangers went into their game late Tuesday night at the Angels two games behind AL West-leading Oakland. Texas was six games back before winning seven of eight games, including 5-2 in the series opener Monday night at Los Angeles only hours after the discipline against Cruz and 12 other MLB players was announced.
“Does it hurt us more than losing Matt Harrison for all year, Colby Lewis for almost all season? We’ve lost guys, we’ve gained guys,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “Obviously Nellie’s numbers are what they are, and his presence is what it is.”
Harrison, the team’s opening day starter before two operations on a herniated disk in his lower back, is pitching in rehab games and could be back by the end of the month. The Rangers also had anticipated having Lewis back, but said Tuesday that their most successful postseason pitcher will have surgery to remove bone spurs from his right hip. He had been coming back from elbow surgery last year.
Texas was unable to add a right-handed hitter before last week’s non-waiver trade deadline. But right-hander Matt Garza was acquired to join Yu Darvish and Derek Holland in a rotation that is backed by a solid bullpen led by Joe Nathan.
“When you look at our pitching staff and some of the people that we have that are rehabbing, you feel like one of your strengths is certainly your pitching,” Rangers CEO and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan said. “We have to feel good of where we are and what we have as a club.”
If the Rangers make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, Cruz would eligible to play in the postseason.
Daniels said the team is “open-minded” to Cruz returning for the playoffs, with one of the primary considerations how the slugger would be accepted in the clubhouse.
“It was just a big mistake. He knows. He came out and told the team,” Holland said. “We won’t put a cloud of him or anything like that. We’ve got all the love for him. ... We’ll be waiting for him, and we know he’s going to be a key member of this team when it comes to the playoffs.”
Cruz apologized to his teammates in the clubhouse Monday.
The slugger didn’t speak publicly, but said in a statement that a gastrointestinal infection he had from November 2011 through January 2012 wasn’t properly diagnosed. He said he lost 40 pounds before getting proper treatment and just weeks before spring training “made an error in judgment that I deeply regret.” He provided no other specifics, including what he might have taken.
“He’s one of my favorite teammates. Everyone knows it’s going to hurt, but there’s no way to replace him,” Kinsler said. “It’s the next guy in line. We’ve been doing this many times in many different circumstances. It’s not like we’re going to give up because he’s missing.”