LIFE WITHOUT CRUZ

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Texas beat Los Angeles Monday night 5-2 in the first game of Nelson Cruz’s suspension for using performance enhancing drugs. Cruz was one of 13 players suspended Monday as a result of the probe into the now defunct Biogenesis Clinic in the Miami area that was supplying performance enhancing drugs to players. Cruz’s suspension is for 50 games, and the Rangers had exactly 50 games remaining in the season when the suspensions were announced.

There was conjecture that Cruz would appeal the suspension, which would allow him to continue playing. His decision to accept the suspension and begin serving immediately won’t be popular with fans, as Cruz is an integral part of the team that is squarely in contention for both the American League West title and a Wild Card berth. However with Cruz’s impending free agency this winter, the economics of the situation were overwhelmingly for taking the penalty and getting the suspension out of the way.

Cruz, who flew back to Arlington on Monday, did not meet with the media, but he issued a statement in which he apologized for his error in judgment. His explanation was that he lost 40 pounds after the 2011 season because of a gastro-intestinal virus, and that he chose to take some illegal supplements to regain the weight to be ready for spring training in 2012. Quite frankly, he would have been better off without the explanation.

If the Rangers make the playoffs, he will be eligible to return and play. President of Baseball Operations Jon Daniels was non-committal about the possibility Monday, though Cruz’s teammates will have significant input into the decision. Cruz did meet with the players Monday before departing, and the reports from that meeting were that the players totally support Cruz and will want him back for the playoffs if they get there. Joe Nathan told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan afterward, “Totally welcome.” Ian Kinsler added, “It’s a non-factor in my eyes.”

A year ago, All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera, was suspended for using PEDs, and his San Francisco teammates did not want him back for the playoffs; so there is precedent for the situation going either way. For sure though, the Rangers woke up Tuesday morning trailing Oakland by two games, and Cruz’s contribution of 27 home runs and 76 RBIs is a major factor in the team’s success to date.

The most notable name among the players suspended was Alex Rodriguez, who received a suspension for the balance of this season and all of next year, a total of 216 games. Rodriguez was the only player that did appeal the suspension, and ironically, he played his first game this season for the Yankees Monday night in Chicago as he returned from off season hip surgery. He was 1-4 (a single) as he batted fourth and played third base in the Yankees’ 8-1 loss to the White Sox. Rodriguez stands to lose a substantial sum of money if the suspension is upheld. Players are not paid while they are suspended, and he is scheduled to make $25 million in 2014 alone, and is owed $86 million over the final four years of his contract with the Yankees after this season.

As for the pennant races, the two most significant losses to the drug suspensions are Cruz and Detroit’s shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Peralta, like Cruz, is eligible for free agency after the season. The Tigers were able to land shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox in a late July trade, a slick fielder with questionable offensive skills, who will be Peralta’s replacement. The Rangers certainly tried to land an outfielder at the non-waiver trade deadline, but there simply wasn’t much being offered. The Cubs Alfonso Soriano went to the Yankees as the most significant offensive player that was traded in July.

The Rangers called up two outfielders from AAA Round Rock to replace Cruz. Engel Beltre, who was hitting .273 in 33 at bats before being sent to the minors last Friday, was recalled. The normal 10 day waiting period to return to the Majors was waived because of the suspension. Joey Butler joins the Rangers too. He was hitting .290 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs at Round Rock.

At this point in the season, games against the Angels can cure ailments of struggling teams. With Monday’s win, the Rangers have now won seven of eight games since opening the second half of the season by losing eight of 10. Four of those seven wins have come at the expense of Los Angeles, and the Rangers now lead the season series eight games to two. They still have two more games with the Angels in this series.

Martin Perez won his fourth game as Monday’s starting pitcher. He allowed two runs on four hits over 6-1/3 innings. Jason Frasor, Neil Cotts and Joe Nathan were outstanding in relief. The Ranger relievers left the bases loaded in the seventh and eighth innings, while Nathan retired three of four batters in the ninth to earn his 33rd save.

The big hit of the game was a fifth inning bloop into short right field off the bat of Elvis Andrus. Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick appeared to make the catch, but collided with right fielder Collin Cowgill and could not hold onto the ball. Andrus ran the hit into a triple that scored two runs and capped a three run inning that gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead at the time. Texas added two more in the sixth inning, including one on Adrian Beltre’s 24th home run of the year.

There will be 49 more games this year without Nelson Cruz. The pitching has been generally good all season, but will need to be even better for Texas to make the playoffs, as Cruz’s vacancy leaves a huge hole in the Rangers’ offense. Game one though was a good start to life without Cruz.

Follow on Twitter @rangerrap

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