Monday, November 4, 2013
Defining Dozen: Nelson Cruz's suspension
By Richard Durrett
Editor's Note: This is the 11th of a 12-part series titled "Defining Dozen," which looks at the 12 moments that impacted the 2013 season the most. The moments will include highs and lows for the Texas Rangers from a season that lasted until Game 163.
Nelson Cruz's 50-game suspension took a power bat out of the Rangers' lineup.
When Nelson Cruz stood in front of his teammates and apologized for letting them down as he announced he was accepting a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball, the Rangers were just a few games back of the Oakland A's and in wild-card position. Things actually got better, as the Rangers took over first place before the month was out -- even without Cruz in the lineup. But by the time Cruz returned, Texas was tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild-card spot and forced to play an extra game to determine who went to the postseason. Cruz didn't get a hit in that game, and the Rangers were out.
"That was my plan," Cruz told USA Today about appealing. "It's hard to explain it, but at the end it wasn't my decision. It wasn't what I wanted to do. It came out of my hands."
Cruz never did spell out what that was, but indicated to Nightengale that MLB was threatening a 100-game suspension. That would not have helped Cruz's market this winter as he sets out as a free agent to see what kind of longer-term deal is available.
So with Cruz out, the Rangers got even more aggressive on the bases and put more pressure on the opponent with their legs, knowing they were short a power hitter. And for the final three weeks of August, it worked. Texas finished the month 20-7. They entered September with a two-game lead in the AL West and seemed to have figured out life without Cruz.
But that didn't last. The power void became more and more evident as the offense struggled to score runs. Not having Cruz's presence in the middle of the lineup hurt, not only because Cruz was the club's top home run hitter and run producer when he left, but because pitchers could work their way through the lineup a little easier.
I think it's unfair to put the disappointment of the season on Cruz alone. But it's also difficult to imagine that Cruz doesn't help this team win just one more game down the stretch. And one more win would have put them in the AL wild-card game without having to play Game 163.
There are some that say Cruz turned his back on the team by not appealing the suspension. That certainly impacted the club. But no one appealed. And once Cruz made the mistake of getting involved in the Biogenesis mess -- and that's when he hurt the team, frankly -- he had little choice but to accept the suspension and get it behind him, especially with free agency looming.
That doesn't make what he did OK. It was just the reality.
But Cruz's suspension earns a spot near the top of our list because it clearly had an impact on this offense during a crucial part of the season.