Cruz and his "Boom stick"
UPDATE: It has been reported by Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas that Nelson Cruz will miss three weeks with a Grade I left hamstring strain. Leonys Martin will take his spot on the roster.
The Texas Rangers are just hours removed from their biggest win of the 2011 Major League Baseball season.
As history shows, and our fickle minds find hard to forget, the Angels' lone win in that series came in dramatic fashion. With the Rangers just three outs away from the four-game sweep (and an eight-game divisional lead) Mark Trumbo hit a walk-off winner, of the most painful variety.
Then both teams went in different directions.
The Angels caught fire and won six in a row, while the Rangers' bats cooled and the team lost seven of nine games.
And in a feverish flash the Angels were in Arlington for a three game series—just two games out of first place.
The Angels had a key opportunity to move into first-place with a sweep—and Angels skipper Mike Scioscia knew it, thus he treated the three-game series like a playoff matchup, pitching Ervin Santana and ace Jered Weaver on three days' rest.
It didn't work. The Rangers took two of three.
All questions regarding who's the AL West's finest have been resolutely answered.
And the Angels have run the risk of wearing out their two best starters by asking them to pitch on short rest.
So why aren't the many denizens of Rangers Nation jumping for joy?
Because Nelson Cruz is going to the disabled list again—as reported by ESPN Dallas, he's going to miss three weeks with a Grade I hamstring strain.
His bat is going to be missed for certain.
Cruz was absolutely crucial in the Rangers' recent series with the Angels. His six-RBI night on Friday provided the firepower crucial for the Rangers' 11-7 win. In the series, he was 8-12 (.667 BA) with six RBI.
His injury induced three week hiatus is awful news—but it's no reason to push the panic button.
The Texas Rangers will be just fine without Nelson Cruz, and here's the top five reasons why.
With the prospect of Nelson Cruz missing extended time, it certainly shuffles things up a bit in the Rangers' outfield picture.
For one, it makes David Murphy an everyday outfielder.
To be honest, coming into the Angels series, the prospect of Murphy playing everyday wasn't too much to get excited about.
Let's face it, Murphy has had a rough go of 2011.
His .245 BA and seven home runs are far off of his 162-game projected norms of .276 with 16 home runs.
Murphy showed signs of life at the dish all weekend long, though, and it might be a sign that "Murph Dog" is coming out of his hitting funk.
Over his last three games, the Baylor University product and former first-round draft pick by the Red Sox, has regained his power stroke—hitting a grand slam on Friday and adding a two-run shot on Saturday.
Naturally, David Murphy is not a game-changing bat with plus-power like a Nelson Cruz.
Murphy is an adequate fill-in, capable of keeping the Rangers' offense from nose-diving during the next three weeks that Cruz will be out of action.
Should Murphy struggle at the plate, there are plenty of other options in the outfield...
Craig Gentry and Endy Chavez will get increased playing time while Cruz is out.
Craig Gentry is a relatively "under-the-radar" name to most, aside from the hardcore Texas Rangers fans.
As mentioned in the previous slide, the absence of Cruz changes things—and not just offensively. Without Cruz, Craig Gentry's playing time increases quite a bit. Should David Murphy falter in the role of an everyday player, Gentry could slide into that role.
And that is not a bad thing. Here's what Gentry brings to the table as a regular center fielder:
1. Speed. Gentry is 14-14 in stolen base attempts this season. The dude can straight scoot. On a Ron Washington managed baseball team, you can never have too many base path burners.
2. Defense. Gentry's plus speed gives him range in center field that is matched only by Endy Chavez (Hamilton is an excellent center fielder as well, but is less likely to be injured playing if left).
3. Versatility. Gentry's strong arm enables him to slide into right field so that Endy Chavez can play center field (or Josh Hamilton on occasion). Nothing wrong with additional outfield options.
Gentry has had some injury issues throughout his young career, including—but not limited to—re-occuring issues with his left wrist (he's also been on the disabled list recently for post-concussion syndrome).
Gentry's style of play can best be compared to Josh Hamilton (defensively at least). He's a fast-twitch flyer that plays with reckless abandon. On the base paths Gentry can go from first to third or second to home with the best of them—his main problem is going from home to first base.
He's a career .218 hitter—small sample size though, as he's only had 142 at bats over three seasons—that has about zero power.
Endy Chavez is having a career renaissance.
The 33-year old Venezuelan is having his most productive season since 2006, when he was a member of the New York Mets.
Chavez is one of the better stories of the year for the Texas Rangers, if not for Major League Baseball as a whole.
He's coming off a devastating knee injury suffered in 2009 while playing with the Seattle Mariners. His injury was so severe, in fact, that many thought it was career-ending.
Chavez caught fire immediately upon his promotion to the Rangers on May 14th. He's been over the .300 mark most of the time, and has already tied a career high in home runs with five.
Endy Chavez is also another reason why Rangers' fans shouldn't freak out with the loss of Nelson Cruz.
Chavez is also a possible answer to the "Craig Gentry as an everyday player scenario" broached just a moment ago.
Chavez does need periodic rest—to protect his surgically repaired knee—but he can more than adequately fill-in for Gentry (or Hamilton) in center, and is already a proven run-producer at the plate.
Chavez can help by playing left field or right, should Murphy falter. He can relieve Gentry in center should he not work out. Chavez is a nice little insurance policy against multiple negative scenarios in the Rangers' outfield shakedown.
Since long-term results for these two are tricky to project (especially for Gentry), here are some best case/worst case scenarios to ponder:
Worst case scenario: Chavez's knee can't handle the rigors of playing on an everyday basis, and Gentry's bat continues to spiral towards the wrong side of .200.
Dose of optimism: Gentry and Chavez really don't have to play everyday—even without Cruz in the mix. As a matter of fact, they're probably at their best (and of the best value to the team) just as they areas part time players.
But wait a minute, how can that be considered an optimistic outlook?
Yep, Mitch Moreland is yet another outfield option for the Texas Rangers.
Mitch Moreland can play in the outfield should the worst case scenarios arise from the previous slides.
Sure, he's a first baseman. He's an above average first baseman, probably a league average right fielder, with below average speed.
Mitch Moreland won't embarrass himself in right field, however.
He's got a strong arm—out of college, many projected Moreland would be best suited as a pitcher—and his limited mobility can somewhat be hidden due to the bevy of speed in the outfield that would surround him.
Michael Young, or Mike Napoli can capably replace Moreland at first, should the need arise.
It seems like I've covered about every possible angle of how Cruz can be replaced in the outfield, but I think that most of us (present company included) are most concerned with how the heck the Rangers are going to replace Cruz's offense.
"Click-on" my friends, as that topic will most certainly be discussed.
So, how can the Rangers replace Cruz's offensive productivity?
Well, the simplest answer requires little more than a second person pronoun and a basic contraction.
Cruz is the team's leading power hitter. He's also an excellent outfielder with one of the stronger arms in the league. There isn't an answer—a proven quantity—that the Rangers can plug in and get the same guaranteed production from.
He's going to be missed in the lineup without question.
Don't forget though, that this is one stacked team when it comes to offense.
Losing Cruz is nothing compared to say, the Yankees losing Curtis Granderson, or the Red Sox minus Adrian Gonzalez. You get the idea.
The Rangers have plenty of run-scoring weapons, and an ample enough amount of run-producers to keep this ship afloat into September for another playoff chase.
Here's three key components that are looking to have a red-hot September:
Elvis Andrus has had a terrible August (.213 BA), but showed signs of reemergence against the Angels as he was 5-13 (.385) and effectively used his speed, reminiscent of his exploits in the postseason in 2010.
Mike Napoli, has been the team's best hitter for the better part of two months—his batting average is dangerously close to .300, his power numbers have him on pace for career highs, and the Rangers pitching staff likes the way he calls games.
Josh Hamilton struggled mightily in the Red Sox series last week—batting .167 in the series with more strikeouts than RBI, three-to-two. Hamilton came up huge in the Angels finale, though as his two-run home run—his 18th of the year—gave the Rangers their first lead of the game, 5-4. Overall, he was 3-4 on the night with three RBI.
Hamilton's success at the plate is crucial for the Rangers success, especially without Cruz in the order.
Watching Beltre run this hard will induce the same reaction in Rangers fans that Hamilton crashing into a wall provides. It's still going to be great to have him back.
You can't just push a magic button and replace a player like Nelson Cruz. Even if you could, you'd never be able to stop imagining what this new mythical player would hit like with Nelson Cruz protecting him in the lineup.
Let's face it Rangers fans: the team is at it's best with a healthy Cruz in the lineup everyday.
No kidding, right?
Yet save for a make-believe magic button, or the technology to prevent hamstring pulls, strains or tweaks, the next best thing for the Rangers is pretty obvious: Adrian Beltre.
Beltre is due back on Wednesday, September 1st.
He's scheduled to test his hampered hamstring on Monday and Tuesday in a minor league rehab assignment. Barring a setback—heaven forbid—during those two games, the Texas Rangers will get back their RBI leader (at the time of his injury he had 76, which is still the third most on the team.)
With Beltre's return, the Rangers not only get back a serious run producer capable of supplying the thunder at the plate that Cruz had supplied, but a solid defensive answer to Michael Young at third base.
So, fear not, Rangers fans. All is not lost.
The Texas Rangers are in first place, arguably their best hitter is on the mend, and Cruz most likely won't miss more than two to three weeks of playing time.
Cruz should be fresh and ready right about the time college football is in full stride, the Texas heat drops to double digits, and the Major League Baseball season goes into high-gear for the playoff hopefuls.
So relax, keep that panic button far out of sight, and try not to think too much about Scott Feldman back in the rotation, as that is another topic for another day.