ARLINGTON (AP) – Not surprisingly, the Texas Rangers have hit fewer home runs without suspended All-Star slugger Nelson Cruz in their lineup.
Yet, the AL West leaders are somehow scoring more runs and are 12-3 without him.
“I think the reason for that is we’ve been able to get loose on the base paths,” manager Ron Washington said. “We’ve been able to do a lot of things that’s just been presented to us.”
Speedy center fielder Leonys Martin was moved to the leadoff spot only a few days before the Rangers lost Cruz for the rest of the regular season. That put Ian Kinsler third in the batting order, with Elvis Andrus in between them.
Texas also has since acquired right fielder Alex Rios, a player who hit homers and stole bases for the Chicago White Sox.
“Missing Nellie obviously hurts, but our lineup’s clicking right now,” Kinsler said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that set things up and it’s working out for us.”
The Rangers have scored an MLB-best 6.3 runs per game since Aug. 5, the day Cruz was among 13 players disciplined by Major League Baseball after its drug investigation into the Biogenesis clinic in Florida.
While they’ve hit half as many homers a game as they had with Cruz, they’ve stolen twice as many bases.
“They’re using their skill sets to put them in the best position to be successful,” said Houston manager Bo Porter, whose team was swept in a three-game series at Texas this week. “There’s no weak links up and down their lineup.”
Andrus (34 stolen bases), Rios (30) and Martin (27) are all among the top eight in the AL in stolen bases.
Texas (74-53) is a season-high 21 games over .500 with a 2 1/2 -game division lead over Oakland. After their third of six consecutive scheduled Thursdays off, the Rangers play 12 of 15 games on the road, starting with three games at the White Sox this weekend.
When the Rangers lost Cruz for the rest of the regular season, they were averaging 4.6 runs with 1.2 homers per game. They have hit eight homers since (.533 per game) with 1.2 stolen bases per game, up from 0.65 before that.
Even when taking a pair of high-scoring victories out of the equation, Texas still has nearly five runs a game.
There was a 15-3 win Saturday over Seattle, the highest-scoring game without a homer in the 20 seasons of Rangers Ballpark. A five-run inning off Felix Hernandez included Jurickson Profar scoring on a suicide squeeze bunt by Martin.
Two nights later against Houston, the Rangers had the highest-scoring inning in the majors this season. All nine players scored in their 11-run third that started with Martin’s bunt for the first of seven hits — six singles and a double. Texas again had 15 runs without a homer until A.J. Pierzynski connected in the seventh of a 16-5 victory.
“That’s how you can become consistent,” Washington said. “If guys can just keep going up there, putting the ball in play and finding holes and getting base hits and we can keep going first to third, that’s just playing right into the game we want to play anyway.”
Andrus executed a hit-and-run in the first inning with Martin the next game, then capped the series Wednesday against the Astros with a suicide squeeze bunt and game-ending sac fly.
That’s not to say the Rangers don’t miss Cruz, who had 27 homers and 76 RBIs.
“I think if Nelson was in the lineup, the same thing would have happened, I really do,” Washington said. “It might be more because he probably would have produced some of those runs. But I think the way things set up and got going, the game presented that to us and we rose to the occasion.”
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