As little as a week ago it the Texas Rangers still looked like a shoo-in for the American League playoffs. Winning the West was out of reach, thanks to the Athletics streaking performance, but the Wild Card still seemed like a decent enough fall-back. On Sept. 14 the Rangers’ playoff probability for the Wild Card was 69 percent via Baseball Prospectus.
After a week of games against the Rays and Royals — two teams also in the Wild Card hunt — the Rangers are on the outside, now 1.5 games behind the Indians. Justin Maxwell’s walk-off grand slam Sunday in Kansas City could be the final nail in the 2013 Texas coffin. The Rangers are now 5-15 this month and fading quickly.
On Monday, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale worked an exclusive interview with suspended Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, who, in the wake of the team’s struggles, is placing some of the blame on himself. Nightengale writes, “(Cruz) can’t help but feel responsible for the Rangers’ misery.”
Cruz is working out with the club’s minor league instructional camp. The Rangers haven’t said they’d activate Cruz — their leading home run hitter this season — for the playoffs, but why else would he be working out in Arizona? Texas could use his bat, scoring two or fewer runs 10 times in the last 22 games, but it might be too late.
The Rangers do finish up with the Astros and Angels at home, so it’s not entirely hopeless but they’ll need some help. For one, the Indians play the White Sox and Twins, so Cleveland could end the season on a 10-game winning streak. More likely the Rangers would need the Yankees to sweep the Rays in their series in New York this season. (In the same timeframe Cleveland’s playoff chances via BP went from 38 percent to 73 percent.)
Would Cruz’s bat in the middle of Ron Washington’s lineup change the fortunes for Texas? Probably some, since the Rangers have scored an AL-worst 67 runs in Septmber. The team’s pitching has nosedived this month, too, with the staff ERA checking it at 4.12, which is nearly a half-run higher than their season mark of 3.68.
Still, it’s a little too convenient to pin everything on Cruz’s Biogenesis-related 50 game suspension on Aug. 5. Texas’ GM Jon Daniels response in the Nightengale story feels appropriate, “We’d be in better shape if he wasn’t suspended.” Bland, but accurate.
The Rangers went 20-7 in August, 17-6 after the Cruz suspension. In August they led the American league with 159 runs scored and the team ERA was second in the league at 3.09. Losing Cruz’s bat eventually caught up with them, but the team’s struggles in September run deeper than one player.
It looks like baseball, too, will dodge a potential PR bullet in the playoffs should the Rangers fail to make the Wild Card. The Yankees are all but out of it, meaning Alex Rodriguez won’t be hitting postseason home runs, meaning the only player with Biogenesis ties to potentially play this October is Detroit’s Jhonny Peralta.
Of course, A-Rod’s appeal to the MLB arbitrator is set to begin Sept. 30, so baseball will have that circus hovering over its postseason, a postseason increasingly unlikely to feature Cruz and the Rangers.