The not-at-all-unexpected news that arrived Monday, that Nelson Cruz would accept a 50-game ban for taking performance-enhancing drugs, was met with cries in the media and among the fan base that the Texas Rangers were doomed.
They aren’t going to score any runs, was a familiar refrain, and they sure the heck aren’t going to make the playoffs.
Both fears could ultimately be realized by the time the season ends Sept. 29. But the first three games without Cruz would suggest that the Rangers are going to find a way to survive at the plate, and they have moved back into first place in the American League West.
They did everything offensively Wednesday in varying doses en route to a 10-3 trouncing of the Los Angeles Angeles, collecting 16 hits and stealing seven more bases to finish off the three-game sweep.
Included in their attack was a two-run homer and three RBIs by Adrian Beltre, a two-run double by David Murphy, and a pair of runs manufactured by stolen bases and sacrifice flies.
“We still have 25 guys here that are trying to do there job,” said Beltre, who was 3 for 4 and scored four times. “There’s no doubt that we lost a really big bat in the lineup. Nellie was our main guy offensively this year. We’re going to miss him, but we’re not going to sit around here and feel sorry for ourselves. We’re going to find ways to score runs.”
The victory, a third straight since the Cruz suspension, and an Oakland loss earlier in the day moved the Rangers into a first-place tie with the Athletics after trailing by a season-high six games July 28.
The Rangers stole at least six bases in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history en route to their ninth win in their past 10 games and a seventh straight against the fourth-place Angels.
Leonys Martin and Elvis Andrus stole three bases apiece and were the offense’s catalyst the past two games. They swiped two each in the first inning as the Rangers took a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Mitch Moreland.
Martin has 26 steals on the season, and Andrus has 30 for the fourth time in his career.
“I’m just taking advantage of being in the leadoff spot and my speed,” Martin said. “Yes, I’m having fun.”
Mike Trout quickly erased the Rangers’ lead with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first as Alexi Ogando struggled with his command. He walked leadoff man Kole Calhoun and hit No. 5 hitter Erick Aybar, but Martin put an end to the inning when he threw out Aybar at third base on a single by J.B. Shuck.
The Rangers posted three runs in the third against losing pitcher Tommy Hanson to take the lead for good. Martin started the rally with a double, went to third on a bunt hit by Andrus, and scored on a single by Ian Kinsler.
Andrus came home on Beltre’s fielder’s choice, and Moreland knocked home Beltre after he had gone to second on a wild pitch.
A two-out, bases-loaded infield hit by Jurickson Profar made it 5-2 in the fifth, Beltre connected off Joe Blanton in the sixth, and Martin brought home Craig Gentry, who had stolen second and gone to third on a Profar grounder, with a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
Murphy turned the game into a route in the eighth with a gapper to right-center field that scored two after the Angels had pushed across a run in the seventh against Robbie Ross.
“That’s what we’re supposed to be doing the whole year,” Beltre said. “It’s been nice, hasn’t it? We’ve been more consistent getting the big hits in the right situations. Hopefully it carries onto the next series.”
Ogando (5-3) issued two runs in five innings for his first win since May 15. He wasn’t great, lasting only five innings, but he appeared to have better command of his fastball than he has since coming off the disabled list. He also mixed in an effective changeup, which produced strikeouts of Josh Hamilton and Trout.
Ogando allowed only one hit and a walk over a three-inning stretch after the rugged first. He hit Grant Green to start the fifth and allowed a one-out single to Trout, but Hamilton lined into a double play to end the Angels’ threat.
“I thought Ogando progressed,” manager Ron Washington said. “After that first inning, his velocity picked up. He looked meaner out there, and he was keep the ball down.”
The Rangers finished a stretch of 20 games in 20 days with an 11-9 record ahead of an off day Thursday and a four-game series Friday through Monday at last-place Houston.