Speed helps make up for lack of power
But they're darn sure running.
"Y'all call that small ball," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I call it winning baseball."
You can also call it a necessity for the Rangers, who have roared to within one game of the AL West-leading Oakland A's by winning eight of their past nine games, a streak that started when speedy outfielder Leonys Martin moved into the leadoff spot and Ian Kinsler dropped to the No. 3 hole.
The Rangers hoped to add a big bat before the trade deadline, regardless of Cruz's status. Now they’re missing two men from the middle of the lineup, and there's only a slim chance that Lance Berkman can be a significant run producer if he's able to come back from a hip ailment that had him openly pondering retirement recently.
Adrian Beltre is the only consistent power source remaining in the Rangers' lineup, but they have several guys who can fly. That list starts at the top of the lineup with Martin (tied for eighth in the AL with 22 stolen bases), Elvis Andrus (fourth with 27) and even Kinsler, who has only seven steals this season but averaged 24.3 over the previous six years.
"Speed never takes the day off," Kinsler said. "That's the cool thing about it. You can get on on an error, you can get on on a walk. There's a lot of ways to get on base and create run-scoring opportunities. We have a lot of speed guys back-to-back-to-back. It puts a lot of pressure on the other team."
Martin was magnificent in the Rangers' sixth straight win over the division-rival Angels, going 2-for-5 with an RBI, two runs and three stolen bases. His steals in the first and ninth innings put him in position to score.
Andrus, who has snapped out of a first-half funk to hit .333 over the past 19 games, was 3-for-5 with two runs, two stolen bases and an RBI out of the second spot in the order. He scored the go-ahead run in the eight after swiping second.
Pinch-hitter Craig Gentry, who has elite speed and will see his role expand significantly with Cruz's absence opening up outfield playing time, had the Rangers' sixth stolen base. That led to an insurance run and sparked a four-run ninth inning.
It's not just the stolen bases. A perfect example of how speed can kill came in the ninth inning, when Martin motored down the line to beat the throw after first baseman Kole Calhoun bobbled a grounder while Gentry raced from second base to score.
"It's creating opportunities," Andrus said. "That's the big thing for us. That's going to be huge now and for the rest of the season.
"We have to put balance in the offense. We lost a power guy. We lost a big bat in the order, but we know we can continue to create opportunities to score runs. You don't win games all the time hitting homers."
The Rangers won't win many games the rest of the season by hitting homers. That's just the reality of their situation.
It's not, however, a reason to panic. Not for a team that can rely on a pitching staff that ranks fourth in the AL with a 3.67 ERA and was recently upgraded with the trade for No. 2 starter Matt Garza.
Even when the Rangers had big bats in the middle of their lineup -- headlined by $125 million man Josh Hamilton, who is now hitting .219 for the Angels after Tuesday's 0-for-4 outing -- they loved to push the issue on the bases.
"Raising hell on the basepaths is something we always want to do," said Washington, acknowledging that the mentality occasionally leads to mistakes. "If Cruz was here tonight, same thing would have happened as far as running the bases go. Our game is what it is. We're not going to change it. It's just that we have different guys in the lineup that can do different things, and we're going to try to use their abilities.
"But aggression is always going to be our game. Always."
It's perhaps the best part of their offensive game at this point, and the Rangers expect to run right into the postseason.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Rangers GM Jon Daniels joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to tackle the tough questions after his team failed to advance to the playoffs.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss having Nelson Cruz back in the lineup and how the Rangers are feeling heading into their wild-card play-in game against the Rays.
Play Podcast ESPN Insider and senior MLB analyst Jim Bowden joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the wild-card race and the Rangers' chances of making the playoffs.
Play Podcast Chuck Cooperstein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why he feels Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish isn't an ace.
Play Podcast Elvis Andrus joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Rangers' stretch run and the morale level in their clubhouse.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss the latest Rangers news, including the team's struggles, Ron Washington's job security and a rumored trade with the Braves.
Play Podcast Ron Washington joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss the Rangers' dismal September, who's to blame for their September struggles and his status as the team's manager.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss how some people are calling for the Rangers to fire manager Ron Washington.