The Rangers left Texas feeling good about their chances in the American League West.
After taking two of three from the A’s, the Rangers are in better position now than the A’s were last year when Oakland roared from behind to take the division title on the final day of the season.
It may be false optimism, however.
While it’s true that the A’s aren’t playing well right now, the Rangers have to ask themselves how well will they play if they lose right fielder Nelson Cruz to a 50-game suspension over his connection with the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug probe, suspensions from which are due to be announced Monday.
The shortest suspension Cruz is likely to get is 50 games, and the Rangers have 50 games left in their schedule.
Manager Ron Washington says he hasn’t talked about the probe with Cruz since spring training, and only then to tell him his manager and his team was behind Cruz whatever happened.
“I don’t approve of what he did,’’ Washington said Sunday in Oakland before the Rangers rode Cruz’s 27th homer to a 4-0 win. “But he’s one of us, and I stand behind him as a man. We’ve all made mistakes. I’ve made mistakes.’’
The Rangers stood behind Washington in the spring of 2010 after he had tested positive for cocaine in 2009. Washington wants to pay that loyalty forward.
The question now is where does Cruz stand? Major League Baseball is almost certainly going to hand him a 50-game suspension. If he accepts it, the Rangers will have lost their home run and RBI leader. If he fights the suspension, it could seriously impact him going into free agency. Any team signing him would sign a player whose first act would be to sit out 50 games.
MLB wants Cruz to take the suspension, get it out of the way and move on. But the suits in New York don’t have the chance to play in the post-season or a land a free agency deal that could set his family up for life.
It’s not an easy decision to make either way. But it could well decide the balance of power in the American League West this season.