There’s no secret who the best player thus far has been for the Baltimore Orioles. With much of the team underachieving, Nelson Cruz has exceeded expectations and has been the majority of the offense for The Birds through the first 39 games.
With players like Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and J.J. Hardy (three of the team’s top players) combining for just 3 home runs and 24 RBI’s, somebody else needed to pick up the slack and Nelson Cruz has done just that.
One could make the argument for Matt Wieters, who was off to his best start in his career, hitting over .340, or for under the radar players like catcher Steve Clevenger, who has stepped in and done as much as you can ask from a backup catcher. You could even argue reliever Zach Britton has been the team’s best player, as he has dominated out of the bullpen all season. But really, there is no argument here.
Cruz currently sits tied for second place in homeruns and in fourth place in RBI’s in the league. Cruz’s 11 home runs and 33 RBI’s have been more than just big numbers for the Orioles, they have been timely and it would be safe to say that Cruz has legitimately won the Orioles games. For instance, take a look at just the team’s last week of games.
The Orioles had dropped 4 straight before defeating the Royals last night. In the first 3 of those 4 losses, Cruz totaled just one hit, and the team scored a total of 4 runs in 3 games. In their fourth loss, the Orioles trailed 6 to 0 in the fifth inning when Cruz hit a 3-run home run off of Justin Verlander to bring them back to 6 to 5. Without Cruz’s bat, the Orioles would have had yet another 2 run game.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, last night’s game against the Kansas City Royals was a prime example of Cruz’s ability to carry the team’s offense and win them games. With most of the team struggling against Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, Cruz hit a two-run home run to tally the team’s only runs in the game.
While some of this is dependent on the pitchers’ ability to not give up runs, and the rest of the lineup’s ability to score them, Cruz’s 33 RBI’s have provided the Orioles with wins and there is no doubt he has been the teams best player thus far.
It’s also safe to say at this point that Cruz has been the best free agent signing of the offseason. Baltimore got Cruz later in offseason, for less money, on a 1-year “prove it” deal, and Cruz has done just that.
As a fan, it’s encouraging to think that even if Cruz’s hot bat cools off as the year goes on, other players bats like Davis and Machado, will begin to heat up. You can’t expect Chris Davis to go through the year hitting less than 10 home runs as he is currently on pace to do so with just 2 through almost 40 games, but for now the fans in Camden Yards will just have to keep cheering “CRUUUUUUUUUUUUZZZZZZ”.