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First the pitching was terrible, then the bats went silent. Sometimes, it’s been both. But throughout the Orioles’ strange 2014 campaign, one constant has remained:

Nelson Cruz is playing out of his mind.

No, I’m not talking about The Nelson Cruz Left Field Experience. That makes ME out of my mind. Instead, I’m talking about the hitter who is leading Major League Baseball in so many offensive statistical categories that Miguel Cabrera is jealous. Simply put, Nelson Cruz is putting on an audition for a payday in 2015 that will recoup the money he left on the table this off season.

While the rest of the Orioles’ lineup has had its ups and downs, Cruz has steadily hit the long ball. With exactly a third of the season in the books, Cruz has 64 hits, among them 20 home runs. He’s driven in 52 runs. As Buck Showalter would say, his contact-to-damage ratio is high.

Speaking of manager Buck, the Oroiles skipper has finally seen fit to put Cruz where he belons in the lineup. Instead of batting second, or fifth, Cruz has found himself batting third or fourth recently – places that maximize the returns on Cruz’s incredible offensive production.

Yes, the headline snarks that Cruz was injured carrying the team. Har har. But the fact remains that Cruz is hurt, and Cruz has been carrying the team. After being drilled by Houston starter Scott Feldman on June 1, Cruz was removed from the game because he was unable to hold a bat between innings. In the fan business, we call that “bad.” X-rays on the hand came back negative, so there is hope that this “hand contusion” is nothing more than a bad bruise that hurt like hell. Otherwise, the Orioles may be tasked with getting up and carrying themselves without the main driver of the offense.

Early returns were good, as the O’s pummelled Houston in the series finale. They scored nine runs on the way to tying the series, and taking momentum into the off-day, where the team will rest up, and hope that the swelling in Cruz’s hand goes down. The Orioles face the Texas Rangers, who like the Orioles, are a game over .500, and a game out of the last AL Wild Card.

So heal up, Nelson. And the rest of you better be ready to pick up the slack.