HOUSTON – The Orioles can celebrate how their savvy free-agent signing of outfielder Nelson Cruz has paid huge dividends through the first two months of the season. They can also wonder where they’d be without him.

Cruz continued to carry the Orioles’ offense in the team’s 4-1 victory over the Houston Astros on Saturday, driving in three runs and hitting his majors-leading 20th home run of the season.

He has driven in 52 runs this season, setting a new club mark for most RBIs by the end of May. Chris Davis set the previous record (50) last season.

In 30 May games, Cruz hit .339 (39-for-115) with 13 home runs and 27 RBIs. He has five homers in his last seven games and has driven in five of the Orioles’ last nine runs.

Cruz will be the first to say that he’s been a streaky hitter over the course of his career. He can go on terrific tears, but is also be prone to deep slumps.

He’s avoided those this season.

“Yeah, yeah. I see the ball well,” Cruz said following Saturday’s game. “Like I said, I tried to be consistent for that long. I just stay with my routine and do it on a daily basis so I can stay more consistent.”

Cruz hit a home run on Saturday, but also drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk and with a sacrifice fly. On Thursday, he went the other way against a shift to drive in a run.

If he maintains his current pace, Cruz will hit 60 homers and drive in 156 runs this season.

“He’s in a good place,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s fun to watch him. Fun to watch him. He’ll lament being out close at third base. But I like that, I tell them all the time, you see something, you feel something go for it. Pick it. I think it’s a good thing sometimes to do something that’s not completely by the book, so to speak. You can get too predictable.”

But Cruz has driven in nearly one quarter (23.1 percent) of the Orioles runs this season. That’s a huge chunk, especially considering how potent the Orioles lineup is.

And with the Orioles currently sporting a .500 record, where would they be without Cruz?

eencina@baltsun.com

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