We’ve all been watching the Indians struggle at the dish for the last couple of weeks. After starting the season hot with a series sweep of the Texas Rangers, it seemed as if the Indians’ hitters were still at spring training and just couldn’t get ready to go for the regular season. Other than Francisco Lindor picking up where he left off last year and some timely hitting from Michael Brantley, the Indians lineup looked nothing like the potent attack from a year ago. Not only were most of the guys’ batting averages looking anemic, but their inability to bring in the runners who actually made it on base was ridiculous.
It was a slumping lineup from top to bottom including the $60 million dollar man, Edwin Encarnacion. I knew he was going to go through some rough times during the 162-game season and am by no means hitting the panic button, but watching him ground into two bases-loaded, inning-ending double plays against the White Sox the other day was pretty deflating. The second time it happened, Brantley was intentionally walked, so they could face him. That is not what anyone was expecting to see when the season began with such optimism. He was brought in to be the feared cleanup hitter the club had been lacking for years, and instead, the opponent was looking to face him with the bases loaded.
Everyone knows this team has lots of talent and is primed to run away with the Central Division eventually, but what will be the catalyst to get the lineup going? How about facing their biggest rival, the Detroit Tigers, and their former Cy Young Award Winner, Justin Verlander? That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, or does it? The Indians had a 14-4 record against the Tigers last year including winning the first eleven matchups. They have also had some pretty good success against Verlander recently. After getting shut out by Daniel Norris for six innings on Friday night, the Indians finally started to show a little life when Lonnie Chisenhall hit a grand slam in the ninth inning. The game still ended in a loss, but at least there was something positive to build on.
I’ve been thinking for days that if the Tribe could just have one big game, maybe they could break through this terrible hitting slump. That may have just happened against Justin Verlander Saturday evening. It was a perfect day for baseball with temperatures in the 70’s and sun to start the game, and it was a perfect evening for the Tribe as Verlander entered the game with a 1.35 ERA on the season and left after the fourth with a 5.71 ERA. The Indians touched him up for nine runs on eleven hits including three home runs.
Jose Ramirez hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and Carlos Santana followed with a two-run shot in the second. Both of those came with two outs. In the third inning, Lonnie Chisenhall continued his hot start with a two-run homer of his own off of Verlander. Verlander got through the fourth inning unscathed, but he then let the first two runners reach in the fifth before he was pulled from the game. Shane Greene allowed those two baserunners to score which accounted for Verlander’s last two earned runs.
Annibal Sanchez pitched the final three innings for the Tigers, and the Indians scored four more runs off of him to reach their 13-run total for the game. By the end of the game, the Indians had 19 hits including six for extra bases. Nine of the ten Indians with plate appearances had hits, and five players had multi-hit games. Jose Ramirez hit a second three-run homer off of Sanchez in the eighth to end the game with four hits and six RBI.
That was exactly the type of game a slumping lineup needs to correct itself and move forward in the right direction. Everyone but Yan Gomes got at least one hit and four players had three or more hits. Once guys can start getting on base and feeling confidence at the plate, this team should really start taking on and putting some wins together. They need to start winning some series and positioning themselves back at the top of the Central Division. I know they started the season slow last year and have plenty of time to put it together, but I’m starting to get impatient. I’m ready to see the exciting team I watched last October make a return.