The Indians have stepped up their game recently and are now sitting in sole possession of first place in the AL Central Division. Many experts believe they have finally put it all together and will hold onto the top spot for the rest of the season. There are a lot of things that have contributed to the Tribe’s recent success including the emergence of Bradley Zimmer as a legitimate big league center fielder, more consistent starting pitching, and Lonnie Chisenhall getting on another hot streak. It has also helped that Corey Kluber returned and has been dealing in his typical Klubot form. However, the biggest jolt the Tribe has received to win 7 of their last 8 games has come from Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Ramirez.
When the Indians signed Encarnacion to a massive contract in the offseason, they were expecting to get one of the most dominating and feared cleanup hitters in the game. Through the first two months of the season, the Indians did not get what they paid for. In April, Encarnacion hit .200 with 4 home runs, 9 RBI, and 35 strikeouts. Those are not the numbers a contending to is looking at to secure the middle of their lineup. He did a little better in May by hitting .263 with 6 home runs, 13 RBI, and only 24 strikeouts. Finally, when the calendar turned to June, the Indians have started to see their investment pay off. With a little over a week to go in the month, Encarnacion .339 with 7 home runs, 17 RBI, and only 10 strikeouts.
He seems to be seeing the pitches better, is making more contact, and hitting with a lot more confidence. If he can keep things going in this direction, he will make the Indians a very tough team to beat. The Tribe was dangerous without his top-level production last season, so they should be terrifying to opposing pitchers with him clicking right now. He seems to keep getting hotter with 5 home runs and 12 RBI in the last week. Encarnacion is finally starting to look like the guy the Indians paid for.
For as good as Encarnacion is playing Jose Ramirez is outperforming him. JRam has been on an absolute tear lately and has had multiple hits in nine straight games. He started the season hot and then had a bit of a difficult time in May and the beginning of June before exploding the last couple of weeks. JRam hit only .258 in May, and his overall batting average was as low as .279 after a June 13th loss to the Dodgers. He has gone on to collect 23 hits in his next 42 at-bats to raise his batting average 43 points to .322 on the season. Of his 23 hits, 14 have been for extra bases (10 doubles, 3 home runs, and 1 triple).
There were some people that were wary of his contract extension and thought that he might be a guy who just lucked into a good season last year, but after his clutch hitting last season and great production so far this year, I think it’s time to assume this guy is for real. JRam was voted as the AL Player of the Week last week and looks poised to make the all-star team. He is doing such a good job in the 3-hole in the lineup with Michael Brantley out that Franconia may have to keep him there when Brantley returns. If someone would have told me a few years ago, when he seemed like a failed placeholder for Francisco Lindor at shortstop, that he would turn into an all-star caliber everyday third baseman, I would have told that person that he/she was crazy. However, this is where we currently are.
If Encarnacion and Ramirez can keep producing after Brantley returns to the lineup, and Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor can get back to hitting the way we know they can, the Indians should be able to run away with the Central Division the rest of the season. If their starting pitchers can keep churning out solid outings and Danny Salazar can make it back from his injury, the team could become almost unbeatable. We know the Tribe has the talent to be special, so let’s just hope they can put together all the pieces at the right time this year. Maybe this can be the year the Tribe ends its World Series drought.