With just under two months left in the 2017 season, the Cleveland Indians realized they had a problem. Simply put, their offense has been too bipolar this year.
One week, the team is thumping its opponent en route to blowout victories. The next, Cleveland’s hitters look hapless at the plate, seemingly swinging toothpicks in attempt to eke out one run at the very least.
The latter accurately described the Indians midway through last week, when they were in the middle of an offensive funk so bad they were only able to generate runs one inning per game. Knowing such a trend could derail Cleveland’s postseason hopes, the front office decided to make a move. The Tribe traded for New York Mets slugger Jay Bruce, adding some much needed power.
The trade is only a few days old, but has already been paying dividends. Bruce has gone 6-for-15 so far, contributing three RBIs.
While the team likely loves what it’s getting from its new acquisition, there’s one player in the clubhouse who seems to be even more appreciative of Bruce’s arrival. Based on how he’s been hitting since the trade was made, you could argue nobody was a bigger fan of the deal than Edwin Encarnacion.
In the four games since Bruce was inserted into the everyday lineup, Encarnacion has been on a warpath. Of his six hits in this timespan, four of them have left the ballpark. His power was on full display last night in a win over the Boston Red Sox, as he launched two home runs, one of which was sent miles over the Green Monster.
Obviously four games is hardly enough time to claim Encarnacion is on a hot streak. Still, having Bruce batting behind him in the lineup brings an obvious advantage, and he’s certainly working hard to prove this.
In adding Bruce – who suddenly became the Indians’ home run leader with 29 – to the lineup, Encarnacion no longer has to be seen as the team’s sole source of power. This is crucial for him, as it was clear the burden of being the Tribe’s lone big bat was having an effect on his performance.
While Encarnacion’s numbers – 26 home runs and 70 RBIs on a .253 batting average – are good, they’re definitely lower than what he had been contributing with the Toronto Blue Jays. Much of this was due to a slow start to the 2017 season, along with a bit of a cold July.
The struggles seemed to be coming from apparent pressing on his part. As many players do on the first year of a big contract, Encarnacion seemed intent on proving his worth and validating the Indians’ choice to break the bank for him in the offseason. Many viewed him as a sizable upgrade, as well as the last piece needed for a successful World Series run.
Unfortunately, the pressure did appear to be having a negative effect on him, as he wasn’t able to really get rolling until two months into the season.
By adding Bruce to the mix, Cleveland now has two power bats. Instead of seeing this trade as a necessity because on his uneven season, Encarnacion can view it as a reason to loosen up a bit at the plate.
Say what you will about such a theory being coincidence, there’s no denying the fact Encarnacion’s approach to the plate has been much different since Bruce arrived. There’s likely a great deal of pressure removed from his at-bats now that he’s no longer seen as the team’s only big bat. As a result, having Bruce batting behind him in the lineup diminishes the need to press at the plate.
Crediting Encarnacion’s recent performance as a direct result of the Bruce trade is conjecture, of course. That said, it doesn’t sound so crazy when you think about it. A player who felt as though he had to prove he was worthy of an expensive contract by always taking impact swings now has some backup waiting in the on-deck circle.
We’ll see if the trend continues. Right now, though, Encarnacion appears more than grateful to the front office for the Bruce pick-up.