Unlike last season, it sure didn’t take long for the Cleveland Indians to come across their first bit of playoff adversity this year.
The Tribe has spoiled a 2-0 lead against the New York Yankees, and takes the field tomorrow night hoping to avoid a premature end to its “season of destiny.” In order to do so, two prime culprits have to finally wake up.
Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, marquee players for Cleveland, have been ghosts for this entire series. For the Indians to avoid a premature end to their World Series hopes, they’ll need both to shake out of their respective funks.
Before we go any further, yes, I know Lindor specifically had an impact moment in this series. His grand slam in Game 2 was a rallying point, helping the Indians overcome what appeared to be an insurmountable 8-3 deficit.
Here’s the problem – that’s his only hit in four games. Outside of this and his four walks, Lindor hasn’t spent much time on the base-paths. When your lead-off hitter isn’t getting on base, it certainly makes life difficult right out of the gate.
Ramirez has made even less of an impact. He has just two hits, though one was a misplayed ball by Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier, hardly a bragging point. So far, he has just one walk. More alarming is the fact he’s struck out an astonishing seven times in four games.
For someone known league-wide as one of the toughest outs in the game, Ramirez certainly isn’t making life difficult for New York.
While other issues have also helped erase Cleveland’s two-game advantage, it’s tough to argue any are more significant than the struggles of its star infielders. Combined, Lindor and Ramirez have gone 3-for-31 at the plate, slashing .094/.222/.202 and collecting 12 strikeouts.
These are the Indians’ first and third hitters. It’s incredibly difficult for them to generate runs if this is what’s being provided from two key spots in the batting order.
With Lindor and Ramirez struggling, the top of the lineup has essentially been rendered ineffective. This, as you know, is supposed to be the most fearsome area of the order. What it’s instead become is an endless array of easy outs.
Making things worse is the fact Cleveland is still dealing with the loss of Edwin Encarnacion. The team’s power bat is still recovering from ligament damage in his ankle, and his status for Game 5 remains uncertain.
With such an impact bat removed from the equation, everyone else needs to step up. In the games since his injury, though, the Indians offense as a whole has gone startlingly quiet.
No, Lindor and Ramirez aren’t the only struggling bats for Cleveland. Jason Kipnis has only shown up in spurts. Jay Bruce had a monumental impact on Games 1 and 2, but has been ineffective slotted into the clean-up spot. Michael Brantley is fighting through a large amount of rust and didn’t notch his first hit of the series until his eleventh at-bat.
At the same time, Lindor and Ramirez are this team’s spark plugs. The former just wrapped up a season in which he more than doubled his year-over-year home run totals despite playing only one more game this season than he did in 2016. The latter somehow followed up a breakout year by hitting significantly better, seeing upticks in practically every noteworthy stat.
For reasons obvious, these two were going to be key players coming into the postseason. What Cleveland has been getting from them is only helping New York.
Yankee pitchers have been approaching Lindor and Ramirez with zero fear, frankly because they haven’t been given any reason to be afraid of them. The confidence New York gets from this can’t be understated.
Now, with the Indians backed up against a wall, they have to hope a little home cooking will be enough to pull Lindor and Ramirez out of their slumps. Neither player has shown a tendency to fall into deep funks for long, which is definitely encouraging. For each, a few rough games at the plate is more of an exception to the rule than anything else.
Problem is, though, time is something neither them nor the rest of the Cleveland roster has. Game 5 is win or go home. All it’ll take is one bad night to send one of the most exciting Tribe seasons in recent memory to a crashing halt.
An end to Lindor and Ramirez’s collective struggles would do wonders when it comes to avoiding this outcome. Should each player’s bat remain quiet, though, Wednesday could be a heartbreaking night for a team which has been waiting at a chance for redemption all year long.