Trying to determine the most frustrating aspect of the Cleveland Indians‘ 2017 postseason flame-out is no easy feat. There were so many things which, to this day, still cause me to twitch a little bit. That’s what happens when a team with the best record in the AL gets unceremoniously bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
If forced to choose, though, I’d have to go with Jose Ramirez‘s vanishing act. A poorly-timed slump devastated Cleveland’s offense and was a big reason why the New York Yankees ended up sending the team packing.
Which is why Ramirez’s performance heading into this year’s postseason has me on edge. The Tribe’s star infielder has been struggling for over a month, and the team can ill-afford to have him to go missing in October once again.
Ramirez entered the 2017 ALDS as one of the most imposing hitters in baseball, finishing the regular season with career highs in batting average (.318), home runs (29) and RBIs (83). While the Yankees boasted a solid rotation and an even better bullpen, it wasn’t lofty to assume he would continue his torrid pace at the plate.
Ramirez finished the series with two hits in five games. He tallied zero RBIs, while also striking out seven times. He was, without a doubt, an offensive non-factor. Though he wasn’t solely to blame for the fact Cleveland only scored five total runs in the final three games, his struggles certainly didn’t help the cause.
With this in mind, I find it’s only natural to worry about the way Ramirez has been trending as we near the regular season’s completion.
As of August 13, his 2018 batting average was a healthy .305. Just a little over a month later, it’s at .274. He has a total of 16 extra base hits in the past two months. Ramirez entered the month of September with 37 home runs on the season, and has only hit one since.
I’ve run out of ways to hammer it home, so I’ll just come out and say it – Ramirez is in a funk, one which has been dragging on since mid-August.
It’s also one which is occurring at the worst possible time.
The postseason kicks off next week, with Cleveland pitted against the defending champion Houston Astros, arguably one of the most complete teams in baseball. The Indians will be obvious underdogs, and will need to go punch-for-punch with Houston’s offense if they hope to pull off the upset.
It’s tough to believe that can be done if their best hitter is still ice cold at the plate. When it comes to the negative impact this can create, you saw enough proof last year.
By the end of the ALDS, Yankee pitchers didn’t fear Ramirez. He wasn’t daunting, his at-bats were often underwhelming. All in all, Ramirez didn’t carry the aura of someone who could change the game with one swing of the bat.
His inability to generate any offense was devastating to the top of the lineup, as the Indians top three hitters had little impact on the series in general outside of Francisco Lindor’s Game 2 grand slam. A Cleveland team which spent the final three games of the series in desperate need of a clutch hit was unable to get one from the player it had come to expect them from the most.
The Astros’ rotation is even more talented than New York’s. Providing their staff the added bonus of not having to worry about Ramirez is an edge Cleveland can’t afford to give up.
This isn’t to say the Indians’ postseason hopes hinge entirely on one player. They still possess an imposing lineup and quite possibly the best rotation of any playoff team. Provided enough players pick up the slack, Cleveland could still find a way to put up a fight.
At the same time, heading into the playoffs getting next to nothing from their No. 3 hitter isn’t what you’d call ideal. Ramirez desperately needs to find his way out of this slump, otherwise the already sizable odds going against Cleveland are only going to grow larger.