In April, the demeanor of the average Cleveland Indians fan was down. Ownership had already given the 2019 season the tagline, “Enjoy him.” It seemed that their playoff window was shutting after all. While many pundits still picked the Indians to win the division, by the merit of their starting rotation, many feared that the Indians would struggle to score runs.
When April struck it was worse than expected. Yes, the rotation started incredibly solid, but the bats were ice cold. Night after night, pitchers duel after pitchers duel. The Indians would win some and lose some. Floating like a bobber around the .500 mark.
The month of May wasn’t that much sunnier. As the offense struggled to score runs, the rotation was getting dealt blow after blow. Losing Mike Clevenger and Corey Kluber to injury was absolutely crushing to the Indians. Losing Carlos Carrasco is a whole different story altogether. The Indians were barely treading water and the Twins were building a big lead in the division.
Things were looking grim on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. For any chance of salvaging the season, the offense was going to need to step up their game. By the beginning of June, the Twins had built a formidable lead in the division. Luckily that was about the same time the Indians decided to ditch the boring brand of baseball they were playing. Since the beginning of June, the Indians are a blistering 22-9.
Somehow these Indians salvaged a dismal start into taking 50 wins into the All-Star Break. While tomorrow I will rank the pitchers who were paramount in the first half, today we rank the position players. For fun, I will rank the seven players getting the majority of playing time for the Indians. Then, we will look at the players most likely to snag those two other slots in the order most days going forward this season.
1. Carlos Santana .297 AVG/17 HR/52 RBI- Perhaps the only reason that the Indians were even able to stay around the .500 mark through the first two months was Santana. While most of the lineup struggled, Santana carried them on his back in those early games. He will get the start in what is his first All-Star Game this Tuesday thanks to his efforts. On my list, he earned the top spot as the Indians MVP of the first half. While always known for having a great eye at the plate, Santana has been a complete hitter this season.
2. Francisco Lindor .296/14/32- Unfortunately we haven’t always seen the smiles that we have been used to seeing on Lindor’s face. He dealt with a couple of injuries that derailed the start of his season. After returning to the lineup, he contributed to the early offensive struggles. After spending a couple weeks as visibly frustrated as we have ever seen him, he locked in. The Indians seem to go as Lindor goes, so they have been hot since. A solid number two on my list to “enjoy.”
3. Roberto Perez .256/16/36- No Indian has skyrocketed in value like Perez. Known primarily as a defensive specialist catcher, he was thrust into the everyday role with the departure of Yan Gomes. While masterfully calling games behind the plate for the pitching staff, he wasn’t adding much to the lineup. With Perez, it was almost like someone flipped a switch offensively. He began mashing home runs at an alarming rate. Suddenly he’s become a formidable hitter in the lineup. He’s had great at-bats and he is only improving. Add that to an already solid defensive player and he is a no-brainer at number three.
4. Oscar Mercado .281/4/17- While the stat line isn’t quite there, Mercado earned my number four slot on this list the same way he earned the playing time. His solid defense, strong arm and ability to spark rallies. After yielding time to Leonys Martin for much of the early part of the season Mercado’s play made Martin expendable. When called upon Mercado has delivered. He provides enough plus side that he has snuck into a spot near the top of the order, and could be poised to break out in the second half.
5. Jason Kipnis .240/7/34- No player has been more in need of a hot streak than Kipnis. His production has slowly declined over the past few seasons, and many fans were wondering if his tank was empty. Kipnis still played a solid second base but early this season his offensive production was next to nothing. Much like the team, Kip’s turnaround has shown dividends. Over the past month his play has been at a level we haven’t seen in a few years. I’m rooting for a strong second half for Kipnis.
6. Jake Bauers .245/11/36- Bauers is another guy who is trying to figure it out on the job. Right now, the biggest knock on Bauers is he strikes out too much. Unfortunately, early in the season, Bauers was a tremendous rally killer. Watching a fastball down the middle for strike three at least once a night was quickly becoming his calling card. As the season pressed forward, Bauers would occasionally put on a show. He became the first Indian since Travis Hafner to hit for the cycle. Then a few nights later he almost did it again. This is another player that has seemed to have found his swing over the last few weeks. A big second half from Bauers and he isn’t ranked so low at the end of the year.
7. Jose Ramirez .218/7/35- If you told me at the start of the season that Ramirez would rank dead last on my list of our starters I would assume our season was over. The trouble is that Ramirez is already a notorious slow finisher and now he hasn’t been himself for quite some time. He’s picked up right where he left off when he cooled down last season. Any ball he drives seems to be foul. If it’s in play it’s a popup. We aren’t that far removed from a time when a clutch situation arrived fans hoped it was Ramirez at the plate. That time has passed quickly. If Ramirez can somehow regain his form in the second half he would be as valuable as any trade at the deadline could be. He’s had a few promising games recently, but he is a different guy from what he was for much of last season.
Looking forward, there are two more spots in the lineup that will need to be filled the rest of the way. Right now, three guys are capable of filling those slots on a regular basis.
Tyler Naquin .266/7/23- With the Indians taking flyers on a couple of veterans early this season, Naquin had to prove he could finally catch up to a big league fastball. He has earned his way into the lineup once again by rewarding the team for giving him chances. He has played a stellar outfield for the team which will probably give him the edge on who gets the start from day to day.
Bobby Bradley .219/0/3- Bradley finds himself in a weird spot now. When the big league team is struggling offensively and the minor league guy is tearing it up he has to be brought up. Bradley really hasn’t yet had the chance to show what he can do. He is getting his first real look at the majors and his eleven games are hardly a big enough sample size to make a judgment. With the team now back in a playoff race, can they afford to designate another spot in the lineup for someone to learn on the job? I think the answer is yes, with the hopes that once Bradley pops the top off his home run swing, many more will follow.
Jordan Luplow .253/9/24- Luplow will be the other name in the equation. While Luplow’s overall numbers are on par with Naquin’s, he’s not quite the asset on defense that Naquin is. He could stand to be a bit more consistent as well. Luplow is a bit of an all or nothing kind of player. When he has a great game he seems to disappear for a few games following. Those big games keep getting him opportunities, and I expect him to help share the load the rest of this season.
Either way, we are just a few short weeks removed from the speculative baseball media having fun trading all of the Indians players to big market teams. Now the Indians ownership probably won’t be buyers, but they certainly can’t be sellers. This will be a wild ride the rest of the way. A Tribe that was as boring as anything to watch have reemerged as a legitimate contender. As we prepare to enter baseball’s version of silly season, we will have to hang on for every wild story imaginable this month. We should be prepared for story time as we’ve already been told, “The Tale of Two Tribes.”