Kipnis Streaking Towards Cincinnati
Bob Toth | On 28, Jun 2015
Few things in life are a certainty.
And if it weren’t for a stuffed digital ballot box from overzealous Kansas City Royals fans that will inevitably (and thankfully) alter the All-Star voting procedure before next season, Jason Kipnis – 2015 American League All-Star – would be amongst the items on that short list.
In the midst of a bumpy ride down some dark and dismal roads for the Cleveland Indians this season, the 28-year-old has been a guiding light for the club at the top of the lineup as he has planted his name back at the top of the list of the game’s best second basemen.
And, no offense to Kansas City’s .236 hitting second baseman Omar Infante, but Kipnis is the American League’s most deserving starter at the position. Shame on the voters in this horribly misguided and broken process to not recognize the remarkable efforts of Kipnis on the field, but he should be there in Cincinnati for the festivities as part of Ned Yost’s infinitely deep Midsummer Classic bench as the first to relieve the undeserving Infante somewhere around the third or fourth innings.
It’s also a shame that the Indians have wasted an incredible turnaround from their second sacker, in a manner slightly similar to the wasted Cy Young season of Corey Kluber and third place finish in the AL Most Valuable Player voting for Michael Brantley just last year.
The poor offensive production, both at home and on the road for the Tribe, has not stopped Kipnis from doing what he has done best – hit.
He has already added his name to the local record books by hitting in his 28th straight game at Progressive Field on Wednesday afternoon, establishing a new ballpark record. He ousted the Texas Rangers’ Elvis Andrus from his claim to fame. He will have to wait another week before continuing his pursuit of the only man in team history with a longer streak than his current one – Hal Trosky, who hit in 31 straight in Cleveland in 1936. He surpassed the previous holder of the second longest home hitting streak by an Indians player, Miguel Dilone’s 27-game streak at Cleveland Stadium in 1980, with that hit Wednesday.
With hits in 20 of his 21 games in the month of June and riding an active 20-game hitting streak, Kipnis remains one of the hottest players in all of baseball. He has hit .400 during the streak after an 0-for-4 to start the month. Only two players in the Majors with regular playing time have put up numbers better than the .380 he has hit in the third month of the season. The hated Indians-nemesis Miguel Cabrera has hit .403 in 21 games in June with four homers, six doubles, and 19 RBI. Kevin Pillar, left fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, is hitting .384 through 23 games with 33 hits, four homers, and 18 RBI in 23 games.
Kipnis is tied for 18th in all of baseball with his 30 hits in the month, six knocks from a tie with Baltimore’s Manny Machado, who has 36 in 24 games.
When Kipnis reached on an infield hit during Friday night’s game, he became the first player in the Majors to reach 20 straight games with a hit this season. The previous high water mark belonged to Wilson Ramos, starting catcher of the Washington Nationals, who had 19 earlier in the year.
It also put the Tribe second baseman in rare territory in the 115-year history of the Indians franchise. His effort was just the 36th time that a Cleveland player has hit safely in at least 20 straight. The last to do so was Brantley, who hit in 22 straight in 2012.
Nap Lajoie is owner of the longest hitting streak in team history with 31, established all the way back in 1906 while with the namesake Naps. Lajoie saw his streak end against the Chicago White Sox, but it did not prevent him from leading the league in both hits (214) and doubles (48) while hitting .355, the second-best mark in the AL. None of the 214 hits left the yard, the first time in his career he was held without homer. He stole more bases (20) than he struck out (19).
Sandy Alomar gave Lajoie’s record a solid run in 1997, when he reached base in 30 consecutive games from May 25th to July 6th, the final game before the All-Star break. He is the only other player in the history of the franchise to reach the 30-game plateau. He started the season with an eight-game streak before slowing a bit. By the end of May, he locked himself in to a 30-game stretch that saw him hit .422 with a .455 on-base percentage. He had 49 hits in that span, including 14 doubles and two home runs, and drove in 16 runs while the team went 18-12. He had a hit in his next game played, but the exhibition All-Star Game did not count towards his streak. His two-run home run in his lone at bat of the contest off of San Francisco’s Shawn Estes provided the deciding runs in the 3-1 win at Jacobs Field. Alomar was named MVP of the game.
Kipnis is just the fifth player in the 21st century for Cleveland to reach 20 consecutive games or more with a hit, joining Casey Blake (26 in 2007), Marty Cordova (22 in 2001), Manny Ramirez (20 in 2000), and Brantley (22 in 2012).
The extended run of success only continues the path he set forth on in May, when he hit .429 to lead all of baseball and win AL Player of the Month honors for the second time in his career (June 2013). He had 51 hits and reached 16 more times on walks to have a .511 on-base percentage for the month, everything the Indians have been looking for and lacking from a leadoff hitter for the last several seasons. He led all of baseball in the month in runs (30), hits, doubles (15), batting average, and on-base percentage, and was third in slugging percentage (.706), trailing just known sluggers Bryce Harper (.884) and Paul Goldschmidt (.750)
Kipnis is currently fourth in baseball and second in the league in batting average, trailing just Cabrera’s .354 for Detroit in the AL. He leads Texas’s Prince Fielder in hits by one and trails Miami’s Dee Gordon, who has 111 hits for the Marlins to lead the National League and MLB. Kipnis’s 24 doubles are tops in the game, one up on Minnesota’s Brian Dozier and Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo. He is tied for fifth in the league with four triples and his 35 walks are 12th-best in the AL.
When compared to other second basemen around baseball, his name is at the top of nearly every category. He is second in the league in runs scored, on an underwhelming Indians offense, to Dozier, and second in hits to Gordon. He leads at his position in doubles, triples, walks, on-base percentage, and OPS. He is fourth in stolen bases and seventh in RBI…while hitting in the leadoff spot. He has grounded into just one double play.
Entering Sunday’s doubleheader with the Orioles, Kipnis has as many or more hits in the months of May and June (81) than the following stars do for the entire season: Houston’s Jose Altuve (81), Colorado’s Nolan Arenado (80), Harper (80), Chicago’s Jose Abreu (79), Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer (79), San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.297), and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen (77), just to name a few. At .290, Altuve, Abreu, and Arenado have the lowest averages of the bunch, a respectable number this day and age for any player.
For the season, Kipnis is hitting .351 with a .427 on-base percentage, a .516 slugging percentage, and a .943 OPS. He is on pace to add himself to another short list of players in franchise history – the 200 hit club – as he will need just 100 over the club’s final 90 games. That milestone has been achieved just 28 times in team history, and had not been accomplished since Kenny Lofton’s 210 in 1996 until Brantley reached 200 exactly last season. Shoeless Joe Jackson is the franchise’s single-season hits leader with 233 back in 1911.
What Kipnis has done on the field has been incredible, especially coming off of an injury-depleted 2014 season that saw the former AL All-Star in 2013 hit just .240 with a .310 OBP in 129 games with 25 doubles, one triple, six homers, and 41 RBI. He is already just one double, one homer, and ten RBI short of reaching all of those marks this year, with more than a half season left to play.
Hopefully, the Indians can find a way to better benefit from the career year being supplied by their resurgent star at the top of the lineup. His continued growth is a key to Cleveland’s future success, both throughout the rest of this season and beyond.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images