Jason Kipnis is coming off the best half of baseball he has played in his four-year Major League career. He is coming off a second All-Star Game appearance. By all accounts this season has gotten off to as a good a start as could be expected for Cleveland’s 28-year-old second baseman.
Of course, the last time Kipnis played in the Midsummer Classic it was 2013. That season’s first half had been the best half of Major League Baseball he had enjoyed prior to the ride he has been on in 2015’s first three-and-a-half months.
What is striking, looking at both of Kipnis’ All-Star years is just how similar they are. In both seasons he got off to a rough start. In 2013, some thought he may need some more minor league seasoning, having only played one full year in the big leagues to that point and hitting .200 through April. This year, he was at a lackluster .218 after the first month and some worried that 2014’s difficult year may have been foreshadowing for the future, rather than a down year, marred by injury.
In each campaign, he proceeded to quiet the doubters with a couple of excellent months. In 2013, Kipnis picked up the pace a bit with an improve .261 average in May before an eye-popping .419 clip in June. That raised his average to .299 through three months of baseball and made him a worthy All Star selection. He was at .301 by the July 14 All Star break.
This season, Kipnis wasted far less time getting on track. He outdid that June of two seasons ago with an even better May this year. This past May he batted .429, on his way to earning the American League’s Play of the Month award. Not bad considering some of the elite players the league has to offer, including the great Mike Trout. For the first time in his career, Kipnis followed a great month, with another impressive one. In June he hit .358, including a 20-game hitting streak from June 2-23. He ended up going into this year’s All Star Game hitting .323. He has 112 hits already, just eight shy of his total from last year in 129 games, when he played through an oblique injury.
The Indians, Kipnis and Tribe fans are now hopeful that the similarities between this season and 2013 stop. While it was not awful, by any stretch, Kipnis’ second half of his first All-Star campaign was nowhere near as good as his first half. After a first half of hitting .301 with 12 homers and 53 RBI, he slumped a bit down the stretch to finish that season with an average of .284 with 17 dingers and 84 runs driven in. He never did really badly, hitting .272, .250 and .287 in the year’s final three months, respectively. He just stopped generating the elite-level numbers he has put up in May and June. He still finished 11th in that season’s AL MVP voting.
This year Cleveland needs its All Star to keep producing at a high level. Other than Michael Brantley, no one else in the lineup has put up consistently good numbers. Brantley is hitting well with a sore back. Kipnis spent this past June as Cleveland’s only real source of offense a lot nights. Along with excellent starting pitching, Kipnis is arguably the biggest reason the Indians are even within striking distance of .500 and a Wild Card spot. Without Kipnis, the Indians would probably be in a real hole, record-wise, rather than at 42-46 needing just a little two week burst to really get on the playoff track.
Right now, Kipnis is likely in the MVP conversation and the Indians need it to stay that way. There is some fear that a slump is inevitable as Kip close this year’s first half on a down note. After starting July with four hits in 10 at bats of the month’s first two games, he fell off. In the last 10 games before the break, Kipnis had only four more base knocks in 36 at bats, good for a .111 average. Hopefully, some rest and a chance to be around some of the best players the game has to offer will help to get the Tribe second baseman going again when the season resumes Friday night in Cincinnati.
Two years ago, when Kipnis slumped in the second half, age and inexperience could be attributed. He was 26 and in his second full MLB campaign. He had a one month call up in 2011. In 2013, he was also not expected to be the number one guy. Nick Swisher was healthy then and Carlos Santana was swinging a better bat than he is now. This year Kipnis is a veteran and a core guy. He and Brantley are supposed to be the team’s 1-2 punch. Kipnis leads off the batting order, as he has since the end of April, which is when his offense took flight this year. He gets on base for Brantley to drive in, at least the way things are drawn up.
Cleveland will need other guys to step up behind in Kipnis if it does hope to contend for the playoffs this year. However, Kipnis is key to playing winning baseball. The former second round draft pick is now performing at the level many expected and hoped to see him reach. Even though the home run total of six is down compared to a couple years ago, Kipnis is tied for the Major League lead with 27 doubles – he is still raking the ball quite well in that regard.
Kipnis has been viewed as good player for a while. If he is going to take that next step to very good or even the level of All Star Game regular, he will need to start putting together complete seasons of very good baseball. One successful half is in the books. Now is the time to finish off what he started, with a memorable closing act to 2015. If he can to do that, he might just garner more MVP votes than before as a guy who could help keep his team’s playoff hopes afloat.
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