July 26, 1948
Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau adjusted his batting lineup earlier in the month, hoping to elicit more consistent production from the heart of the order.
The top of the order remained largely unchanged, as Dale Mitchell was followed by Larry Doby, as has been the preference for the Tribe skipper over the last few weeks. Boudreau, however, moved himself out of the three-hole, probably his better suited spot in the lineup, into the cleanup spot, due to the lack of production he was seeing from Eddie Robinson and, before him, Joe Gordon.
Robinson, like the right field tandem, has been thrust into a platoon situation of his own at first base with Johnny Berardino. “Hollywood” is a light-hitting utility player, but at the time of the move, he was a hot bat off of the Boudreau bench, batting .357 through his first 21 games this season.
Meanwhile, Robinson was batting .264, even after a brief slump of 20 at bats without a hit in the middle of June. With eight home runs and 40 RBI, he has the power potential and the ability to drive in runs from the left side of the plate that would be worth leaving in the lineup.
Since the second game of the June 27 doubleheader against Washington, Berardino and Robinson have been splitting the playing time at first, with Berardino oftentimes hitting at the top of the lineup and Robinson towards the latter part of it.
In the time since, Berardino has seen his batting average plummet to .228, thanks to a .136 batting average over the course of the 19 games that followed. Ten of the starts he was at the top of the order and in four others, he batted behind the big boppers in the lineup, unable to supply the offense with anything significant. In those games, he scored four runs and drove in one. In the last three games in Boston, Berardino started over Robinson and had one hit in eleven at bats, drawing a pair of walks and adding a single while driving in one run behind Boudreau, Gordon, and Keltner in the lineup.
With Berardino, the Indians have minimal hope for either power production or run support, both defying the reasons for lineup changes implemented by Boudreau just a few weeks ago. Now, with the two players bouncing in and out of the lineup, neither is producing the way they need to.
Robinson was on the second game of a seven-game hitting streak when the platoon with Berardino really took flight. Since the All-Star break, Robinson’s hitting streak has ended and he has fallen into a 5-for-38 slump (.132) at the plate with just a pair of RBI. All five hits have been singles.
Bouncing Robinson in and out of the lineup may have been detrimental to his approach at the plate. It may be far more worthwhile for Boudreau and Company to ride out the bigger bat of Robinson than to hope for Berardino to catch fire at the plate again, when even a hot Berardino bat will not produce the runs and power that an average Robinson can contribute consistently throughout a season. Robinson would be a far more feared bat behind the heart of the order than Berardino.
For a period of time, Boudreau batted center fielder Wally Judnich behind Keltner, but the light-hitting Judnich did little to drive in runs either. In six games following the clout of the order, Judnich batted .300, but drove in just two runs. On the season, he is batting .241 with one home run and 15 RBI. He is not the answer that Boudreau needs.
Gordon spent the first two weeks of the season in the cleanup spot and struggled, precipitating his move out of the role. He batted .220 in the power slot and drove in five runs in nine games. When he was reaching base, it was only of the single variety far more than needed from the man at the heart of the order.
Gordon has since bounced back and forth between the fifth and sixth spots in the order. While his batting average has not skyrocketed, it did increase to .260 on the season, thanks to batting .266 over those 70 games in his new spots in the order. Most noticeably, his power returned, as he has 18 home runs and 70 RBI in these games and the team is 41-29.
The power, however, has waned over the last few weeks. After hitting five home runs in May and seven in June, he hit four in the first four games of July. In the 21 games since, he has hit two and has driven in just three more runs than he did in those first four July starts.
Ken Keltner has settled into the sixth spot in the lineup after floating between the fifth and seventh spots as well. Unlike Gordon, Keltner started the season hot, hitting five home runs and driving in ten runs in the first eight games of the season, batting .323.
Since being shifted up into the middle of the order, his numbers have remained beneficial to the Tribe lineup. In 74 starts since the move, he has batted .286 with 16 home runs and 53 RBI. But like Gordon, his run production and power stroke have both decreased of late. His batting average in the last 20 games has remained steady at .286, but he has just three home runs and 16 RBI.
Despite the temporary power outage, he is still near the top of the American League leaderboard in home runs, trailing Joe DiMaggio’s 23 by just one. DiMaggio took over the lead with his two homers in a win over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
Boudreau still needs more help in the middle of the order behind his more established power. He needs to ride Robinson for a considerable stretch again to see if he can find the bat that was aiding the Indians lineup throughout the first half of the season.