Before Saturday’s 9-6 loss in Toronto, the Cleveland Indians had been streaking as a team. Lost in the team’s success was the personal streak of the team’s two-time All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis.
Through the Tribe’s 14-game winning streak that ended Saturday, Kipnis did not take the collar at the plate. He hit safely, at least once, in each of the games that he played during the Indians run of success. He missed one game for a day of rest. Otherwise, he had 13-game hitting streak that began on the same day as Cleveland’s winning streak. Sadly, his streak ended just as his team’s did.
Much like the Indians went 22-6 in a torrid month of June, opposing pitchers had a tough time during those 30 days of making Kip have an unsuccessful day with a bat in hands. Along with the 13-game hitting streak, Kipnis has hit safely in 15 of his last 17 contests and 18 of 21. In the month of June, Kipnis played in 26 games and was held hitless only four times.
Where Kipnis’ streaking ways got a little lost is with his batting average. Despite his ability to get a hit in almost every game he played in June, his batting average for the month was still just a decent .283. While solid, it is not the glamorous batting average that a lot of players in hot streaks carry.
The Indians have not needed their veteran leader to be glamorous. He has been consistent nearly all season long. While not posting numbers on paper that will make someone say “wow”, Kipnis has been a steady bat in manager Terry Francona‘s lineup. He has been a clutch hitter, with a .304 batting average and 38 RBI when runners are on base.
Kip’s season totals currently stand at a .264 batting clip, with 11 home runs and 46 RBI. At his current pace, the 29-year-old left-handed hitter would outdo his season-best power numbers of 17 bombs and 84 RBI he amassed in his first All-Star campaign of 2013.
Kipnis seems to be getting overlooked through the season’s first half thanks to teammates putting up gaudier numbers. Francisco Lindor is the only Indians player, among those qualified, to appear on baseball’s list of batting averages over .300, as he his hitting .304 for the year. Mike Napoli is on pace to hit 33 home runs with over 100 RBI, power numbers not reached by any Cleveland Indian since Travis Hafner in 2006. He leads the team with 52 RBI. Napoli is actually second in home runs as his 16 are two behind team leader Carlos Santana, who broke a tie with his teammate with the game-winning home run in Friday’s 19-inning marathon in Toronto.
While his teammates are getting the press for their bigger numbers, Kipnis has remained a cool and consistent hitter at the plate. He is the only Tribe regular, as far as having enough at bats to qualify in the league’s statistical categories, to be among the club’s top three in average, home runs and RBI. He is third in batting average and homers, and second on the team in RBI.
Unlike some guys in the everyday lineup who are playing above their career marks, Kipnis is very near his career .271 batting average. He has done it with, here’s that word again, consistency. His longest stretch of games this season without a hit is a mere two. He has gone into a two-game “slump” three times. In other words, Kipnis really has not had a batting dry spell all year. He has been a contributor to Cleveland’s impressive first half as much as anyone on the roster. He has had at least one hit in every series the Tribe has played this season, and usually more than that.
It is not as if Kipnis is going to the plate and simply getting a token hit, either. He has had a number of multi-hit games, 20 of them to be specific. He has three games with at least three hits, one with five.
Kipnis’ level of consistency and energy for the game is something Francona has come to count on since taking over as Cleveland’s manager in 2013. Kipnis, while not the team’s most decorated hitter, is one of the major driving forces behind what has been one of the game’s more surprising offenses in the first half of 2016.
Last year, Kipnis hit a career-high .303. It may have put some unfair expectations on him to be a regular .300 hitter. That has not been the M.O. for Cleveland’s 2009 second round draft choice. Other than his injury-riddled 2014 season (in which hit .240), Kipnis has typically maintained a level in the range of .275. He’s no Mike Trout, but who is?
While Kipnis may not be putting up the gaudy, take-notice numbers of some of his teammates, he has hummed along at a consistently sturdy clip. Cleveland’s offense may need that in the second half. The worry is some guys having career years could tail off a bit. Kipnis is one guy with a track record of success whom the Tribe offense can continue to count on for solid production.
What could be scary for some opposing teams is Kipnis has yet to put his game into that really special gear that he has in past seasons. Other seasons have seen Kip get extra-hot at the plate and hit over .300 for long stretches. Whether or not he does that this year remains to be seen. The hope is that he will remain a continual day-in-day-out threat to produce at the plate and help the Indians maintain their consistent level of winning.
After all, two strong streaks mirrored each other. Continual success for Kipnis could mean continual success for the Tribe.
Photo: Eduardo Lima/The Canadian Press via AP