There are many reasons why the Cleveland Indians’ season is over right now instead of the team playing in the ALCS (which was instead contested between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees). As we all know by now, the former knocked out the Tribe in a gut-wrenching five-game ALDS last week.
A major reason that Cleveland’s season fell short of great expectations was an offense that simply fell flat once the playoffs arrived. The Indians struggled to get much of anything going at the plate, especially in games 3-5. In those final three contests, all losses, the Indians score 0, 3, and 2 runs respectively. It’s hard to win when that happens.
The poster boys for the Tribe’s offensive woes seem to be Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Both struggled at the dish during the five-game series with the Bronx Bombers. Ramirez had but two hits in 20 at-bats for an anemic .100 batting average. Lindor, who did provide a big-time grand slam in Cleveland’s Game 2 come-from-behind win, also had just a pair of hits in 18 at bats, hitting a mere .111.
It certainly is not fair to blame the ALDS loss on these two, alone, as the Indians had a host of players who went cold at the worst possible time. However, when it comes to Lindor and Ramirez, they represent, arguably, the Tribe’s two most important players. At the very least, they are the club’s offensive igniters and there was not much igniting in this year’s postseason.
That’s the bad news. The good news is Ramirez and Lindor are going to be propelling Cleveland’s offense for some time to come. Lindor is under team control through the 2021 campaign, while Ramirez has team options in 2022 and 2023. There are at least another four seasons, as of now, with the two players wearing the Wahoo red, white, and blue.
While many Indians fans may be a little sour on the duo right now, it is not too hard to find reason to remember why they are two of the Tribe’s most popular players. One needs only look back a couple weeks ago to the regular season.
The 2017 campaign saw both Lindor and Ramirez selected to the annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game. It was Lindor’s second appearance on the squad in as many years. Ramirez was voted as a starter at third base for his first ASG nod.
Ramirez and Lindor really were almost tied at the hip this year. Lindor had career highs with 33 home runs and 89 RBI. He hit .273. Ramirez had career highs with 29 bombs, 83 RBI, and a .318 average. Both are likely to finish Top-20 in the AL MVP vote, as they both did after successful 2016 campaigns.
If it seems Lindor and Ramirez have been tied at the hip for a while, they actually have been. Ramirez actually opened the 2015 season as the Tribe’s shortstop. At that time, he was a struggling player the organization simply hoped could become a part-time utility player. He was holding the shortstop position down until Lindor was ready. At that time, Lindor was still in the minors, deemed not quite ready for the big show.
In June of 2015, a struggling and confidence-shaken Ramirez was sent to Triple-A Columbus. He was hitting a paltry .180. Some wondered if he even had a future with the Indians. Lindor replaced him and made his debut on June 14, 2015, at the age of 21.
At the time that Lindor was inserted into the batting order, the Tribe was just 29-32 and not very fun to watch. Lindor helped to make them a little more exciting that year.
The Indians started heating up in August and September that year. On August 1, they were 48-55 and seemed headed for a sub-.500 season. Instead, they went 22-15 over their next 35 games to regain life and get into the Wild Card race. They were 70-70 at the time. They ran out of steam down the stretch, but still finished 81-80.
At the heart of Cleveland’s late-season surge were Lindor and Ramirez. Ramirez was called up on August 1 and started hitting. He has not stopped since. Cleveland’s pair of dynamic offensive and defensive forces really have not stopped helping to carry the team to great heights for more than two years now.
Lindor and Ramirez were at the center of last year’s run to Game 7 of the World Series. After losing to the Cubs in heart-breaking fashion, many people thought the Tribe had a great chance to get back to the Fall Classic and maybe win it all this time around. Cleveland has not won the Commissioner’s Trophy since 1948.
Two of the biggest reasons for confidence in this 2017 club were J-Ram and Mr. Smiles. Neither disappointed, obviously, throughout the regular season. Without them, the Indians likely would not have been playing beyond their October 1 regular-season finale with the White Sox. We learned what the Tribe looks like in the postseason when its two offensive sparks go missing in action at the same time. It is not pretty.
They simply went cold at the wrong time. As good as the rest of the team is – the starters are amazing, the bullpen is great, and there are some other very good hitters in the batting order – the Indians are going to go as far as Lindor and Ramirez can carry them.
It is sometimes easy to forget that Lindor is only 23 and Ramirez just 25. Many players are still in the minors or trying to break through at that point. Being a leader of a team can be a lot of pressure for a player, especially a young one. It is easy to forget their youth and room for growth because of all both have already accomplished in their short careers.
Both will be around for the Indians for nearly another half decade. That is a good thing. It means the Tribe’s window of opportunity is at least that long. As long as those two are leading the way, the two-time defending AL Central Division champions are going to be hard to knock off of that perch.
Lindor and Ramirez have grown into All-Star players and team leaders. Next up for them will be handling the postseason spotlight and pressure in a way in which they can help their club close out a series and handle all that comes with do-or-die postseason games.
Fans may be frustrated at their baseball heroes right now. However, there are much rosier times ahead, just as there have been in the recent past.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images