Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 10
Bob Toth | On 19, Mar 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 10 days
There has not been a lot of talk this spring about the right ankle of Cleveland Indians’ number ten, Edwin Encarnacion, and that is a very good thing.
It was an ill-fated encounter with the second base bag in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees that knocked Encarnacion, and in effect, the Indians out of the playoffs. Cleveland could not replace the production or the threat that was their big right-handed hitting masher and the team found an early seat on the sidelines, observing the Houston Astros defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series to bring the championship back to the junior circuit. Encarnacion rolled his right ankle hard in the bottom of the first when his foot met the bag, and as the team’s biggest slugger crashed to the earth, so too apparently did their playoff hopes. They would win the game, but lose the next three games of the series; Encarnacion would return hobbled for Game 5, but struck out in three of his four trips to the plate.
Healthy and back to form, Encarnacion will be a big part of the Indians lineup once again as they look to buffer the offensive losses of Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce, who both departed for free agent deals in the National League with Philadelphia and New York, respectively. The lineup is lacking obvious home run threats, with guys like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez providing atypical and surprising pop from their smaller frames. Encarnacion remains the one bona fide big bopper to fear.
In his first season in Cleveland after signing a three-year, $60 million deal with a team option for 2020 last winter, Encarnacion gave the Indians much of the same production that he had given the Toronto Blue Jays over the previous eight seasons and offered balance to the lineup as a legitimate right-handed threat in the mix. He appeared in 157 games in the regular season, slashing .258/.377/.504 with 20 doubles, 38 homers, and 107 RBI. He was among the league leaders in walks with 104, giving a healthy boost to his on-base percentage. It marked the sixth straight season that he had at least 34 homers and it was the fifth time in the last six years that he eclipsed 100-RBI for a season.
Encarnacion is no spring chicken at this point. The 2018 season will mark his 14th year in the Majors and his 19th in professional baseball after being selected by the Texas Rangers with their ninth round pick in the 2000 draft out of Manuela Toro High School in Caguas, Puerto Rico. He turned 35 in January and he is coming off of a season where he made not only the fewest appearances of his career defensively at first base since taking up the position in 2011, but worked in his lowest number of games in the field combined since hitting the Major League stage.
“Double E”, who could just as easily be called Triple-E (his middle name is Elpidio), gave the Indians something that has been consistently lacking their lineup over the last few years – power from the right side. He replaced Mike Napoli, who provided just that for the Indians in his lone season with the club in 2016, but few have been able to supply the pop out of the right-handed batter’s box with regularity in Cleveland dating back to the days of Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle during the 1990s.
Last year, Encarnacion was fifth in the AL in homers, RBI, and times on base. He drew the second-most walks in the league. He was the team leader in homers, RBI, walks, and on-base percentage. His 38 long balls were the most hit by a right-handed hitter for the club since Manny also had 38 in 2000. They were the most hit by an Indians player period since Travis Hafner launched 42 in 2006.
Encarnacion is expected to see a little more time in the field than he did last season, when early season bumps and bruises, coupled with a good defensive showing from Santana, limited his time at first. He could spell free agent addition Yonder Alonso defensively, especially against left-handed hitters, a split that has been unfavorable for the newest left-handed bat to the lineup. Of course, that could change too if spring camp invite Napoli squeezes his way onto manager Terry Francona’s roster, something that should be known within the next week.
Other notable 10s in Tribe history: George Uhle (1936), Jim Hegan (1947-50), Vic Power (1958-61), Max Alvis (1962-69), Ray Fosse (1976-77), Pat Tabler (1983-88), Mark Lewis (1991-92), Alvaro Espinoza (1993-96), Coco Crisp (2002-05), Kelly Shoppach (2006-09), Yan Gomes (2013-16)
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images