With his clean-up hitter going through another epic April slump, Indians manager Terry Francona never fretted or showed concern over whether or not designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion could or would right the ship.
The crown jewel of Cleveland’s 2016/2017 offseason and post-World Series spending, the slugging Encarnacion was having yet another miserable first month to the season. The 35-year-old is actually known for slow starts, as April is historically his worst month, going back to his days with the Toronto Blue Jays. Yet some Tribe fans, even after seeing this in 2017 from the club’s No. 4 hitter, still wondered if the veteran was washed up. Some wondered if the Indians again struck out with a big-time free-agent signing if all they got was one productive season.
As April turned to May, Encarnacion’s numbers were far from pretty. He was hitting a meager .160, with six home runs and 10 RBI. He was simply not hitting. The man who hit 34 or more bombs each of the last six seasons and led all of baseball in home runs over that stretch was far off any sort of good pace. Francona, though, was not worried. He said that Encarnacion was simply going through his typical slow start and by the time the season ended the power hitter would be sitting right at his normal numbers.
Cleveland’s skipper looks like a soothsayer now. Again, this was seen by the squad in 2017. Double E was hitting an unimpressive .200 with but four jacks and nine driven in after his first month in an Indians uniform. The Wahoo faithful really feared at that time that they may have a complete free-agent bust on their hands and the typically smaller-spending Indians could really become nervous about entering the big-time free-agent waters that they do not often tread into. Instead, Encarnacion wound up with 38 home runs, 107 RBI, and a .258 batting average. It was an impressive first year in the new digs, despite the less-than-stellar start.
The same is again happening this season. A very good month of May and strong start to June has Encarnacion’s numbers right back to where you would expect. Yesterday’s game was number 81 on this season, the half way point of Encarnacion’s second year with the club. The DH went into that contest with 19 home runs, 54 RBI, and a .232 batting average. Earlier in June, he had the average nearing .250, before a recent slump knocked it back down. All told, though, Encarnacion is again on pace to mash nearly 40 taters and drive in more than 100 runs. April seems like a distant memory, another rough start forgotten.
Suffice to say, midway through Year 2, the Indians have gotten their free agent money’s worth with Encarnacion. He appears headed for back-to-back 30-plus homer seasons and is certainly proving to remain a true and powerful clean-up hitter.
The Indians need Encarnacion to continue to be a force in the No. 4 hole. When he is going good, it allows third baseman and likely All-Star Jose Ramirez to see better pitches in the No. 3 spot. Teams become less likely to pitch around the Tribe’s home run leader, which was something that was occurring until Encarnacion began to punish opposing pitchers for that error in judgment. With Encarnacion bopping at his normal rate, it just makes the top four in the batting order (including All-Stars Michael Brantley and Francisco Lindor) all that more tough for opposing pitchers to face. Encarnacion slugging at his normal clip takes the Tribe offense from good to dangerous.
Cleveland’s offense has been humming along since Encarnacion rebounded from his sluggish first month. Cleveland’s offense scored the most runs in baseball in May. Double E hitting .315 with seven jacks and 24 RBI certainly helped in that hot stretch.
As April gets further and further into the rearview mirror, Encarnacion’s problem month becomes more and more a faint memory. Many fans have short memories, as is, but maybe next April the Tribe followers should remember the past two. As Encarnacion almost expectedly gets out of the gates slow, just remember the words of Francona – at the end of the season, you will look up and there will be Edwin with his typical strong numbers. One need not worry about him just yet. He may be aging, but there is still certainly plenty of juice left in the tank.
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