The Cleveland Indians could use a couple of good bats right about now.
That’s part of why they paid some $3.7 million for the rest of Jay Bruce’s contract, acquiring him from the New York Mets. With Michael Brantley back on the disabled list and Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion slumping (Encarnacion, in particular, has had a very up-and-down year at the plate, which is never a great thing to see from your big-ticket designated hitter), the Indians needed a shot in the arm.
Bruce already has a pair of singles in his first full game with the Indians, facing off against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night, but he alone can’t break Cleveland out of its post-All-Star break hitting slump. Nor can Austin Jackson, newly returned from the disabled list, pull all that weight by himself.
Jackson, Bradley Zimmer and Bruce seem to be the group of starters the Indians are going to go with in the outfield until further notice. The club’s other hitters need to wake up and contribute if the Indians are going to hold onto their lead in the American League Central.
The Indians are thankful that shortstop Francisco Lindor is answering the call.
The young, talented Lindor has been overshadowed since he entered the league by another, flashier shortstop talent down in Houston. When they were coming up as prospects, Lindor was the complete package who led with an excellent glove, while Carlos Correa was the big guy in the Ripken and Rodriguez body-type mold who likely would spend his 20s at shortstop and then eventually move to third base.
Their paths rather sharply diverged once both men hit the bigs, with Lindor being everything that his potential had promised he’d be — an elite defensive shortstop with a bat that carries its own weight. But Correa overshadowed him by almost immediately becoming one of the better-hitting infielders in the game. Correa’s bat has been worth over four wins each of the three seasons he’s been in the big leagues, and if not for an injury derailing his second half of 2017, he’d almost be a shoo-in for the American League MVP award.
Lindor’s also been worth over four wins his previous two seasons in the majors, and is on track to make it three straight this season. He does it with a balance of value, decent offense and very good defense, but since the 121 OPS+ he put up in his half-season debut with the Indians in 2015, he’s been an ~.800 OPS hitter.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course. Most teams would love to have a guy who hits and plays defense like Lindor does, including Houston, who upon acquiring him would move Correa over to third early and just have the best infield in baseball. That’s not going to happen, of course, because Lindor’s a franchise player; he should be in Cleveland for a very long time, even if his bat never breaks out.
That said, this is a very good time for him to get hot, and go above and beyond the normal line he puts up. The team’s starting second baseman, Jason Kipnis, remains frustratingly inconsistent at the plate, first baseman Carlos Santana is having another very mediocre year, and Ramirez was never going to be able to carry the whole team by himself. He’s a very talented player, but he’s not a superstar. And even superstars need help.
So Lindor’s .941 OPS in the second half so far has been a godsend to Cleveland, but it’s merely a good start. Lindor isn’t going to hit like Correa forever, and the team needs stability and continuity in its offense if it’s going to be a postseason favorite. Bruce is a great get on that front; other players need to step up as well.
But if Lindor is going to be the franchise guy for the Indians — and barring some massive, tragic injury, he is — these are the situations in which he needs to step up and lead the team down the stretch. He’s doing his job. Now it’s up to the rest of the Cleveland Indians to do theirs.
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