Part of the reason that Cleveland was the second-highest scoring team in the American League this season was the production it received from the three and four spots in the lineup. Lindor and Mike Napoli both had incredibly solid seasons in those holes, without which the Indians likely would not be in the position they’re in.
But both players fell on hard times to the extreme during September, performing well below the standard that was set during the first five months of the season. Napoli was an abysmal 13-for-93 in the final month, with a slash line of .140 /.289/.323 and an OPS+ of 68. Lindor was only marginally better, going 21-for-90 with a .233/.365/.333 slash line and a 94 OPS+.
Napoli shared the team lead with 34 home runs in 2016, and drove in a club-high 101 runs, but he also played in more games (150) and had more plate appearances (645) than ever before in his 11-year career, and it wasn’t even close. If the 34-year old was wearing down in September, the four days off before the start of the ALDS could be just what he needed.
This being Lindor’s first full big league season, he too blew away his previous career-highs in games played and plate appearances, and also plays the taxing defensive position of shortstop at an elite level. His late-season swoon was the first sign of a sophomore slump, and overshadows the fact that he slashed .301/.358/.435 with 30 doubles, 15 homers, 78 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, and an OPS+ of 104. Lindor is another player who badly needed the break before the series.
Neither player hit particularly well against the Red Sox in the six regular season meetings, with Napoli struggling mightily (2-for-21), but the bearded slugger has been in October before. This is his eighth trip to the postseason, and that experience is invaluable not only to Napoli himself in making adjustments, but to a young team that in most cases will be playing on the biggest stage they’ve yet seen.
The playoffs are a scenario where all bets are off. Anything can happen, and oftentimes the underdog does the unthinkable. With the postseason experience of Francona, a shutdown bullpen, smart baserunning, and an offense ready to leave its September slide in the past, the Tribe has every reason to believe it can prove the doubters wrong.