The Cleveland Indians have been carried offensively throughout the playoffs by the two youngest players in the lineup.
The pitching staff and manager Terry Francona’s use of it is what is grabbing the lion’s share of the headlines for the Cleveland Indians during a postseason run that now has the club a mere victory away from a championship. And rightfully so, as the Indians’ arms have been historically good in October.
But overlooked in all of the talk about Francona, Corey Kluber, and Andrew Miller has been the performance of the two youngest players in the everyday lineup. At 22 and 24, respectively, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have done in the playoffs what they did all season long: been the two best hitters Cleveland has.
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There have been plenty of heroics to go around, and this isn’t meant as a slight to guys like Roberto Perez, Coco Crisp, Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana, and Jason Kipnis, all of whom have had signature moments in this postseason, but without Lindor and Ramirez it’s doubtful the Tribe is sitting in the position they are.
Lindor avoided the dreaded sophomore slump in 2016, slashing .301/.358/.435 with 30 doubles, 15 home runs, 78 runs batted in, and 19 stolen bases while appearing in a staggering 158 games. His 5.7 bWAR was tops among position players for Cleveland, and trailed only Kluber for the team lead.
In addition to being a legitimate threat at the plate, Lindor is also in line to become the first Indians’ Gold Glove award winner since 2008.
As impressive as Lindor was during the regular season, Ramirez was even moreso. Originally slated to be the team’s utilityman, the native of the Dominican Republic was pressed into everyday duty, first playing left field in the absence of Michael Brantley, and then taking over third base after the release of Juan Uribe.
A career .239 hitter in parts of three seasons with the Tribe, Ramirez had a breakout year at the plate, slashing .312/.363/.462 while ripping 46 doubles and 11 homers, driving in 76 runs, and stealing 22 bases. He was also among the best in baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position, and particularly in two outs situations, in which he had a .366/.423/.521 slash line.
The pair have only continued to pace the offense in their first taste of the postseason, a time when many young players wilt under the increased pressure. Lindor has slashed .370/.408/.565 all total in the playoffs, with three doubles, two home runs, and five RBIs. He’s collected two or more hits in seven of Cleveland’s 12 games, a record for a player his age.
In the World Series, the native of Puerto Rico has been at his absolute best, going 7-for-15 (.467/.529/.533).
For his part, Ramirez has put together a .256/.304/.302 slash line, with two doubles and two RBIs. That doesn’t look nearly as impressive, but that includes his 1-for-17 (.059/.059/.059) effort in the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. He was 5-for-10 (.500/.583/.600) in the division series against the Boston Red Sox, and through the first four games of the World Series is 5-for-16 (.313/.353/.375).
Much like Lindor, Ramirez provides extra value to the team with his excellent defense, which has been increasingly important during the postseason due to the pitching staff being shorthanded. The left side of the infield has been a black hole for hitters because of the Indians’ young studs.
The Tribe as a team has produced a meager .222/.285/.382 slash line in October, and without the contributions from Lindor and Ramirez, those numbers would be even uglier. It’s not difficult to make the argument that the team would not be just a win away from a title without them.
Cleveland postseason run has been an object lesson in defying the odds, and the performances of Lindor and Ramirez typify that. For two players so young to be having such an immense impact on the biggest stage in baseball has not only been impressive, but indispensable. Though overlooked due to the herculean efforts of the pitching staff, it is clear that the Indians could not have done it without the two kids.