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Cleveland Indians: Ramblings on the first half of 2018

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Indians
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The first half of the 2018 season provided Cleveland Indians fans with an abundance of storylines. Here are some of the most important ones.

Jose Ramirez is tied for the Major League lead in home runs with 29. Among the other players in the top 10, only Mookie Betts has fewer strikeouts. Ramirez, Betts and Mike Trout are the only players inside the top 10 who have walked more times than they have struck out.

Ramirez’s 70 RBIs are tied for fourth in the Majors; his OPS of 1.029 ranks him fourth alone. He ranks eighth in the league in stolen bases with 20. Of the players in front of him on the list, none hit with nearly as much power or get on base as frequently as Ramirez.

This otherworldly follow-up to a breakout 2017 campaign has earned Ramirez a place in the discussion of the most complete third basemen in the game today.

Francisco Lindor leads all of baseball in runs scored with 85. Like Ramirez, he sits inside the top five in home runs with 25. His 24 homers and 60 RBIs while batting out of the leadoff spot are both good for tops in the game at that position in the lineup.

He is on pace to hit 43 balls over the fence and drive in 106 runs. As a leadoff hitter.

Not impressed by traditional numbers? Per FanGraphs, both Ramirez (6.5) and Lindor (5.4) rank among the top four in the league in WAR. Trout and Betts (also 6.5 each) are the only other players with a WAR above five. There are four players in all of baseball worth five or more wins at the All-Star break, and two of them play for the Cleveland Indians.

Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer went spelunking into the numbers to discover that Ramirez and Lindor are on pace to combine for one of the greatest seasons in baseball history by two teammates.

These numbers exist to inform the baseball world at large just how gifted the left side of the Indians infield is, but for those of us lucky enough to watch them on a regular basis, it’s the way they go about their business that makes them truly special.

Lindor, the more outwardly emotional of the two, plays the game as if he never left his childhood Little League field. Television cameras have a way of finding him in candid moments–always laughing, high-fiving teammates and keeping the infield chatter going on defense. He has shown fire at times too, such as his legendary grand slam trot in Game 2 of the 2017 ALDS and his joyous sprint around the bags after blasting a home run in his home country of Puerto Rico.

Players show different levels of emotion at different times for different reasons, but it’s clear to any observer that the root of all Lindor’s emotion comes from a genuine excitement and very real love for his teammates and for the game of baseball. Is there an easier personality type to rally around than that?

Ramirez is a little more dialed back externally. He is incredibly confident yet unassuming, and remarkably cerebral in the batter’s box. Don’t let the relatively even-keeled exterior fool you, though–Ramirez plays the game with his heart on his sleeve.

Because his bat gets so much attention, one could be forgiven for forgetting his base running ability. How many times have you seen a guy score from second on an infield single? Ramirez accomplished that feat no more than a week ago.

Go ahead, outfielders, and trot after that base hit into shallow right-center. You’d better be ready to make a perfect throw to second, because Ramirez is already halfway there. Sixteen of his 20 stolen bases have come while the Indians were ahead in a game, proving he swipes when he sees a weakness he can exploit, and not just because the game script suggests he should.

Overlooked and underappreciated, it’s Ramirez’s basepath antics that give us the best glimpse into the gutsy, leave-it-all-on-the-field player he is.

The last few decades of Cleveland sports have been primarily defined by a perpetually inept football franchise and the legacy of one basketball player who just happened to be born in Ohio. Somewhere in the middle, rarely capturing our nation’s undivided attention, have hovered the Indians. Together, Ramirez and Lindor are at the forefront of writing a new chapter, carving out their own place in the city’s folklore, and embodying the spirit of the one true team in Cleveland.

Some may have thought the MVP-caliber 2017 campaigns enjoyed by Ramirez and Lindor were as high as either player could go. The first half of 2018 has taught us otherwise. They are here to stay, and there’s a city on their backs.

Here are a few other things we can take away from the first half of 2018.