Comparing the Lineups
Cleveland’s injuries were, of course, not limited to Carrasco or Salazar three years ago. Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley were out as well, leaving the Indians without their starting catcher and a top-of-the-order left-handed bat. Fast-forward to present day, and Jose Ramirez is the devastating position player casualty.
After undergoing surgery for a broken bone in his hand on Monday, it’s incredibly hard to imagine the Indians third baseman returning to full strength before October. If the Indians make it that far, they’re most likely going to have to get through at least one round without him.
With this in mind, Ramirez is regrettably this year’s version of Brantley and Gomes. But what about the guys still in the lineup?
Next Man Up
With any injury like Ramirez’s, someone–or some collection of someones–must step into a new role and come through when it counts. In 2016, Roberto Perez came up huge for the Tribe in Gomes’s absence with three postseason home runs, including two in Game 1 of the World Series.
Coco Crisp, Brandon Guyer, and the legendary Rajai Davis all played a part in filling the outfield void left by Brantley.
At third base in 2019, it’s going to come down to Yu Chang and Mike Freeman. Chang is a rookie, while Freeman is a 32-year-old who never recorded more than 66 MLB plate appearances in a single season prior to this year. Whether it’s one or both of them who steps up without Ramirez, it figures to be an inspiring story.
Party at Santana’s
Mike Napoli was not the best player on the 2016 Indians, so comparing Carlos Santana to him in that regard is unfair. They are similar, however, in that each one served (or serves) as a stabilizing force and a calming veteran presence in the middle of the lineup.
Additionally, Napoli was a one-year signing for the Tribe who injected some extra pep into the clubhouse. The Indians very much lacked that buzz in 2018, which, coincidentally, is the one year Santana played elsewhere.
That buzz has undeniably returned with the longtime first baseman, and enough cannot be said about his all-around value to a baseball team in a playoff fight.
A Better, Badder Francisco Lindor
Francisco Lindor is this year’s… Francisco Lindor. As he goes, so do the Indians.
Lindor batted in the three-hole for the Indians three years ago. That’s a funny thing to remember, because usually that spot in the order is reserved for a formidable home run threat, which Lindor wasn’t at the time.
Now he hits in the leadoff spot, and is within shouting distance of his third straight 30-homer season despite missing the first month of 2019. Lindor can’t be compared to anyone but himself, but it’s pretty impressive that his 4.0-fWAR 2016 was probably the very floor of his potential.
The Unsung Heroes
In addition to qualifying as “next men up,” the likes of Davis, Crisp, Guyer, and Perez also emerged as unsung heroes in 2016.
Crisp blasted a home run over the Green Monster in Game 3 of the ALDS. Perez set the tone with two bombs in the World Series. Guyer laced an RBI double off of Aroldis Chapman in Game 7, setting up Davis to provide arguably the greatest moment in the last 70-plus years of Indians baseball.
No matter how productive a team’s stars are, nobody gets through the October gauntlet without moments like those from their role players. In 2019, these moments will need to come from Jason Kipnis, Oscar Mercado, Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen, and Perez (again).
Naturally, the Indians have to make the playoffs in order for any of these potential stories to manifest themselves again. At the moment, there are plenty out there who don’t believe they can overcome what’s in front of them–whether that be injuries or the Minnesota Twins, or both.
But then again, nobody seemed to believe they could come within a run of pulling off the unthinkable in 2016, either.