Honk if you’ve seen Jose Ramirez. The real one. Not this September imposter.
The Indians have done a good job of getting their postseason ducks in order. The four-star starting rotation looks locked and loaded to carry a team as far as an elite starting rotation can. Even Trevor Bauer, whose exciting two-start post-injury trial balloon enticingly whispered to the nervous Wahoo masses, “I’m back!” looks suitably ornery and ready to go.
The crazy-quilt bullpen cattle call — a whopping 20 relievers used and 21 if you count outfielder Brandon Guyer — has been vetted and netted a group with which bullpen maestro Terry Francona can make some beautiful playoff music.
The team’s plus-159 run differential is substantially better than the 101 produced by the 2016 team that came as close to winning the World Series as a team can get — extra innings in Game 7 — without winning it.
So with October looming, there’s a lot to like about Cleveland’s American League Baseball Club.
There’s also one big question mark.
Honk if you’ve seen him.
The Indians’ third baseman-turned-second baseman has gone from a strong MVP candidate to a fading MVP candidate who in September has become a desperate, flailing, futile pop-up machine.
In his first 119 games, Ramirez belted 37 home runs, an average of one every 11.8 at bats. In his last 33 games, he has one home run in
Last year in September, Ramirez hit .393.
This year in September: .178.
Last year in September, he had a .443 on base percentage, .881 slugging percentage and 1.324 OPS.
This year in September, his numbers in those same categories have red flags flapping furiously all around them: .337/.301/.638.
Who turned off Jose Ramirez?
The postseason starts next week, and “Jose! Jose! Jose! Jose!” has dissolved into a bag of stale vegetables. With Game 1 of the Division Series in Houston only eight days away, the Indians’ most productive and important hitter is no factor at all.
It’s hard to imagine the Indians accomplishing much in the postseason with the bat of their best hitter in a full-blown funk.
If you don’t think so, look no further than last October, when the Indians blew a 2-0 lead over the Yankees in the ALDS by losing three in a row while getting outscored 13-5. In that five-game series, Ramirez hit .100. He had two singles and seven strikeouts in 20 at-bats. No doubles. No triples. No home runs. No RBIs. No stolen bases.
Nobody else in the Indians’ lineup hit much in that series, but nobody else in the Indians’ lineup is expected to hit more than Ramirez, who didn’t hit then and now isn’t hitting again.
In between, however, Ramirez made history. His 38 home runs are an Indians record for a switch hitter. He’s one of just four players in major league history to have 100 walks, 100 RBIs, 100 runs, 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season.
It’s been a weird year for Ramirez: a slow start and an awful finish, but in the middle he was the best player in the game. In May, June and July, he hit .310, with 63 runs, 23 doubles, 25 home runs, 23 stolen bases and 62 RBIs.
In April, August and September he’s hit .235, with 42 runs, 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 10 stolen bases and 42 RBIs.
But it’s that dead-in-the-water .178 September batting average that has been most alarming of all. Ramirez has stopped hitting. Completely. Is it simply his being worn down physically and mentally by the long season? Has he put undue pressure on himself, following that spectacular three-month middle of the season to become the first Indians player in 65 years to win the MVP Award?
There was a time when he was first or second in the league in home runs and stolen bases, giving him a chance to become only the second player in American League history (Ty Cobb, 1909) to lead the league in both. Was the strain of that too draining?
Did pitchers identify and exploit some new holes in his swing? Has he gotten too jumpy, too antsy at the plate as his slump grew, which only exacerbated said slump?
Or is it simply the age-old default explanation for the inexplicable: “That’s baseball.”
This is baseball, but that’s not Ramirez. In August and September, he’s hitting .216.
No team goes into the postseason with all of their hitters red hot. Slumps happen. Long slumps happen. Ramirez is currently caught in the jaws of a doozy. After being arguably the best all-around hitter in the game for the first two-thirds of the season, he’s become an all-around enigma.
So honk if you’ve seen him.
The real one. Not this September imposter.
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