Now, it’s about to get fun.
An offensive outburst, backed by a five-RBI night from Franmil Reyes , helped the Indians set season highs in hits (20) and runs in a 14-2 rout of the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Friday night as Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day. And with just 28 games remaining in the regular season, the competition is heating up, as the victory forced a three-way tie with the White Sox and Twins atop the American League Central standings.
“It’s crazy,” Indians temporary manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “Who would’ve thought you would have halfway in the season a three-way tie? … We just got to continue playing, don’t look back and compete every day. We have a great lineup, a great starting rotation and the bullpen is doing outstanding, so we can compete with them.”
The Tribe’s struggling offense has been one of the main focal points of the team since the season got underway just over a month ago. But as the team that sported the fourth-worst batting average in the Majors (.217) entering the night matched up against the third-best pitching staff, Cleveland’s lineup was put to the test. And it passed, exceedingly.
Entering Friday, the Cardinals’ pitching staff had held opposing hitters to just a .184 batting average, but Reyes, Roberto Pérez and Delino DeShields each recorded three-hit nights, while José Ramírez, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana each picked up two hits -- with Santana and Tyler Naquin contributing two-run home runs.
“That tells you what we’re capable of doing offensively,” Pérez said. “I thought tonight we put up great at-bats.”
While Reyes has been steady through the month of August, hitting .394 with 19 RBIs and a 1.147 OPS since Aug. 6, the Tribe started to receive some encouragement that the rest of the lineup may be starting to heat up. Here’s a look at who has been showing the most signs of trending upward over the past few games:
• Ramírez, over his last six games: .320 average, .890 OPS
• Naquin, over his last seven games: .435 average, 1.179 OPS
• Lindor, over his last 11 games: .370, 1.040 OPS
• Santana, over his last 12 games: .298 average, .904 OPS
“Santana is the glue of the lineup because Santana extends at-bats,” Alomar said. “Other guys can swing early in the count, Santana can go out there and make a pitcher work and give the ability for the other hitters to ambush pitchers. He’s in the middle, and he’s the glue of professional at-bats.”
The offensive outburst not only gave Cleveland's No. 9 prospect, Triston McKenzie, some breathing room in his second Major League start, as he gave up two runs on three hits in four frames, but also handed the Tribe its 15th win in its last 21 games after a big series victory over the Twins earlier this week.
“It gives an opportunity for my teammates, for all of us, to think on the positive side,” Reyes said. “Don't lose your faith and keep working hard, the day is about to come. When you get those nights where you have two or three hits, next day, 100 percent, you come with a better, positive mindset.”
The Indians will rely on that positive mindset over the next month, as they attempt to pull away from a hot-swinging White Sox squad and the defending AL Central champions in the Twins. All three teams have 28 games remaining in just 30 days.
“It's really exciting,” Reyes said of the race. “Seeing my teammates and my team like this, like I told you guys in the beginning, we're going to be good because I trust my teammates and I know what kind of players they are, the effort they put out there and how they play with their heart. That's big. That's why I have that confidence with them.”