CLEVELAND -- The speculation about the Indians’ struggling offense has been ongoing since the season got underway in July. Every time the Tribe’s bats seemed to be catching fire, the momentum would be extinguished. Backed by a spark plug in José Ramírez, Cleveland may finally be finding its offensive stride at the perfect time.
The Indians were fresh off of back-to-back victories on walk-off home runs entering the series finale against the White Sox. Just when it looked like they’d be counted out for the series sweep with a three-run deficit in the seventh, Cesar Hernandez and Ramírez provided the timely two-out RBI hits that lifted the Tribe to a 5-4 win over Chicago on Thursday night at Progressive Field.
“It's really good to bring that chemistry around this time of year, especially with our goal to maybe win the division,” Hernandez said through the team’s interpreter. “It's really important to have that chemistry going.”
The four-game sweep has moved the Indians to just one game behind the White Sox and two games behind the Twins in the American League Central, with three games to play. The Sox return to Chicago on Friday to face the Cubs, the Twins will match up against the Reds in Minneapolis, while the Indians will host the Pirates for their final series of the regular season.
In case of a two-team tie, the Indians own the head-to-head record tiebreaker over the White Sox, but the Twins have the tiebreaker over the Indians. In the case of a three-way tie, the order would be Minnesota, Cleveland and then Chicago. The Indians are now competing for a better seed, in hopes to secure home-field advantage for the Wild Card Series.
“It would be a great advantage,” Hernandez said. “That's why we are trying to do our best to win as many as we have left. It would be a lot nicer to play at home and have that advantage for us.”
The White Sox broke the 1-1 tie in the top of the seventh with a three-run frame. But the Indians answered in the bottom half with three consecutive singles from pinch-hitters Josh Naylor, Tyler Naquin and Mike Freeman to load the bases. When was the last time that happened? The Tribe hadn’t logged three straight pinch-hits since June 4, 1974, which was also 10-cent Beer Night at Cleveland Stadium, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Ed Crosby, Rusty Torres and Alan Ashby had the three hits in the ninth before the game had to be called.
“We were kind of managing it like, ‘If somebody gets on, you’re gonna go hit. If this guy gets on, hit for [Roberto Pérez],’” acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “And it played out that way. We were very fortunate that all three of those guys got hits. It set up the big inning.”
After two outs, Hernandez delivered a two-run single to cut the Tribe’s deficit to one, leaving runners on the corners for Ramírez. After launching the playoff-clinching walk-off blast in the 10th inning on Tuesday, he became the hero yet again with the go-ahead two-run double off the left-center-field wall.
“Unbelievable,” Alomar said. “He was locked in that at-bat.”
Ramírez has now appeared to be locked in at the plate for quite some time. Over his previous 12 games, Ramírez has made a strong push for the AL MVP Award, hitting .426 with eight homers, 18 RBIs and a 1.502 OPS in that span. He’s logged two multihomer contests in the past week and has skyrocketed to the top of the Major League leaderboard in Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs (3.3).
“Man, he’s next level,” said starter Zach Plesac, who gave up four runs in 6 2/3 frames. “It’s so cool to watch him do what he does, man. It’s just so much confidence. If there’s anyone you want up at the plate when it’s a big situation, it’s him right now.”
For most of the season, timely hits have been foreign to the Tribe. But over the past week, the team has been able to put together late-game at-bats to come out on top. The four-game sweep was punctuated with the Indians’ largest comeback of the season, fighting their way back from a three-run deficit.
“Yeah, wins like that go a long way,” Plesac said. “They build confidence. It just shows us that we’re never out of a game. I think we’ve just done such a good job after we went through that stretch of losing to really get back on the right track and really tighten up where we needed to. Now, everything is playing how we’re supposed to be playing. Keep the foot on the gas, for sure.”