Eddie Rosario was Cleveland’s big offseason signing this winter in hopes he’d be the missing piece to this struggling offense. And after Josh Naylor showed his potential at the plate during a strong postseason performance in the two-game Wild Card Series, the duo in the heart of the Indians’ order had high expectations heading into the 2021 season.
Although the bats haven’t been as consistent as the team may have wanted thus far, Rosario and Naylor gave a glimpse of what this offense can look like moving forward in the Indians’ 8-6 victory over the Royals on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Rosario provided the moment that every Indians fan probably envisioned the moment the news broke on Feb. 4 that Cleveland had inked the longtime divisional foe for the season. With the score knotted at 3 in the top of the seventh with two runners on, he launched his third long ball of the year deep to right field to give the Indians a 6-3 lead.
“I think when Eddie gets hot, he'll get real hot,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He's an aggressive hitter. When he starts to see it, he'll do some damage for us, and it will be really welcome. … A three-run home run right there just completely changes the complexion of the game.”
Rosario has gotten off to one of his slowest starts in the past few years, hitting just three homers with a .648 OPS in his first 27 games. Let’s take a look at how that compares to his first 27 games of his last three seasons:
2021: Three homers, 17 RBIs, .648 OPS
2020: Seven homers, 22 RBIs, .770 OPS
2019: 11 homers, 24 RBIs, .886 OPS
2018: Five homers, 17 RBIs, .756 OPS
And for an offense that entered Monday night ranked 30th in the Majors in batting average with two outs in the seventh inning or later (.113) and 22nd in MLB in average after the sixth inning (.204), Rosario was able to finally provide a necessary spark.
“I was really happy that Eddie got my back right there,” designated hitter Franmil Reyes said. “I [struck] out, Eddie comes with that big homer. That’s the key that gets you to championships and to win -- when your teammates never put their heads down and just keep fighting and [doing] things like Eddie did right there.”
But the offense didn’t stop there.
After a Harold Ramirez single, Naylor smacked his first homer of the season. What became the deciding blast gave the club a five-run lead before James Karinchak gave up his first run of the year on a two-run shot in the bottom half of the frame.
“If you guys hear the mic in the dugout, you will hear me,” Reyes said. “I was pretty loud. I was really happy that he finally hit his first homer of this season. I know he’s going to do a lot of damage this year. I think he’s ready to start going.”
Naylor has had limited time in the Majors over the last three years -- and a pandemic-shortened 2020 season didn’t help -- but he proved he’s able to step into the spotlight in high-leverage situations when he went 4-for-4 in his first postseason game in Game 1 of last year’s Wild Card Series against the Yankees. The next night, he knocked in two more runs and left quite the impression on the club. Now, the Indians can only hope that Monday was the start of Naylor settling back into his late 2020 form.
“He's been feeling it just because he hadn't had the RBIs,” Francona said, “but when he stays in the strike zone, he's going to do some damage.”
As we saw in 2020, Reyes is capable of stepping up at the plate when José Ramírez starts to cool down, but the Indians knew they’d need more run support than what those two can provide. The pair went a combined 4-for-7 with three walks and two RBIs on Monday night but needed more help to secure the win. That’s where Rosario and Naylor came in -- and, in a perfect world, will continue to do so, especially in divisional matchups.
“That's the mindset -- be competitive in good games,” Rosario said via team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “And that's the important part to being a player here in the [Major] Leagues -- to be able to compete and showcase and demonstrate that we're ready to play. We've been playing good baseball, we've been playing aggressive baseball, and that's going to help us win games.”