CLEVELAND -- José Ramírez has kept the Indians’ offense afloat all season long, and as the postseason draws closer, his bat has only gotten hotter. But what would it mean for the Tribe if Carlos Santana’s quick burst of power on Monday night was a sign of what’s to come with the playoffs just around the corner?
The Indians had a four-run lead over the White Sox after four innings, but when that was erased in the top of the fifth, Santana responded in the bottom half of the frame with a two-run blast that helped lift the Indians to a 7-4 victory at Progressive Field. The win dropped the Tribe's magic number to 1, meaning the next Cleveland win or Mariners loss will punch the Indians' postseason ticket.
“It’s definitely a challenging year all around,” said Indians starter Aaron Civale, who allowed four runs in six innings. “We went through that tough patch as a team record-wise, but I think as a team we were playing great baseball and picking each other up, and it showed tonight.
“We were up four, I give up those four runs and then in the bottom of the inning, Santana comes out and picks me up and picks up the team and we retake the lead and the bullpen holds it out the rest of the game, so it’s just a team effort every time out there, and I think that’s the way that we play baseball.”
Ramírez has hit .290 with 41 RBIs and 16 homers this year. He began the season in the two-hole with a struggling Francisco Lindor hitting behind him. He had a quieter August, but after he moved to the three-spot in September, Ramírez’s bat began to heat up again. This time, with Santana, who entered Monday hitting a mere .191 with a .295 slugging percentage, following him in the order.
If Santana can build momentum from Monday’s blast -- his sixth of the season -- not only will he become more of a threat in the Tribe’s cleanup spot, but the fear of having to face him may cause Ramírez, who’s seeing the ball quite well after another homer during a 2-for-3 showing against the White Sox, to get a few better pitches to hit.
Temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. has noted that Santana’s timing has been off in the box, as he’s gotten set just a bit late during his plate appearances.
“Keeping working,” Santana said. “Trying to figure out my timing and how I feel. Right now I'm working on contact and timing. I'm working hard on getting it down. Focus. This is what I'm doing now.”
But turning on a 2-1 sinker from Jace Fry and depositing it 401 feet in the left-field bleachers was certainly an encouraging sign.
“I was looking for my pitch,” Santana said. “I tried to make good contact. There was nobody out in the sixth inning, I was trying to get on base. That's what I was thinking. I wasn't thinking home run or anything. My approach was to extend the middle and make good contact."
With a tight race at the top of the American League postseason leaderboard, the Indians, assuming they retain the No. 7 seed, would face either the Rays, A’s or White Sox -- whoever ends up as the No. 2 seed. Santana may be hoping to see the White Sox again in the Wild Card Series. Though he struggled mightily at the plate this season, his success against Chicago continued: He’s hit .421 (8-for-19) with two homers, four RBIs and 11 walks in seven games against the White Sox in 2020.
“That was huge,” Alomar said. “Santana has been struggling a lot left-handed. He got that at-bat right-handed and it was huge to see him hit a home run, especially to take the lead, and it gave Aaron Civale that win. Gave us the cushion by that time. You’re never out of the woods with the Chicago White Sox. They’re very dangerous, and anybody in that lineup can take you deep and it’s almost like navigating through a hailstorm because they’re very powerful.”