CLEVELAND -- The Indians have had to strategize much differently this week than they have needed to in the last handful of years. A starting crew that was deemed to be one of the best in the league once again has suddenly been whittled down to a one-man rotation.
Nonetheless, Cleveland has marched on.
A week that started with a gut punch, learning that Shane Bieber would be shut down for at least two weeks, turned into a four-game winning streak, as the Indians completed the sweep of the Orioles with a 10-3 victory on Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field to reach a season-high 10 games over .500.
“We told our guys that we're going to have to figure some things out,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We're going into Pittsburgh and we've got some things we're going to have to figure out every day. But it's OK when guys are playing like they're playing and giving the effort. We'll figure it out together.”
It has certainly helped for Cleveland to face a team that owns the worst record in the American League while it attempts to find its footing after watching its injured list extend to six people deep. But the club still proved its resiliency with help from all parts of the lineup, including a four-RBI afternoon from Yu Chang in the series finale, along with some flexibility from the pitching staff. The Indians have now racked up seven wins in their last nine games.
Let’s take a look at three things we’ve learned since Bieber went on the injured list:
1. J-Ram: The heart and soul of the offense
The Indians need to protect José Ramírez from the injury bug at all costs. When his bat is hot, the offense continues to be in good hands, despite what other hurdles the team is battling. In 38 Cleveland wins, Ramírez has hit .306 with two doubles, a triple, eight homers and 41 RBIs. However, in the team’s 28 losses, he’s hit just .221 with a .623 OPS, zero homers and three RBIs.
When things go wrong, a young team with little experience needs a veteran presence to turn to. And that’s exactly what Ramírez has been and will need to continue to be throughout the rest of this difficult stretch heading into the All-Star break. He leads the team in homers (16), RBIs (44), runs scored (47), on-base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.544), total hits (65), doubles (15), and OPS (.896) and has played in each of the team’s 66 games.
2. Bradley has been worth the wait
Bobby Bradley wasted no time giving fans a taste of his potential. In 10 games since he’s been recalled from Triple-A Columbus, he’s hit .375 with four homers and 11 RBIs. Prior to his callup, the Indians had received just two total homers from the first base position. Bradley has credited a lot of his success to not only the minor adjustments he made with his hands and elbow just before he came up to the big leagues, but also staying loose and having fun.
“He’s a hitter with a lot of power. I knew he was going to hit,” Ramírez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “Now that he has the opportunity and you can see he’s having fun, it’s very different. He’s able to show what he’s done and the talent that he’s got.”
It’s a small sample size, but without Franmil Reyes in the lineup, Bradley has given the Indians another power threat in the middle of the order for opposing teams to worry about. And until Reyes is able to return in the next few weeks, Bradley’s presence will remain essential.
3. And the MVP goes to...the bullpen
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti joked before the game that aside from starter Aaron Civale, there’s really no distinction between a starter and reliever on the current pitching staff. Cleveland knows it needs to get creative to fill the four holes in its rotation, and so far, it’s been successful. Eli Morgan, the newest addition to the starting experiment, allowed three runs on five hits through 3 2/3 innings (67 pitches). The rest of the afternoon was pieced together by five relievers, who tossed a collective 5 1/3 scoreless frames.
Over the last four days, the bullpen has pitched to a 1.40 ERA (three earned runs in 19 1/3 innings). That included James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase working three consecutive games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, even in non-save situations and with healthier leads. The Indians are going all hands on deck to secure every win they can while they’re short-staffed. The entire bullpen, from Clase and Karinchak to Trevor Stephan and Kyle Nelson, has collectively done its part.
“I feel so good about this,” Chang said through an interpreter. “This is the real Indians. The team effort, that’s what we’re looking for.”