CLEVELAND -- The Indians did what they do best on Saturday night to secure their third consecutive win: Rely on the homer to back a stellar starting performance.
“One more thing: Runs are awesome,” Civale said, as he was walking away from the press conference podium. “That was fun.”
The Indians’ bats struggled to find holes in the opening series against Detroit at Comerica Park last weekend, but the team has quickly figured out that bad luck can’t stand in its way if the balls are crushed over the fence. Although Cleveland’s offense hasn’t quite gotten into a groove of stringing consecutive hits together, it’s doing more than enough to get the job done right now.
“There were a lot of really good swings,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
In this week-long span, Cleveland has scored 24 of its 32 total runs (75 percent) via home runs. Only three other teams since 1974 relied on the long ball more than 75 percent of the time in the first seven games: the 2003 Rangers, ‘20 Tigers and ‘13 Nationals.
And the Indians almost had another three runs to calculate into this total. With one three-run blast already under his belt on the night, Luplow almost added another in the sixth when he hit a ball off the top of the wall that was ruled a two-run double after a replay review.
“I told [home plate umpire Kerwin Danley] if the game would've been closer they might've had a first where somebody in New York would've had to throw me out,” Francona said, with a smirk. “I thought it was a home run, too.”
Clearly, the offense is figuring out ways to support its elite pitching staff, but can relying on the long ball become worrisome? Let’s take a look at what history tells us.
The 2003 Rangers and ‘20 Tigers both ended up finishing last in their respective divisions after getting off to a similar offensive start as Cleveland. The 1996 Angels just missed the 75 percent threshold (relying on the homer 74.2 percent of the time in the first seven games), and that team also finished in last place in the American League West. The ‘13 Nationals ended the year above .500 (86-76) but did not make the postseason.
So, yes, the homer can be great to rely on in the short-term, but this is also an indicator that Cleveland will need to start figuring out how to string some hits together. And maybe Luplow, who recorded a career-high five RBIs against the Tigers, can be someone who helps provide that spark.
Maybe the choice to have him lead off was a shock (and confusing) to some, but when a lefty is on the mound, the idea of getting Luplow up to bat as many times as possible isn’t the worst strategy, considering that, after his three-run blast off southpaw Tarik Skubal, his career OPS against lefties jumped to .983 in 241 at-bats. And since a leadoff hitter is guaranteed to bat with nobody on base just one time each game, the Indians probably want to increase the odds of him getting an extra plate appearance against a southpaw by putting him at the top of the order.
"He kills left-handed pitching, and he has for a couple of years now,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “So when they put him up there at the top against our lefties, or pinch-hit him against our lefties, they know he can do damage any time he swings the bat."