The Indians’ starting pitching has stolen the show all season long, while the bats have ranked among the worst in the league. While those two narratives surrounded the team, José Ramírez has flown under the radar, putting together a season worthy of at least a few American League Most Valuable Player Award votes.
The Tribe’s third baseman is no stranger to the MVP ballot, placing third in both 2017 and ‘18, and with one week remaining in the regular season, Ramírez bolstered his resumé with his second two-homer game in four days, leading the Indians to a 7-4 victory over the Tigers on Sunday at Comerica Park.
“After I hit a home run, I leave it in the past and focus on the next at-bat, because that's what really matters,” Ramírez said through an interpreter. “Just focusing on executing my next at-bat.”
This year’s AL MVP race has a handful of strong candidates, and Ramírez may have a difficult time surpassing players like José Abreu, Mike Trout or Tim Anderson. But his offensive numbers can’t be ignored. Ramírez will have a good chance of finishing the season in the top five of the AL in homers (currently tied for fourth with 15), stolen bases (tied for fourth, 10), RBIs (seventh, 38) and Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs (first, 2.8).
"We get to see him a lot and we know that he's a guy that can carry a team,” Tigers starter Matthew Boyd said. “Hats off to him. He's a huge reason why they're in the position they are right now. You have to go out there and attack. Those are the guys that you enjoy facing. It's an awesome and welcome challenge."
Without a doubt, Ramírez has been the MVP of the Indians’ offense in a year in which it desperately needed some form of consistency. The team entered Sunday’s game hitting just .227, which was tied for 24th in the Majors. If Ramírez’s bat isn’t factored into that calculation, the team average would drop to .220 after Sunday’s series finale. He leads the Indians in average (.284), homers (15), RBIs (38), stolen bases (10), runs scored (39), on-base percentage (.369) and slugging percentage (.574).
“José Ramírez is an inspiration to all the players because he's always happy,” temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “He's really [supporting] the players in the dugout, yelling, making sure everybody's motivated. He's one of those guys that COVID hasn't even been bringing him down, because he's just motivated all the time. We're living in a new norm where everybody is kind of down all the time, but he's a guy that sparks us all the time, and he did a good job today.”
The Tribe entered the four-game series in Detroit on a downward spiral, having lost eight consecutive games. With a postseason berth on the horizon, the team needed a spark to halt the skid, and that’s exactly what Ramírez provided in a ballpark that has treated him well throughout his career. Over his last four games at Comerica Park, Ramírez hit .529 (9-for-17) with four homers, 10 RBIs, two doubles and five runs scored with a 1.882 OPS.
“I don't know,” Ramírez said when asked why he hits so well in Detroit. “Maybe the fact that we play them often. They're in our division so I get to know how they want to work me, and I adjust to their plans.”
The Tribe had been defeated in six of Carlos Carrasco’s first 10 starts this season, as the offense logged just 12 runs in those losses. But his sparkling seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts Sunday were preserved, thanks to a comfortable lead established by the offense.
Not only did Ramírez’s multi-homer afternoon save Carrasco’s win, but it also moved the Indians closer to punching their ticket to the 2020 postseason. And with Ramírez’s bat as hot as it is, the third baseman is ready for the playoffs to begin.
“It feels like I've been ready the whole season,” Ramírez said. “It's the same approach -- I never stop working.”