CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – After a frustrating start to a homestand where the Indians dropped three straight amidst an offensive lull, the team has begun to see what they have when their big bats get in the swing of things.
While Austin Jackson has been leading from the back of the lineup in the Indians’ consecutive wins, a big surge has come from Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle.
The pair ignited the offense on Monday with back-to-back home runs to start the fourth, that latter which traveled 451 feet into Heritage Park, the first two runs in a four-run inning that proved to be the decider.
Santana has driven in a run now in five of his past six appearances, going 8-for-23 in that span with two doubles, two homers and eight RBI in that span.
Encarnacion now has a season-high eight game hit streak, in which he is 11-for-31 with three home runs, two doubles and five RBI. The numbers look even better over a span of 53 plate appearances, splitting .285/.340/.632 over that time.
“Yeah, if we could get those guys hot at the same time,” Manager Terry Francona said hopefully. “We talk so much about putting up a crooked number. It was four, but those things are good. Early in the game, you see what happened, they hit three solos but it wasn’t enough. Now it got interesting at the end, but it wasn’t enough.”
With all of the criticism that has come their way, especially towards Encarnacion and his new three-year, $60 million contract, Francona’s initial statement is telling. The team is now 26-23, a single game out of first place in their division despite getting sub-.240 starts from their four- and five-hitters.
The Dominican slugger has remained humble and steadfast in his approach, never showing too much negative emotion despite a relatively disappointing start. That does not mean that Encarnacion is oblivious to the matter, stating on Monday that he and Santana need to continue to pull their weight.
“It feels good,” he said. “It’s something that our team needs. They need to know that we’re doing our work and that we can do that work that’s necessary to help us win a game.”
The middle of the lineup has been further strengthened by Jose Ramirez, who has reclaimed some of his early magic, especially his team’s back-to-back wins. The third baseman is now six for his last eight, with three stolen bases and three runs.
Tying it all together, Jackson continued his strong return, following up a two-hit, three-RBI day with a solo homer in the 3rd and a sacrifice fly in the 4th.
The 30-year old outfielder has been a pull hitter for the majority of his career, never pulling less than 31.7% of his batted balls in a season.
In 2017, he has flipped the switch, going the opposite way with 40.6% of his hits, despite never seeing more than a third of his batted balls travel to right. Much of that could be that he has mainly been in the lineup against left-handers, though Monday saw him stay to the opposite field against righty starter Daniel Mengden.
“Austin’s been here for three days and he’s staying in the middle of the field so well,” Francona said. “When hitters do that, they generally cover more pitches. Whether it’s a sacrifice fly to deep right-center or a home run today, but his swings have been pretty consistent just because he’s staying in the middle of the field so well.”