CLEVELAND — There were numerous issues for the Indians after their three-game sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series.
Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller were both knocked around. Trevor Bauer committed two errors in one inning in Game 3. Nobody in the lineup outside of Francisco Lindor did much of anything offensively.
But one of the most glaring aspects in the sweep was Jose Ramirez’s silence at the plate for the second October in a row.
Ramirez was a nonfactor in the ALDS, going 0-for-11 with three strikeouts. A year ago, he turned in a 2-for-20 performance against the New York Yankees. Two postseason series since the end of 2016, and Ramirez has twice as many strikeouts (10) than times on base, and he hasn’t logged a postseason extra-base hit since Game 5 of the 2016 World Series.
“We want to be successful. We want to be successful, but I fell off,” Ramirez said in the clubhouse after Game 3. “That’s all I can say. I didn’t perform to how I wanted to, but these are things that happen in baseball. These are just things that happen in baseball. All I can do is look forward to the offseason, and work in the offseason to get better.”
This season’s case isn’t that simple, and the fact that Ramirez has struggled in two consecutive postseasons might not be the entire story. It’s not as if Ramirez was red hot going into the postseason and then turned ice cold. He had been struggling for more than a month.
From Aug. 19 on, he hit just .167. He entered August with 32 home runs but added just seven more the rest of the way and finished with 39. Ramirez could still be an MVP finalist, as he turned in one of the best seasons for an Indians hitter in quite some time, and he should finish in the top five in the American League. But that slow finish likely cost him a chance to win it.
The Indians tried to correct his course leading into the postseason. They tried to find the right adjustment for his slump. Ramirez just couldn’t escape its grip in time.
“He got himself into a predicament and he couldn’t get himself out of it,” manager Terry Francona said. “It’s hard to figure out because a guy can be that good, that dominant and then he just couldn’t get — he kept peeling off balls even when he got pitches to hit. He kind of peeled off and he knew it and he watched video and he just couldn’t get the feeling of staying through the ball.”
Ramirez has established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball, and his team-friendly contract is one of the most valuable in the game. He hit .270 with a .387 on-base percentage, 39 home runs, 38 doubles, 105 RBI and 34 stolen bases. But he hit a slump, like many hitters do. His happened to come at the worst possible time.
"I think a big part of this just comes down to timing,” president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “Think back to 2017, the beginning of the season with Corey Kluber. Were people saying, ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong with the pitching coach?’ We went through a month and a half where I think his ERA was over 5 and he went on to win the Cy Young.
"Jose struggled for a similar amount of time, just at a different point in the season. But when you look at the body of work, he’s going to finish in the top five in the MVP. So, yeah, did he go through unfortunate timing with when he struggled? Of course, and he worked really hard to get out of it. He just wasn’t able to by the end of the season.”
In a news conference with reporters on Wednesday, Francona defended the club’s hitting coaches, pointing out that if they are to be held responsible for Ramirez’s month-and-a-half slump, then they also must get some credit for Ramirez turning into one of the elite hitters in the game.
“I think it’s every bit as much of a reflection that a kid that we thought might be a utility player is going to be second or third or fourth in the league in MVP voting,” Francona said. "I think [hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo] is every bit as much to put the onus on for that also.”
The fact that Ramirez had been slumping doesn’t necessarily lessen the need the Indians have that he remain a weapon in the heart of their lineup when it matters most. The Indians might have a tough offseason ahead, and when these games roll around again, Ramirez, Lindor and the stars the Indians can keep in Cleveland will have to excel for them to get to where they want to go. It’s difficult to imagine the Indians climbing to that summit without them.
In this case, Ramirez wasn’t alone. The Indians as a team hit just .144. They never got going, save for a couple of solo home runs by Lindor.
“I would say that [Gerrit] Cole and [Justin] Verlander had something to do with that,” Francona said.
Indians general manager Mike Chernoff is rumored to be on the list of candidates the New York Mets would like to interview to head their baseball operations, according to a report by SportsNet New York.
According to the report, it’s not yet known if Chernoff would even want to interview for the position, only stating that his name is on the Mets' initial list of hopeful candidates.
Chernoff just finished his 15th season with the Indians and his third with the title of general manager. Last year, Mickey Callaway left the Indians to become the Mets’ manager.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.