Norwalk Reflector: What's the Indians' biggest problem for the stretch run? Complacency

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What's the Indians' biggest problem for the stretch run? Complacency

By PAUL HOYNES • Aug 3, 2018 at 12:00 PM

CLEVELAND — The more a manager can avoid team meetings, the better his team is probably doing in the standings.

But sometime during this seven-game homestand, perhaps as early as Friday, Terry Francona plans to meet with the Indians. It's not like there are red lights blinking around the internal core of the team. They have a 10-game lead in the AL Central and the four other teams in the division are lost in the wilderness of rebuilding.

The Indians were favored to win the Central before the season started, but did anyone think that it would be this easy? They took over sole possession of first place on April 21 and are still there entering Friday's three-game series against the Angels at Progressive Field.

There has not been one flash point through first 107 games of the season where it was conceivable that the Indians would not win this division. It has to be unnerving for the organization, because even last year when they won 102 games they were tested.

The Indians lost five of six games on a West Coast trip coming out of the All-Star break in 2017. Their lead in the division shrunk to a half game. Meetings were held. Speeches given and the Indians responded by winning and winning and winning.

They won nine straight after that West Coast trip. They won six straight from Aug. 11-17. Then came their 22-game winning streak, the longest in over 100 years of baseball history, from Aug. 24 through Sept. 14.

The Indians' longest winning streak this season has been seven games. If this team has a fourth or fifth gear, it hasn't been seen often.

In Minneapolis, where the Indians took two out of three from the Twins, Francona was asked if he was worried about a lack of urgency with his team because of the big division lead.

"That can change in a week. ... Your record is always fluid," Francona said. "You know that. You know what? If I did, I'd say something. So, no.

"When we're playing a game, we try to win every game," he added. "So, no, I really don't (worry)."

Don't get Francona wrong. He likes a 10-game lead as much as any manager.

"If you ask me if I'd rather have a lead or not, I'd rather have a lead," he said. "And I think there's a right way and a wrong way to play. I think for the most part our guys do a pretty good job. But we may visit for a few minutes just because we've got some new guys here. ... just to talk about those things."

The Indians added relievers Brad Hand, Adam Cimber and outfielder Leonys Martin before Tuesday's trade deadline.

Among division leaders, the Indians are tied for the NL East-leading Phillies for the worst record at 59-48. Overall, seven MLB teams have better records. That includes the AL's three top wild-card contenders - the Yankees, Seattle and Oakland.

Second baseman Jason Kipnis says the Tribe's Central cakewalk may have something to do with that.

"I think it hurts a little bit," Kipnis said. "There are a lot of positives (to having a big lead) - we can rest starters and bullpen guys. We have the luxury of giving Andrew Miller all the time he wants. We can give position players rest. There's a ton of positive stuff that comes out of that.

"But the negative is, when you're down a run or two to someone and maybe that extra urgency isn't there," he added. "Like, 'Hey, we have to come back and win this game. If we lose, oh, no, we're nine (games) up in the division.'"

Kipnis thinks that will change for the stretch run.

"I think we have enough guys in here to make sure that, down the stretch, whether it's somehow creating ways to make it seem more than it is or trying to make it a playoff atmosphere — do something to get that urgency going, get that ball rolling — I think we'll find a way to do it," Kipnis said. "But it's human nature to see that division lead and, not pull off the gas, but know it's there. There's that cushion."

The Indians have just two walk-off wins this season. They are 1-30 when trailing after six innings.

This could be the last rodeo for several core players. Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Cody Allen, Josh Tomlin, Zach McAllister and Miller are free agents at the end of the year. In spring training it was a topic of conversation. Players told reporters that if this was indeed their last year in Cleveland, why not return to the World Series and win it this time?

In case you forgot, the Indians lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Cubs in 2016.

That talk has faded during the grind and injuries of the season. Kipnis thinks it will come back the closer the Indians get to the postseason.

"As we're getting down the stretch, it'll come back," he said. "I think we felt it more in spring training. ... Down the stretch, though, I could see it coming up a little bit more. You don't want to go into October and be like, 'Hey, by the way, this is our last go-around. Hope everyone's been dotting the I's and crossing the T's.'

"It's more of a process," he added. "You want to gain momentum going into October and you want to be playing your best team baseball. You can ask anybody in the clubhouse, we haven't come close to doing that yet."


Ramirez named July AL Player of the Month

CLEVELAND — Jose Ramirez is the American League Player of the Month for July, becoming the second Cleveland Indians player to win the monthly honor this season.

Ramirez batted .322 with eight home runs and eight doubles to go along with 25 RBI and an MLB-leading 11 stolen bases as the Tribe posted a 14-11 record in July.

His win matches the feat of teammate Francisco Lindor, who claimed the award in May. The last time Cleveland had two players of the month in the same season was 1995 when Albert Belle (August and September) and Manny Ramirez (May) earned the honor.

Ramirez stole his 25th base of the season Tuesday night, moving him into a tie with Seattle's Dee Gordon for the AL lead. He shares the AL home run lead at 32 with Boston's J.D. Martinez.

With less than two months remaining in the season, Ramirez is already the third player in Indians franchise history to hit 30 homers and steal 25 bases in a season, joining Joe Carter in 1987 (32 HR, 31 SB) and Grady Sizemore in 2008 (33 HR, 38 SB).

His 25 RBI in July tied for second in the AL, and his 18 extra-base hits also ranked second in the league. He tied for fourth with 21 runs scored and 19 walks.

Ramirez, who finished third in voting for the American League MVP award in 2017, won AL Player of the Week honors after going 11 for 26 and posting a 1.598 OPS with multi-hit efforts in five of seven games from July 9-15.

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