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Indians' Ramirez making strong push for American League MVP

By PAUL HOYNES • Aug 15, 2018 at 2:35 PM

CINCINNATI — Jose Ramirez says he doesn't think about the American League home run race. He says it never enters his mind.

But after a brief power outage in early August, Ramirez has homered in his last three games and is very much back in that race. He trails Boston's J.D. Martinez by one long ball after hitting his 36th homer of the season Tuesday night in the Indians' 8-1 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Asked what it would mean to him to win the home run race, Ramirez, through interpreter Will Clements, said, "That's not really in my head. Any time I go to the plate, I try to just get good pitches and put good swings on them and if the ball goes out, then it goes out. I really hope J.D. hits 200 home runs this year."

Does that mean he wants to hit 201?

Ramirez, without the help of the interpreter, said "No, 300."

On Sunday, manager Terry Francona gave Ramirez the day off. He said it would be good for the high-energy Ramirez to turn off his motor for a day. Francona was right.

In his first two games back in the lineup, Ramirez is hitting .600 (6-for-10) with two homers, five RBI and five runs.

"I think he needed it," Francona said. "When they don't fight you, I think it's good for everybody once in a while. He plays so much and plays so hard. It's good for him."

While Ramirez is back in the home-run race, he never left the MVP race. He's hitting .305 (132-for-433) with 31 doubles, 27 stolen bases and 1.054 OPS. Boston manager Alex Cora recently called Martinez the best hitter in baseball. He must not have been watching a lot of Ramirez, but a reckoning is coming. The Indians open a four-game series at Fenway Park on Monday.

Ramirez is tied with for Seattle's Dee Gordon for the AL lead in steals. He ranks second in total bases with 277, third in RBI with 89 and fourth in OPS. He's second with 70 extra-base hits, one behind Martinez and one ahead of teammate Francisco Lindor.

Not enough numbers for you? How about baseball-reference's version of WAR. Mookie Betts is first at 8.1 followed by Ramirez at 7.9, Mike Trout 7.8, Lindor 6.9 and Matt Chapman 6.7.

Then comes the pure baseball savvy. "He just sees the whole field so well," Francona said.

In the second inning Tuesday night Michael Brantley was on first base with one out. Ramirez doubled past Brantley into right field. Brantley slowed as he rounded second base, which caused Ramirez to momentarily break stride as he made the turn at first.

When Brantley continued to third, Ramirez shifted back into overdrive and slid into second base as second baseman Scooter Gennett, with his back to the infield, took the relay throw only a few feet away, but never turned to throw to shortstop Jose Peraza who was covering second because he figured Ramirez would stop at first.

"That was a nice piece of baseball," Francona said.

Ramirez described the play this way, "I started hard out of the box, thinking it was a double. Then I almost stopped when I was coming around first because I saw Brantley, at that moment, was hitting second base. But then when I saw him turn and go, I was able to advance as well."

Gennett isn't the first infielder caught by surprise by Ramirez's hustle.

"The second baseman, he wasn't really concentrating on me," Ramirez said. "He was concentrating on the right fielder trying to grab the ball and throw it in. So, definitely the noise of the crowd, that definitely contributes to it. The noise of the crowd, people don't really think about it that much ... (but) he can't even hear the shortstop calling for him to throw the ball to him when he gets it."

Ramirez has a chance to be the first Indian to lead the AL in homers since Albert Belle hit 50 in 1995. He is already the first 36 (homers)-27 (steals) man in franchise history. Joe Carter and Grady Sizemore are the only 30-30 men in team history and Ramirez is just three steals away from joining them with an outside chance of going 40-40.

So maybe Ramirez is right. Maybe he doesn't think about AL home run race. How could he focus on just one number when there many swirling around him?

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