The Cleveland Indians, locked in a tight race for the AL Central title with Minnesota, suffered a big setback on Sunday when third baseman Jose Ramirez was diagnosed with a broken bone in his wrist.
Just when Jose Ramirez looked like he was returning to his MVP-caliber form, a wrist injury is threatening to derail his season and the Cleveland Indians playoff hopes.
Ramirez appeared to hurt himself in the first inning of Cleveland’s game against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday. After he swung and missed on a high fastball from Royals’ starter Glenn Sparkman, trainers came out to check on him before he was replaced by Mike Freeman. Ramirez later underwent an MRI, which revealed a fractured hamate bone in his right wrist.
Ramirez is scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday and there is no timetable for his return. He was placed on the 10-day IL, with Yu Chang being recalled from Triple-A Columbus to take his spot on the roster.
The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for either Ramirez or the Indians. The 26-year-old third baseman entered the season coming off consecutive third-place MVP years, during which he hit .294 and averaged 34 home runs and 94 RBI. But Ramirez got off to a terrible start in 2019. He hit just .181 in the first month of the season and had two home runs through Cleveland’s first 30 games. Going into July, he was hitting .214 with five home runs. The fortunes of the Indians at the time weren’t much better, as they fell as many as 11 games back of the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central.
Since the All-Star break, though, Ramirez has looked more like the MVP candidate he was in 2017 and 2018 rather than the slumping hitter he was at the start of the year. His 40 RBI in that span trails only Yuli Gurriel and Rafael Devers for the Major League lead. He’s seventh in the Majors with a 1.058 OPS in the second half, while his 15 home runs since July 1 ranks sixth.
With Ramirez’s resurgence has come a shift in the Indians playoff hopes. Cleveland has the second-best record in the Majors since the beginning of July at 31-16. The 11-game deficit against the Twins briefly turned into the division lead earlier this month. The Indians come into play on Sunday 2.5 games back of the Twins after losing seven of their past 11 games.
The loss of Ramirez threatens to undo all the progress they’ve made in the past two months, but manager Terry Francona says the club will just have to play through it. “You can feel sorry for yourself, which probably doesn’t end well. Or you can choose to fight back and feel like this is our time to shine. And I would choose No. 2,” Francona said on Sunday, according to Zack Meisel of The Athletic.
“I’m aware that it got more difficult. We lost a great player. That doesn’t mean you can’t win. Just makes it a little harder.”
In Ramirez’s absence, other players in the Indians lineup will need to step up to replace that production. Fortunately, there are several candidates to fill that role. Carlos Santana is hitting .342 with seven home runs this month, while the newly-acquired Yasiel Puig is hitting .293 in 20 games with Cleveland.
The powerful Twins lineup, though, shows no signs of slowing down. They lead the Majors with 251 home runs this year and are on pace to shatter the record for home runs in a season, set by the New York Yankees last season. The Twins suffered their own injury scare when Nelson Cruz went down on Aug. 8, but the 39-year-old has hit safely in all five games since his return to the lineup.
Cleveland still holds a slim half-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the top AL Wild Card Spot and is a game ahead of the Oakland Athletics for the second spot. But if they had any hope of catching the Twins and winning the club’s fourth-straight AL Central title, those hopes may have been dashed with Ramirez’s injury.