An offensive surge in July has seen the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals creeping up the ladder in their respective divisions and are making things interesting heading into August.
On June 30, the Indians were in second place in the American League Central, eight games back of the front-running Minnesota Twins. On Tuesday, Cleveland was still in second place, but the lead has shrunk to two games. The Twins were 11-11 in that span, while the Indians tore through the month winning 17 of 22. Taking it back even further, Cleveland had trailed by 11 games on June 15.
Much of Cleveland’s success can be credited to an offense that ranked second in July with a .291 batting average, through Monday night’s games. That’s a huge improvement for a team that ranked 17th for the season with a .250 clip over 105 games.
And there isn’t one player who can be credited with sparking the lineup, as there have been multiple culprits contributing to the offensive onslaught.
Francisco Lindor was riding a 10-game hitting streak and led the team with a .524 slugging percentage as Cleveland prepared to host the A.L. West-leading Houston Astros on Tuesday; Carlos Santana led the Indians with 44 extra base hits and was right behind Lindor, slugging at a .523 clip.
Jose Ramirez was 15-for-43 with four doubles, five home runs and 12 RBIs over his previous 10 games. Tyler Naquin — who has been battling a hamstring issue — led the squad with his .436 July batting average.
What does this mean for the Indians? Plenty, considering they have several critical series forthcoming. And considering they open August with a nine-game homestand — three each against the Astros, Angels and Rangers — it’s conceivable they’ll head to Minneapolis for a four-game set the second week of August in the top spot or prepared to take over first place from the Twins. Then they’ll sandwich a three-game home series against the defending champion Red Sox before heading to the Bronx for a four-game series with the Yankees. It appears Cleveland’s offense has come alive at the right time.
For St. Louis, it has been jockeying for first place in the National League Central with the Cubs the past week, after sitting in third place on June 30. On Tuesday, the teams were tied atop the division.
The Cardinals have found life with the long ball. For the season, they ranked 22nd in the league with 136 home runs when they opened a crucial three-game home series against the Cubs on Tuesday. But for the month of July, the Redbirds were tied for fourth with the Yankees with 39 home runs.
Also this season, St. Louis had the third-fewest extra-base hits, with 304. But through their 6-2 loss to Houston on Sunday, it was tied for 12th with the Reds with 80 extra-base knocks.
Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong have done a fantastic job in sparking the lineup. As they prepared for their series lid-lifter with Chicago, Goldschmidt led the Cardinals with 100 hits and was second on the team with 57 RBI, including a team-high 26 in July. He homered in six consecutive games and drove in 13 runs until he was held without a home run in Sunday’s loss to the Astros. And with seven games against the Cubs in late September, his bat could come in handy as he went into this week’s series batting .353 with 14 home runs, 39 RBI and a .471 on-base percentage in 43 career games against them.
DeJong, meanwhile, went into the N.L. Central showdown enjoying a 10-game stretch that saw him hit five doubles, four home runs and 10 RBI. His three-homer day last week put him in rare company, as the feat was accomplished by four players on consecutive days.
Only two teams this season have had more than one player stroke three home runs in the game, including the Cardinals’ Goldschmidt and DeJong.
Trust me, if the Cardinals added an extra starting pitcher by the deadline, this could be a very dangerous team in August, as their toughest series will be a three-game set in Los Angeles from Aug. 5-7. Look for them to carry plenty of value next month.
Rays at Red Sox: I’ll side with the defending champs in the series-finale, as I like what I saw from Red Sox righty Andrew Cashner (10-5, 4.18 ERA) his last time out. He picked up his first win for Boston when he stifled the Yankees to three runs in 6 2/3 innings of work. He is 2-1 lifetime with a 4.03 ERA in five career starts against the Rays and has done a good job in limiting opponents to a .251 batting average this season. Boston closes this one with a win. RED SOX
Astros at Indians: As well as the Indians have been hitting the ball, their aggressive approach can hurt when facing a guy like Gerrit Cole. One of the Astros’ two ace starters — along with Justin Verlander — I think Houston’s hard-throwing right-hander will be able to neutralize the Tribe in this one.
Cole (12-5, 2.94 ERA) has completed seven innings in five of his last six starts, he’s allowed one or fewer earned runs in seven of his last eight and, as of Tuesday morning, he was the only pitcher in baseball with at least 200 strikeouts, sporting a league-leading 212. ASTROS
Tigers at Rangers: After taking Thursday off, Texas welcomes the Tigers to Arlington for a three-game set, and I must believe the lid-lifter will get ugly. I like the Rangers on the run line in this one, especially with them handing the ball to Lance Lynn (13-6, 3.83). The veteran right-hander has pitched at least six innings in 17 straight starts and boasts an 11-4 mark and 3.18 ERA in that stretch. He’s pitched 113 innings over that span and has struck out 136 versus walking a mere 25.
Look for him to dominate this lineup, while the Rangers’ bats will support the rout. RANGERS RUN LINE
Last week: 1-2
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