CLEVELAND — Jose Ramirez’s second-half slide has continued into the first two games of the Division Series.
Ramirez, a candidate to to win the American League MVP award in the first half, is hitless in seven at-bats, striking out three times in two losses to the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Ramirez, who hit .270 with 39 home runs, 105 RBIs and 34 stolen bases during the regular season, owned a .302 batting average, 29 homers and 70 RBIs at the All-Star break. But a significant second-half slump saw him bat .218 with only 10 homers and 35 RBIs — .174 over the final month.
Since hitting a combined .360 (14-for-39) in the 2016 ALDS and World Series, Ramirez has struggled on the postseason stage. He went 2-for-20 without an RBI in the ALDS loss to New York last year and is 2-for-27 with one RBI in his last seven playoff games.
With left-hander Dallas Keuchel scheduled to start for Houston in Game 3 today, manager Terry Francona said he will tinker with his lineup.
Francona said Sunday he would start Brandon Guyer in right field, putting Melky Cabrera on the bench, and that Edwin Encarnacion would start at first base over Yonder Alonso. Yandy Diaz will make his first postseason appearance at DH.
“That’s kind of what we’ve been doing, you know, the last six, eight weeks when everybody’s healthy,” Francona said of his lineup when facing a lefty.
Keuchel doesn’t throw as hard as the first two pitchers Cleveland faced — Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole — but the 2015 Cy Young award winner clearly presents another tough test for Indians hitters.
“Obviously different than the first two guys,” Francona said. “One, he’s left-handed and not the power pitcher that those two guys are. I think the best way to say it is he probably always feels like he’s a pitch away from a double play.
“He can sink that ball arm side and off of that throw his change-up. You have to stay true to what you believe against him, because you’re always one pitch away from him getting out of a rally because he can sink it so low.”
Indians ace Corey Kluber’s first five postseason starts were all but brilliant — three earned runs and 35 strikeouts over 30 1⁄3 inning, but the last four, beginning with Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, have far from followed the trend.
The two-time Cy Young award winner, who is a candidate to win his third this year after going 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA, has allowed 17 earned runs — nine homers — over only 15 innings.
Former Indians slugger Travis Hafner is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in Game 3 today. It’s another former Cleveland player’s turn, Ellis Burks, if there is a Game 4 on Tuesday.
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