It’s time for Edwin Encarnacion to be the cleanup hitter—again

When the Cleveland Indians made a big splash in this summer’s free agency and signed first baseman and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion this past offseason, many expected the slugger to dominate from Day 1 and forgot that the 162-game season is a marathon, not a sprint. Like many other stars in the league, Encarnacion struggled early on. Known to be a notoriously slow starter, the 34-year-old couldn’t find his groove at the plate in April and through mid-May.

In his first 41 games of the season and up until May 20, he had just a .199/.333/.356 (.689 OPS) slash line with two doubles, seven home runs, and 16 RBIs. Due to his struggles, manager Terry Francona decided to take some of the pressure off of his slugger, move him down to the fifth spot in the order, and put Carlos Santana, who had previously been the leadoff hitter, in the cleanup spot.

Whether it was the pressure that was taken off him by moving one spot down in the order or just that he has (finally) found his groove, Encarnacion has dominated recently at the plate and has been the team’s best hitter in recent weeks. Since May 21, the right-hander has a .361/.409/.672 (1.081 OPS) slash with four doubles, five home runs, and 10 RBIs in 16 starts. Much like he has throughout his career, the slugger has found his rhythm now that it’s mid-June. He won’t be able to keep this current streak going, but the former Tornto Blue Jay will hit much better than he did earlier in the season going forward.

While Encarnacion is on fire at the plate, Santana is the complete opposite, especially since moving into the cleanup spot in the order. He struggled batting leadoff this season, but has (somehow) been even worse hitting fourth. Since the day Encarnacion started heating up on May 21, Santana is hitting just .197/.269/.408 (.678 OPS) with three doubles, four home runs, and 13 RBIs in 19 games. He’s known for his ability to get on base, but the 31-year-old has even had trouble doing that this season, and especially since moving into the cleanup spot.

Encarnacion may have struggled in the fourth spot in the order earlier in the season, but now that he’s found his groove at the plate, it’s time to put him back in the cleanup spot. I mean, not only can he not do much worse than what Santana has brought so far, but Encarnacion would also potentially bring a much-needed lift to a lineup that has struggled recently as well. In 20 of their 60 games so far, the Indians have scored three runs or less and are 2-18 in said games. Moving him back into the cleanup spot could be the spark that this offense needs.

That said, maybe move Santana down in the order as well. It will not only make the lineup even deeper, but will also take all of the pressure off him as well. The veteran needs to gain some confidence back before it’s too late, moving him down in the order may just allow him to do that. Imagine a lineup that features Santana in the six-hole. This is what the first six hitters would look like:

  1. Jason Kipnis (L)
  2. Francisco Lindor (S)
  3. Michael Brantley (L)
  4. Edwin Encarnacion (R)
  5. Jose Ramirez (S)
  6. Carlos Santana (S)

That’s one heckuva top six, right? Add in that guys like Bradley Zimmer and Lonnie Chisenhall, among others, are hitting fairly well and the Indians deep lineup would be compliment the team’s rotation and dominate bullpen tremendously.

Encarnacion was brought to Cleveland to make opponents fearful of the Indians’ cleanup hitter, and it’s time for Francona to put his best slugger back where he belongs: in the cleanup spot in the order.