That Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor’s contributions this past weekend in a pivotal AL Central series were secondary – and Cleveland still took three of four in Minnesota – must have added to the frustration the Twins felt as their once-commanding division lead disappeared.
Lindor went 4-for-15 and drew five walks, but it was teammates Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana who dealt the biggest offensive blows to Twins pitchers.
As he has throughout his career, though, Lindor will almost certainly be a driving force for the Indians in the coming month and a half. He’s the ultimate swing player in the race against Minnesota, the kind of talent the Twins do not have in their arsenal and one many fans around baseball may be underestimating.
The 25-year-old compares favorably not only to the shortstops who have come up alongside him, such as Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, but also to the revered MLB infielders who broke through in the 1990s, such as Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter. He’s on a Hall of Fame pace, and he carries the exuberance to match his stellar play.
Part of the shortstop’s career value so far has been his durability. He’s been on the IL just once in five seasons, allowing him to consistently finish near the top of the league in games played. Health, of course, was the downfall for Garciaparra and Troy Tulowitzki, who recently retired because of ongoing medical problems.
Lindor has overcome his first significant injury – a left ankle sprain earlier this year – to hit .300 with 20 home runs and 18 stolen bases. Those numbers are in line with what he’s done since arriving in Cleveland in 2015. But his bat, while impressive, isn’t close to his best asset.
He’s been a top-five defensive shortstop of the past two decades according to defensive metrics and the eye test. He gets high-quality jumps on balls hit to either side of him. He glides into the hole. He has the agile turns of an eel and bountiful arm slots from which to fire.
BENDER: Lindor shows why Indians can’t afford to let him get away
Lindor’s personality, meanwhile, has made him one of the more marketable young stars in baseball. His nickname is Mr. Smile. He makes sound effects in media scrums, banters with opponents, touches Oliver Perez’s socks with his bare hands and flips the script on postgame interviews.
Given his skill and charisma, it’s uncertain whether the Indians can keep him from leaving once he hits free agency. Past history suggests he’ll eventually head to a bigger market.
“Enjoy him,” said owner Paul Dolan to The Athletic before this season. “We control him for three more years. Enjoy him and then we’ll see what happens.”
What is abundantly clear is that Lindor will be a key force in Cleveland’s attempt to win the AL Central for a third straight season, a feat it hasn’t managed since the 1990s. The Twins are by far the most serious threat the Indians have faced during their current run. And regardless of where he plays in the future, Lindor is worth fully appreciating as a generational shortstop, not just a typical star player. The too-brief excellence of Garciaparra and Tulowitzki, among others, represents how quickly that level of production can disappear and why not to take it for granted.
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