José Ramírez and the Guardians take part in the final victory against the Royals

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CLEVELAND — If the Guardians want to win a playoff series for the first time since 2016, they need the bat of José Ramírez. And if there were any concerns that the All-Star third baseman was out of playoff form, he tried to ease them in the final game of the regular season.

Ramírez came out strong Wednesday afternoon in Cleveland’s 9-2 win over the Royals at Progressive Field, recording four hits (including a double), two RBIs and a run scored. In recent games, Ramírez has shown signs of returning to an offensive rhythm, finishing the year with a five-game hitting streak.

It’s no secret how important the 30-year-old is to this team. Whether the Guardians were baseball’s oldest or youngest team, Ramírez would be essential to the club’s success. That’s why the organization worked so hard to find a deal before the start of this season that would keep him in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. He’s brave, quick, smart on the basics and he brings just enough pop to a formation that desperately needs a power threat.

That’s why at the start of spring training, manager Terry Francona addressed Ramírez before preaching too much to the rest of his club.

The writing was on the wall for this group. There was no way this list would lead the majors in the circuits. There were also only a few players in the clubhouse who had more than a year or two of Major League experience. Francona knew from day one that her team would have to do the little things perfectly to be successful. Solid defense, elite base running, and on-the-ball face-off — all aspects of “small ball” — could still keep this type of roster afloat.

But it wouldn’t work if players didn’t buy into the concept. And to get everyone on the same page, Ramírez had to be the first to set the tone.

“We talked from day one about how we want to play,” Francona said. “If your best player doesn’t, my message would be hollow. And I know it. And Josey knows it. He is quite special.

Ramírez couldn’t have epitomized the style of play the team envisioned. He’s never one to run along the first goal line and his regular season ended by turning a single into a double in the eighth. Ramírez found ways to provide a much-needed spark, racking up 126 RBIs — the most for a Cleveland player since Juan Gonzalez (140) in 2001 — and had 32 multi-game RBIs, which were the most of all. the seasons of his career. .

And with Ramírez setting that tone, the rest of the attack followed and found 92 wins worthy of success.

But there was a slight trepidation as the playoffs approached. So many triumphs on the stretch have been largely without much impact from Ramírez. From September 1 to the game, when Cleveland won the AL Central on September 25, it saw its batting average drop from .285 to .275, when it hit .228 with just .677 OPS over that 25-game stretch.

Ramírez’s strikeouts per month rose steadily from August through September, while his wOBA had been in perpetual decline since the start of the season.

It’s impressive to see MLB’s youngest team thrive the way it has all season. There’s no doubt that the likes of Steven Kwan, Oscar Gonzalez and Andrés Giménez have given a huge boost to an attack that has struggled for the past few years.

But there is always a risk that inexperience will catch up with them, especially in the playoffs. That’s why it’s essential that Ramírez be in his usual form for Cleveland to keep rolling.

From the clinch, Ramírez’s numbers slowly started to go up in the right direction. His OPS jumped above .800, and he had three multi-hit and four multi-RBI games in that two-week span. And what might have been his last sign that he’s ready to make the playoffs, Ramírez ended his year playing exactly as Francona asked in spring training, while recording four hits.

“He’s the heart and soul of the team, and everyone would tell you the same thing,” starter Aaron Civale said. “There are a lot of pieces in play, but he is that supreme piece. It’s extremely fun to watch. It’s great that we can do it from the same canoe and not across the road.

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