Before this season started, Lonnie Chisenhall was known mostly for being a moderately disappointing first-round pick of the Cleveland Indians and having one of the longer, funnier and downright weirder names in all of baseball. (Fun fact: His last name would be worth 18 points in Scrabble). But on Monday night, Chisenhall put together one of the best hitting performances of the year in what's been a breakout season for the 25-year-old third baseman, clubbing three homers, picking up five hits and driving in nine runs as Cleveland routed Texas, 17-7.
Chisenhall came into the game with a team-best 170 OPS+ in 176 plate appearances, but he hadn't displayed much home-run power so far, with just four round-trippers on the season and only 27 in his four-year career. Monday's effort, however, nearly doubled his season total, and he wasted no time getting started, hitting his first homer of the game in the second inning off Nick Martinez. In his next at-bat in the fourth, Chisenhall took a 1-1 Scott Baker offering and launched it to right-center for his second homer, third hit and fourth and fifth RBI. Chisenhall got to Baker again in the sixth for an RBI double, his fourth hit of the night, before capping his evening in grand style with a three-run bomb, once again off Baker. All told, Chisenhall went 5-for-5 with three homers, a double and a single, driving in at least a run with each of his five hits.
For Chisenhall, it's the first three-homer game of his career — he hit two in one contest back on Sept. 9, 2011 against the White Sox — and the second five-hit game of his career, the first coming just one month ago against the Blue Jays in a 15-4 Cleveland win. Chisenhall also set a personal best for extra-base hits with four and shattered his record for RBI in a game, also four, done twice before. Though he's still 15 plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title, his .385 average would be the top mark in baseball by some 25 points, ahead of Troy Tulowitzki. He's been especially hot since the start of the month, with a .346/.357/.462 line going into Monday night's action since June 1.
Chisenhall's night wasn't just a big one for his personal scrapbook, however. His 15 total bases are the most collected by a player in a single game all season, topping Chris Davis' 13 from his three-homer game back on May 20. It's the first time a player has picked up 15 or more total bases in a game since Ryan Braun pulled the trick back on April 30, 2012 against San Diego; only four players since 2000 have collected more than 15 in a game, with Shawn Green's 19 from his four-homer game on May 23, 2002 as the top mark.
In terms of three-homer games in MLB, it's the third this season, following Davis and Braun, and the first for an Indian since Shin-Soo Choo hit the trifecta on Sept. 17, 2010 against Kansas City; Choo, of course, is now with the Rangers, giving him a front-row seat to Chisenhall's performance. Chisenhall is also the first player to hit three or more homers and collect nine or more RBI in the same game since Alex Rodriguez battered the Angels for three homers and 10 RBI as a member of the Yankees on April 26, 2005. Only three other players — Bill Mueller, Erubiel Durazo and Sammy Sosa — have combined for three homers and nine RBI in a game since 2000.
As far as team records go, Chisenhall is just the second player in Indians history to collect nine or more RBI in a single game, joining Chris James, who drove in nine as part of a two-homer game in a 20-6 rout of the Athletics back on May 4, 1991. And in terms of major league records, Chisenhall's night was one of the rarer events in the sport's history. Since 1914, only three other players have ever recorded five or more hits, three or more homers and nine or more RBI in the same game. The last to do it was Fred Lynn back on June 18, 1975, for the Red Sox against the Tigers, when he went 5-for-6 with three homers, a triple, a single and 10 RBI in a 15-1 win. The other two men: Gil Hodges for the Dodgers in 1950 (5-for-6, four homers, nine RBI) and Walker Cooper of the Cincinnati Reds in 1949 (6-for-7, three homers, 10 RBI).
It's unlikely Monday's outburst will turn Chisenhall into the second coming of Albert Belle at the plate (again, just 27 career homers before his three-dinger barrage), but that shouldn't take away from his season to date. Coming into 2014 as a platoon player at best with Carlos Santana at third base, the left-handed Chisenhall has made the most of his opportunity, battering right-handers to the tune of a .336/.386/.511 line. Interestingly enough, he's actually been better against left-handers this year, with a 1.236 OPS against them. That's come in a tiny sample size of 28 plate appearances, however; for his career, Chisenhall's OPS vs. lefties has been a less-eye popping .718.
Regardless, Chisenhall's hot start and Santana's struggles led to increased playing time for him at third, and even with Santana back, it's likely Terry Francona will try to get him at-bats across the diamond. One possibility is at first base, where Nick Swisher has stumbled to an 81 OPS+ so far. Swisher has hit right-handers marginally better than left-handers this season, but historically, he's been better against southpaws (career OPS of .842 against them as opposed to .800 against right-handers, not to mention a split of .918/.680 against lefties and righties last season). As such, Francona could see if a straight platoon snaps Swisher out of his season-long slump while still making room for Chisenhall. With Swisher currently on the DL with a knee injury, Francona has given Chisenhall some starts at first, including five in a row last week; whether that will continue when Swisher returns later this week is unclear.
Chisenhall isn't the only Indians player hitting the ball well right now. Michael Brantley
launched his team-leading 10th homer in Monday's win, and the Indians got three-hit days from him, Asdrubal Cabrera
and Jason Kipnis
. All that hot hitting has resuscitated the once-moribund Indians, who have won nine of their last 10 and are just two games back of Detroit in the AL Central. The emergence of Chisenhall — one-time first-round bust and constant source of name-related laughter — has been a big part of that turnaround.