CLEVELAND -- The Tribe kept running. Three stolen bases in the first inning. Another pair in the fourth. By the end of the night, the Indians had eight thefts, matching a franchise record that had stood since the days of Braggo Roth nearly a century ago.After that Aug. 12 display
CLEVELAND -- The Tribe kept running. Three stolen bases in the first inning. Another pair in the fourth. By the end of the night, the Indians had eight thefts, matching a franchise record that had stood since the days of Braggo Roth nearly a century ago.
After that Aug. 12 display against the Angels, Rajai Davis was asked what the team found within Tyler Skaggs' delivery that made so many steals possible. Cleveland's fleet-footed outfielder cocked his head and flashed a grin. He was not about to reveal any secrets.
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"It was a little bit of just instincts," Davis said, "with a bit of preparation."
Dating back to Day 1 of Spring Training, baserunning preparation was high on the priority list for the Indians. The American League Central champs ended the season with the second-highest run total in the league, but no one around the team expected that kind of production. Cleveland expected to manufacture runs, and running the bases well was going to be integral to acheive that goal.
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On the eve of Game 1 of the AL Division Series against Boston -- beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday on TBS -- the Indians are the best baserunning team in the league. The Tribe led the AL in stolen bases (134), stolen-base success rate (81 percent) and FanGraphs' all-encompassing Baserunning metric (17.1).
"We don't have to steal bases to be a good baserunning team," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think that's one of our strengths, and I think it will continue."
As Francona noted, steals are not Cleveland's only weapon.
This season, the Indians took an AL-leading 186 bases via fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks or defensive indifference. Cleveland also ranked first in the league in extra-base taken rate (45 percent), which includes advancing more than one base on a single or more than two on a double. Cleveland's 104 steals of second base led the AL, as did the team's 29 thefts of third.
Anyone asked about the baserunning said it all begins with Davis.
"Rajai has shown the way to steal bases," Indians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. said. "He's not just a fast guy. He prepares himself. He knows what the guys are going to do. He has a great idea of what to do when he gets on base, and what guys are going to do to him."
Francona explained it in more simplified terms.
"When you put him in to pinch-run," Francona said, "and the whole world knows he's going to steal, he still can steal."
At 35 years old, and in his 11th Major League season, Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases. He became the first player since Rickey Henderson in 1998 to have at least that many thefts at age 35 or older. Davis was the first Indians player to lead the AL in steals since 1996 (Kenny Lofton) and his season total was more than the Mets, Cardinals and Orioles had as a team.
Davis led the AL with a 10.0 Baserunning rating, though Cleveland's Jose Ramirez was not far behind in fourth (8.7). Davis, Ramirez (22 steals), Francisco Lindor (19) and Jason Kipnis (15) gave Cleveland four players with at least 15 steals and 70 runs, equaling a club record also set in 1993 and 1903. Carlos Santana led the AL in bases taken (29) and Lonnie Chisenhall ranked as Cleveland's third-best runner (2.7 Baserunning rating).
Lindor said watching Davis makes the younger players want to keep up.
"You see the veteran guy working hard, competing day in and day out," said the 22-year-old Lindor. "Me, as a younger guy, I'm not going to let him make me look bad, you know? I've got to do things right. If they're doing it right, and they're older than me, and they've been in the league for 10 years plus, then I've got to do it like they're doing."
Davis was quick to credit Alomar -- a former catcher with 20 years of experience in the Majors -- for his role in Cleveland's running game.
"Sandy's excellent," Davis said. "He's one of the best in the game at just kind of helping us out and reading pitchers. It's really been a blessing to be able to work with Sandy."
The biggest example came on Aug. 12 against the Angels.
After Cleveland identified something between Skaggs and catcher Geovany Soto, the club had an historic showing. Davis stole second and third in the first and Kipnis followed suit with a steal in the opening frame. Ramirez swiped second and third in the fourth. Davis nabbed second again in the fifth and Ramirez did the same. Lindor got in on the action in the sixth, stealing second and moving to third on an error.
Not since Aug. 27, 1917, when Tris Speaker, Joe Harris, Bill Wambsganss and Roth achieved the feat, had a Cleveland club stolen eight bags.
"Sometimes," Davis said, "you've just got to go out there and go."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.