Covering the Bases: Game 47

Baltimore Orioles v Cleveland Indians

Some notes and quotes from Saturday’s 11-4 win over Baltimore.

FIRST: What were you doing 1,061 days ago?

On July 2, 2013, the Indians were coming off a fifth straight win and they moved into sole possession of first place in the American League Central. Perhaps you, loyal Tribe fan, thought Cleveland would remain their for a while. Well…

… that brings us to today.

With their win over the Orioles — Cleveland’s ninth in the past 13 games — the Indians moved back into sole possession of first in the AL Central. It’s the first time the Tribe can claim as much since that date three years ago. This is the first time the Indians have been in first at all since they were 1-0 to start the 2014 campaign.

What is remarkable about this run to the top of the division is that Cleveland has accomplished it without Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley for the bulk of this season.

“There’s people filling in,” Indians first baseman Mike Napoli said. “They’re doing a good job of coming up here and competing and doing what they can. It’s going to take all of us to do this. We can’t just have individuals out there on their own playing. I think we’ve done a good job of sticking together and getting what pitchers have been giving us, and passing it on to the next guy.

“It’s something that we’re going to have to continue to do to become more of a group and move forward.”

SECOND: During Cleveland’s recent trip to Boston, I caught up with Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield. Butter is one of the best third-base coaches and infield instructors in the game, and he loves him some Mike  Napoli.

When Napoli played for Boston, Butterfield would instruct younger players in camp to take their cues from the first baseman. Butter is incredibly detail-oriented and that characteristic is one reason he enjoyed having Napoli so much.

“Every little thing in the game is important to him,” Butterfield said. “People look at him and they see a big strong guy that has power and they think: ‘OK, one-dimensional.’ He’s one of the best baserunners in the league. He’s very detailed. If he had to drop down sacrifice bunts, he would do that for you. If he was asked to hit and run, he would do that for you.

“When you run your team defense, he knows where everybody is supposed to be, especially his position. If his toes need to be on the line, they’re going to be exactly on the line. He’s not going to fall an inch short.

“I love everything about him. The thing that makes him such a great baserunner is he cares about it. He takes great pride in it and he’s absolutely fearless.”

The baserunning element came into play on Saturday.

Any avid Tribe fan reading this should recall that Ubaldo Jimenez is not great at holding baserunners. It goes without saying that opposing teams — especially the pitcher’s former team — know this about the Big U. Cleveland exploited it, too, stealing four of five bases Saturday against the lanky right-hander.

In the Tribe’s four-run first, Napoli led the charge on a key double steal.

Guess what he noticed about Jimenez?

“He was not really paying too much attention,” Napoli said. “He looked home and would go. So, as soon as he turned his head, I just went.”

Napoli beat the throw from catcher Matt Wieters to third base, and Jose Ramirez followed suit behind him at second. Two batters later, Yan Gomes brought them both home with an single to right field.

“Everyone wants to talk about someone has to be fast to be a good baserunner,” Napoli said. “But, it takes instincts. It takes thinking ahead and having a plan. If a guy is going to give you a base, go and take it. That’s how I was brought up. I think we do a good job here.”

THIRD: Running the bases was not only critical in Saturday’s win, it’s been a strength of Cleveland’s all season long.

With Saturday’s performance, the Indians increased their team baserunning rating to 8.8, which ranks first in the American League. Heading into Saturday, Cleveland also ranked first with an extra-base taken rate of 52 percent. The Tribe’s 37 steals (and 80.4 percent success rate) both rank second in the AL.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of with our guys,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It’s something we talked about the first day of Spring Training. … I think the way you run the bases, it obviously helps in a number of ways during the game. But, I think guys that run the bases correctly, regardless of whether they got hits or not, are the same guys that back up bases.

“It goes a long way towards how you’re going to play the game. I think our guys have done a really good job in that area.”

HOME: The Indians had the upper hand on Saturday when the lineup cards were exchanged. First of all, the struggling Jimenez was on the mound. Second, Pedro Alvarez was manning third base. Predictably, Jimenez labored (1.2 innings) and Alvarez made two of Baltimore’s four errors, paving the way for three runs.

That said, Cleveland did what good teams do: It took advantage on a day things were stacked up in its favor. Eight players scored at least one run. Five knocked in at least one. Four players had multi-hit games. There were not many huge hits, but rather a collection of well-timed ones for a strong all-around offensive showing.

“How many times do you see a guy where you let him off the hook,” Francona said, “and then they settle into the game? We did a good job of not allowing that to happen. It made for a better game for us, because you could see [the Orioles] coming.”

It was more than sufficient for Danny Salazar, who gave the Indians a solid outing, in which he allowed two runs on six hits in six innings. The righty wasn’t at his best, but the early lead played in his favor.

“That was great,” Salazar said of the early cushion. “[That] gives you a little more confidence to go out there and to work really strong so they can’t come back. I think that’s big. I think that makes the game a little bit easier for us.”

Stay tuned for more…


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