CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – It all started with a walk. Then, Rajai Davis started running.
The Indians never stepped on the brakes.
Davis’ 11-pitch at-bat to open the bottom of the first inning resulted in a base on balls for Cleveland’s leadoff man on Friday night, and two pitches later, Davis ripped off the first of the Tribe’s eight stolen bases of the evening, tying a franchise record in the Indians’ 13-3 thumping of the Los Angeles Angels at Progressive Field.
The center fielder stole second base on the second pitch to Jason Kipnis from Angels starter Tyler Skaggs, then swiped third on the very next pitch and later scored on Kipnis’ RBI single to left field, cutting into Los Angeles’ 2-0 lead entering the bottom half of the frame.
Davis would steal one more base on Friday night, adding to his AL-leading stolen base total, collecting his 29th, 30th and 31st bags of the 2016 campaign.
His aggressiveness — and perhaps something the team saw in the Skaggs-Geovany Soto battery combination — had Cleveland off to the races, as Davis (3), Jose Ramirez (3), Kipnis (1) and Francisco Lindor (1) all joined the stolen-base party.
“I think we just kind of have that aggressive nature,” Davis said slyly with a wink, careful not to tip his hand on what he saw from Skaggs and Soto. “And we’ve just got to go from there. We kind of just take what they give us.”
There must have been something they liked, because Soto entered the game with a 29 percent caught-stealing rate, slightly above the league average this season. And it’s not as if Skaggs has any extremely alarming stolen base totals listed among any of his career numbers.
“He just wasn’t pitching very quickly, and he had a movement that was easy to read for us to know when to go,” Jose Ramirez said through the team’s translator, Anna Bolton. “So we just took advantage of those opportunities.”
The franchise record eight steals tied the club’s mark from Aug. 27, 1917 vs. the Washington Senators. Cleveland also became the first MLB team to swipe eight bases in a single game since April 20, 2010.
This column features my takeaways from Friday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
A lot of teams can get labeled one thing or another. For some clubs, it’s all about power. For others, maybe it’s contact. Then you’ve got your speed teams. If there’s one thing this season continues to show us, it’s that Cleveland can’t be positioned as one-dimensional any longer.
The Indians rank fourth in baseball in runs scored and wRC+, fifth in home runs and fourth in stolen bases. They’re getting it done all over the map.
Interestingly enough, the Tribe’s offense hasn’t gotten the type of credit they probably deserve. Maybe it’s because the narrative suggested they wouldn’t be a great offensive club at the start of the season. Maybe it’s because they aren’t exactly conventional, using guys like Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot and the 5-foot-9 Jose Ramirez in the fifth slot.
Perhaps it’s just because the pitching was always supposed to be the backbone of the team. Sure, that hasn’t exactly changed, but has there really even been that big of a gap, if any at all, between the club’s pitching and hitting?
And it’s their ability to use several different ways to beat opponents that makes them dangerous.
“That’s the kind of dynamic we’ve had here in this lineup,” Kipnis said. “We’re having four or five guys passing our career years in home runs. We have almost the same thing with stolen bases. We know with the staff we have, it’s on us to score some runs and make it easier on them. You’ll see, not only with home runs and stolen bases, we’re doing a good job of cashing in on the chances we do create. We’re getting guys to third with less than two outs and we’re cashing them in.”
2. NOT SO SECRET WEAPON
At the center of the Indians’ unexpected offensive surge this season has been Ramirez, who picked up three hits, scored four runs, slugged a homer and double and stole three bases on Friday night. The 23-year-old has blossomed in ways no one expected he would this season, and his continued development and production has been critical to the Tribe’s success.
The switch-hitter is now slashing .313/.368/.456 (124 wRC+) with eight home runs, 50 RBI, 62 runs, 17 stolen bases, 29 doubles and one triple this season. He now ranks 23rd in the AL in wins above replacement (3.2), is the AL’s fifth-hardest player to strike out, and he appears to be getting even more comfortable since taking over every day third base duties this month.
“I think of it is has gone a little bit under the radar because of [Mike Napoli], which I understand,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But my goodness. He’s driving the ball. He doesn’t strike out, running the bases.
“I do think being at third has probably helped him. He had to work so hard in left, I think it took some of his energy at times. But you can even see him moving a little better at third now. His arm looks like he’s finding his release point. We talked about it Spring Training hoping he can be a weapon. I’d say that was probably an understatement.”
3. SLAYING SOUTHPAWS
Brandon Guyer continues to do what the Indians acquired him to do: crush left-handed pitching.
The right-handed hitting corner outfielder stepped into action against Skaggs on Friday night and picked up three hits, scored a run and tied his career high with five RBI in the throttling of Los Angeles. Guyer, since being acquired by the Tribe just prior to the Aug. 1 trade deadline from the Tampa Bay Rays, is now batting .467 with six RBI in the month of August.
Most of that damage has been done against lefties.
His addition has brought some needed balance to the lineup. And his ability to matchup against southpaws has made him a perfect fit for the Tribe’s roster, providing the perfect complement to left-handed hitting outfielders Lonnie Chisenhall and Tyler Naquin.
“His at-bats have been really quality at-bats, too,” Francona said. “Even his first at-bat the night here we got blown out, he had an eight-pitch at-bat. He’s got a chance to do what [he’s done all season long].”
4. ANGELIC OPENING
Cleveland has outscored the Angels 27-7 in the first two games of the four-game series, getting plenty of solid pitching from Thursday’s starter Corey Kluber and Friday’s starter Carlos Carrasco to back some outstanding offense.
After taking a bruising recently from teams like the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees, the ability to take advantage of a soft portion of their schedule was pretty critical to the Indians. With the Detroit Tigers taking on a tough Texas Rangers squad — currently the best team in the AL — this weekend provided the perfect backdrop to potentially add some more distance between themselves and Detroit in the Central Division race.
So far, so good for the Tribe.
5. END OF ARGUMENT
Following the game, Jason Kipnis, who went 4-for-5 with three runs, two doubles, a steal and two RBI in Friday’s blowout victory, put on a pair of cargo shorts before talking to the media.
Moments later, Rajai Davis also spoke to the media wearing the much-maligned, pocket-filled, short pants of choice.
With all this recent talk about cargo shorts now being fashion faux pas, two of the biggest difference makers in Friday night’s matchup decided the shorts were stylish enough for them to sport. You’re really going to argue with that?