By Craig Gifford
Theft is a crime that will usually land a person in jail. Time in the slammer is not something the Cleveland Indians need to worry about for any of their players at the moment, but stealing has become a way of life for the team.
Opposing teams have been sentenced this season to watching the Indians turn many a single into a double. Cleveland has been able to manufacture runs without a big bop because the club is among the league leaders when it comes to stolen bases and stolen base accuracy.
There is no one on this current roster who will remind anyone of the blazing fast Kenny Lofton, or come close to Lofton’s gaudy numbers of the 1990s. However, with some quickness, combined with solid baseball instincts, the Indians have catapulted near the top of the list in thievery.
The Tribe currently ranks fifth in Major League Baseball with 42 swipes. No team is close to Miami’s league-leading 60, but Cleveland is only three off second place Tampa Bay. The secret to Miami’s success is having two players running better than anyone else in the game. Emilio Bonifacio is far and away the game’s top stolen base artist with 20 of them. Teammate Jose Reyes is tied for second in baseball with 15.
Cleveland has three main players who have revved up the engines upon reaching base. Jason Kipnis, tied for 10th in the majors, with 11 steals, leads the way for the Indians. Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo are at nine and eight, respectively. That trio has certainly spear-headed the Tribe’s running attack, but they are far from alone. Nine players on the team have stolen at least one bag this season.
All the stealing only helps. The Indians don’t have that traditional middle-of-the-order, drive everyone home with one swing of the bat type of player. Cleveland needs to play more small ball to score runs. It means getting key base hits, sacrificing and taking the extra base whenever possible. Turning that single into a double is huge for a team of players more likely to get a base hit than a long bomb.
Key, too, for the Indians is they are not running themselves out of innings. They stand eighth in the big leagues with a 76 percent success rate. Kipnis and Choo have been caught stealing an astonishingly low one time apiece. Brantley has been denied of swiping a team-high four times. The only player on the team with more times tagged out than successfully stealing is Shelley Duncan, who has one steal in three attempts. Even those numbers are a bit surprising as Duncan is not thought of as someone who is fleet of foot.
The Tribe runs and that can partially be credited to manager Manny Acta. Acta’s roots are in the National League, where he began his managerial career at the helm of Washington. The NL is known for small ball and doing the little things to manufacture runs. Acta has brought that mentality to the Indians. That is important for a team that won’t have anyone hit 40 home runs this year and be hard-pressed to have player knock much more than 30 long balls.
If the Indians are to stay in the AL Central race and contend for a postseason berth, it will be due to doing the little things better than most other squads. They have done that so far this season and need to continue doing so.
Kenny Lofton is not walking into the Tribe’s clubhouse doors any time soon. Nor, too, are past notable larceny greats like Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar or a fully healthy and spry Grady Sizemore. Still, the Indians seem to have a team full of guys who could take off at any moment and likely be successful. That should continue as the combination of good coaching and good fundamentals don’t usually get lost mid season.
The Tribe will continue stealing bases and, in doing so, hope it leads to stealing their way into October baseball.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images