CLEVELAND: Whatever happened to the Indians’ touted running game?
This was the year the Tribe — led by Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera — was going to steal 200 bases, at least that’s how many thefts Stubbs predicted.
Stubbs’ forecast was a little over the top, but he can be excused because last year he stole 30, 10 short of his career best. Bourn stole 42 bases, not even close to his career high of 61, a number he has reached twice.
Kipnis, a raw rookie in 2011, amassed 31 steals in 2012; Brantley contributed 12, and Cabrera stole nine bases. That adds up to 124 for the five guys who form the nucleus of the club’s running game.
But going into Thursday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox, the Indians (along with the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros) had stolen only four bases all season. Only the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, among American League teams, have stolen fewer (3).
The league leaders are the Oakland Athletics with 18, followed by the Red Sox (12), Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals (10).
So is the Tribe being ill served by manager Terry Francona in not taking advantage of running opportunities? Or have circumstances beyond his control forced the Wahoos to pull back?
With only 13 games in the books, it’s difficult to extract trends from the available data. One element has been blowouts. In almost half the Indians’ games (6), they have either won or lost by five or more runs.
“Some of our games have been lopsided,” Francona said, referring to the fact that when a team is way ahead or way behind, stealing bases becomes a seldom-used weapon.
Even though the Tribe has not made opposing pitchers uncomfortable by having runners constantly in motion, the threat is there.
“When you have team speed, pitchers have to respect that,” Francona said. “If a pitcher is using a slide step and leaves a pitch up, it might get hit pretty hard.”
The Indians also have faced pitchers who excel at holding runners.
“You just can’t run on [Jake] Peavy,” Francona said.
With a lineup that has at least four legitimate home run threats — Mark Reynolds, Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher and Cabrera — stealing bases takes a back seat in certain situations.
If Brantley is on first and Swisher is at the plate, Brantley might hesitate to steal, because it would leave first base open and give the opposing pitcher a chance to pitch around Swisher or walk him intentionally.
“We have to think about all that stuff,” Francona said.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.