The Indians began spring training back in February with the goal of becoming an improved team on the bases, and that early emphasis has paid major dividends. The Tribe led the American League in baserunning according to FanGraphs, stealing bases more frequently and taking extra bases more efficiently than any other team in the league.
“We don’t have to steal bases to be a good baserunning team,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think that’s one of our strengths, and I think it will continue.”
Cleveland stole 134 bases as a team, with an AL-best 81 percent success rate, and boast four players who swiped at least 15. Rajai Davis, at the age of 35, stole a league-leading 43 bases in 48 attempts (roughly 88 percent), followed by Jose Ramirez (22), Lindor (19), and Kipnis (15).
“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.”
Boston catchers Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez, who threw out 22 of 57 base stealers this season (39 percent), and the team’s catchers as a unit were below league average.
But swiping bags is only part of the equation. The Tribe was also the best in the league at taking extra bases, claiming 186 of them on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, and defensive decisions, and at advancing the extra base on balls in play, which they did at a 45 percent rate.
For Cleveland to find success against the Red Sox, the club must use its speed and baserunning acumen to its advantage, challenging Boston’s pitchers to control the running game and applying pressure to defenders to make plays with their arms. The Indians did that better than anyone else in the league all season long, and must continue to use it as a weapon.