MIAMI -- The Indians have been enjoying one of their better stretches of this season, but it has not done the club much good in the American League Central standings.
Entering Sunday, Cleveland had won 14 of its past 19 games -- a stretch that included a season-best eight-game winning streak -- dating back to July 11. Over that same time period, however, the Indians had actually lost a half-game in the standings, given a similar hot stretch turned in by the division-leading Tigers.
Lately, it seems like the Indians and Tigers have won and lost on the same days.
"That won't happen the next four days," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "at least by my math."
Beginning Monday, Cleveland will host Detroit over a four-game series at Progressive Field. The Indians trailed the Tigers by three games in the division race heading into Sunday's action, and will have an opportunity to make up some ground in the standings.
Francona is looking forward to seeing how his club responds this week.
"You play all year to have a series like this be this important," Francona said. "That's exciting. If it's not, you don't have a heartbeat. So, good for us. I want our guys to enjoy the competition, because we're playing the best, and this is where we're trying to get. We're within striking distance, and it makes the games really exciting.
Francona said it was still too early to get too caught up in how close Cleveland is in either the division or AL Wild Card picture.
"I don't even talk about either one," Francona said. "You just try to win. We'll look up down the road, and if we've won the games we're supposed to, then there's a time to start looking at that. You can kind of get ahead of yourself a little bit. If you start doing math too early, you might flunk."
Numbers aside, speed still key for Bourn, Tribe
MIAMI -- Michael Bourn joined the Indians this season as one of the game's premier base stealers. The fleet-footed center fielder's numbers have been down in that department this year, but he is not getting too worked up over it.
Bourn knows he is still more than capable of altering a game with his legs.
"It's nothing I want to force upon myself," Bourn said. "If I can get a good jump, no matter how quick the pitcher is, I'm going to go. But they're mixing up everything. That means they're paying a lot of attention to me. A lot of attention on me is less attention on the hitter."
With Bourn creating a distraction on the bases, even if he does not run, the Indians feel that hitters such as Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis or Asdrubal Cabrera will see better pitches to attack.
In Saturday's 4-3 win over the Marlins, Bourn matched a career high with three stolen bases, Drew Stubbs chipped in two and the Indians posted their highest single-game total (six swipes) since Sept. 21, 2000. That upped Cleveland's stolen-base total on the season to 84, which was tied for the most in the American League, entering Sunday.
So, while Bourn's season showing of 16 thefts is low by his standards -- he averaged 51 stolen bases per year from 2008-2012 -- the Indians are still having success on the basepaths. In fact, Cleveland's 79-percent success rate on stolen bases ranks as the third-best percentage in the AL. The Indians also have the most stolen bases of third base (17) in the league.
"He's been very intelligent on the bases, and he hasn't run into very many outs," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Bourn. "That's important. When he gets on, every [pitcher] pretty much has been 1.1 or 1.2 [seconds] to the plate, so it doesn't always show up in stolen bases.
"But maybe Swish or Kip or Cabby, whoever's hitting there, they might be getting better pitches to hit."
The Indians have also used their speed in other ways beyond stolen bases.
Entering Sunday, Cleveland ranked first in the AL and second in the Majors in going first to third (or first to home) 76 times on the season. Bourn and Stubbs had done so 11 times apiece, putting them among the AL's top 12 runners in that category.
"The league overall handles stolen bases better now," Francona said. "It's part of the game, and pitchers' times to the plate are pretty consistent. You look up, you can come into a city and we're two-thirds of the way through the season and some guys ... it's not the big numbers as you saw a few years ago."
Quote to note
"They're good. The better hitters, the stronger hitters, you have to attack in. You can't just show in. You have to follow up and repeat, and it's easier said than done. Shoot, when Miguel Cabrera is standing up there, that's an imposing figure. So is Prince Fielder. But if you don't do it, they'll kill you."
-- Indians manager Terry Francona, on facing the Tigers' lineup
• In the ninth inning of Saturday's 4-3 win over the Marlins, Indians third baseman Mike Aviles fielded a bunt from Adeiny Hechavarria and made a decision that allowed Miami to put runners on first and second base with no outs. Rather than throwing to first base, Aviles looked toward second base for a possible double play, and wound up holding on to the ball.
Indians manager Terry Francona said that second-base umpire Doug Eddings moved into Aviles' line of vision, but the third baseman said that was not the case. Fortunately for Cleveland, closer Chris Perez retired the next three batters to seal the win.
"I don't think the ump got in the way," Aviles said. "It was just a play where I figured if he bunted hard, I could sneak it in at second and get him. I just realized when I came up to throw that it probably would've been a tough play, so I just held on to it. At that point, I'm not going to throw to first."
• Perez allowed one run in the ninth inning on Saturday, but did not let Miami's rally go any further, improving to 10-for-10 in save chances since June 28, when he made his first appearance following a stay on the disabled list. Since rejoining the bullpen, Perez has posted a 1.00 ERA (two earned runs in 18 innings) with a .200 opponents' batting average.
"Since he's come back, he's been really good," Francona said. "He's pitched a lot and he's been down in the zone, for the most part. I've been pretty impressed."
• Drew Stubbs had two stolen bases, but only two plate appearances in Saturday's victory. It marked only the eighth time since at least 1916 that a Cleveland player had at least two stolen bases and no more than two plate appearances in one game. Michael Brantley also accomplished the feat this season on June 23. Prior to this year, the last player to pull that off for the Tribe was Kenny Lofton on April 8, 1994.
• During Saturday's win in Miami, Bourn ended with three stolen bases and three runs scored. Bourn became the first Major League player with at least three thefts and three runs in one game since Juan Pierre did so for the White Sox on Sept. 30, 2010. Bourn is the first Indians player to pull off that feat since Coco Crisp on June 20, 2004.