MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Tribe flying high with full team effort

Indians win 6th straight to build lead atop AL Central

Tribe flying high with full team effort

SEATTLE -- The end result has been impressive so far this year for the Cleveland Indians.

With a 3-1 victory against the Mariners at Safeco Field on Monday night, the Indians extended a season-best winning streak to six in a row. They extended their American League Central lead to 2 1/2 games over the defending champion Royals, who were swept out of first place by the Tribe beating them four times last weekend.

Go figure.

Four of Cleveland's top eight run producers last season haven't been around this year, other than Michael Brantley, who was second on the team with 84 RBIs in 2015 and did play in 11 games in between stints on the disabled list because of last offseason's right shoulder surgery. And that '15 team tied for eighth in the AL with 81 wins and ranked 11th in runs scored with 669.

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Now look at the Indians. They are sitting atop their division and rank fourth in the AL in runs scored with 271, more than any other team in the AL Central.

How's that?

"We need contributions from everybody on the team," said manager Terry Francona. "And we get them. It's not a bad way to play."

Bauer K's 10 to earn win

There's no denying the excellent effort Trevor Bauer had in limiting the Mariners to just that one run in 7 2/3 innings on Monday night, and while three runs is far from overpowering, the manner in which those three runs scored underscores the way Cleveland has been able to win.

Start with the fact that Mike Napoli, who leads the team with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs despite a .234 average, struck out four times, including with one out in the first with runners on second and third.

Rajai Davis did, however, hit a home run, in the sixth, to expand the lead to the 3-1 final.

Davis' solo blast

And the Indians scored two runs in the fourth in a tribute to the way they try to force the issue. After Carlos Santana singled with one out, Jose Ramirez doubled. Third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh waved Santana home, and he scored to tie the game 1-1 when a strong relay throw from shortstop Ketel Marte sailed by catcher Chris Iannetta, who was charged with an error.

That allowed Ramirez to advance to third, from where he scored on Juan Uribe's sacrifice fly.

"When he sent him, I thought it was a good call," Francona said. "We caught a break when [Iannetta] didn't handle the relay. But that's what happens when you are aggressive."

Francona smiled.

"It's a fun way to play," he said.

Any way is a fun way when a team is winning, and the Tribe is certainly doing that.

Ramirez doubles, Santana scores

Thirty-three days ago, Cleveland was in fourth place in the AL Central, a game below .500. Today, the Indians are atop the division, 2 1/2 games up on the Royals, and 3 1/2 on the Tigers and the White Sox.

"Napoli is obviously our big guy," Francona said. "But we need to get contributions 1 through 9 and help from the bench."

How big of a guy is Napoli? Well, on the current roster, the five active outfielders have a combined total of 11 home runs and 48 RBIs, three fewer home runs and only six more RBIs than Napoli's totals.

And that's without Marlon Byrd, who was leading the outfielders in home runs with five before he was handed a 162-game suspension on June 1 for a repeated violation of MLB's drug policy.

So far, however, so good.

Cleveland has, after all, found a way to win in five of the 11 games in which Napoli has struck out four times. He has driven in one run total in 54 at-bats in those games. It's not always pretty, but this isn't gymnastics. There aren't points for form, just runs for each player who crosses home plate.

The Indians aren't blowing other teams away, but then their pitching staff has done a good job of keeping them in games, like the effort from Bauer on Monday. The Tribe does, after all, rank third in the AL with a 3.72 ERA.

Not that the Indians are getting complacent. Not even that four-game sweep of the Royals has them giddy.

"It's over," Francona said shortly before embarking on a four-game showdown with the Mariners. "In this game, you have to move on quick. You don't look back."

But then why would the Indians? The way they are playing gives them reason to be excited about what may be ahead.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.