ANAHEIM -- Manny Acta has had one common refrain when asked about his expectations for the Indians this season. The Tribe's manager leans forward, flashes a look of extreme seriousness and pounds one fist on his desk.
"Win," Acta says fiercely.
That is all. Short and sweet and to the point. No matter what the experts have predicted, no matter how many losses came in the previous season, or during the one before that, Acta has maintained that the only goal for this young Indians squad is to scratch and claw its way into the win column.
On Monday night, Cleveland managed to do precisely that once again -- for the eighth game in a row -- with a 4-0 victory over the Angels out in Orange County. Behind a pair of early home runs, enough bang to back a strong performance from starter Mitch Talbot, the Indians continued their early season surge.
"It's a lot of fun to play baseball when the team is playing like this," said reliever Vinnie Pestano, the lone rookie on the Tribe's youthful roster.
Pestano grew up "in the shadow" of Angel Stadium, dreaming of one day pitching inside the ballpark. He finally got that chance Monday and -- with a significant cast of family and friends in the stands -- Pestano retired Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Alberto Callaspo in order in the ninth to seal Cleveland's latest win.
When the Indians wake up on Tuesday morning, they will have been alone in first place in the American League Central for five days. It might not seem like an enormous achievement, considering it is still only early April, but prior to this run, Cleveland had not resided in the division's top spot since May 16, 2008.
The Indians' eight-game winning streak is its best run since piling up 10 consecutive victories from Aug. 17-27, 2008. The club's 4-0 start on the road is its top streak to open a season since going 6-0 away from home to begin the 1998 tour. At 8-2 overall, the Tribe is off to its best start since going 11-1 out of the gates in '02.
"That's what we need with how young we are," Pestano said. "We need that confidence. We need that momentum."
With sweeps of the Red Sox and Mariners, and wins against the White Sox and Angels acting as bookends, momentum has appeared to be on Cleveland's side so far. That has made the Tribe one of baseball's early surprises.
Not for Acta, though.
"We knew coming out of Spring Training that we had a pretty good ballclub here," the manager said. "These guys are going to go after it."
A winning streak such as this one begins and ends with pitching.
That explains why, in the first two games of this season, the Indians picked up a pair of losses. On Opening Day, Fausto Carmona gave up 10 runs in three innings. On the following afternoon, Carlos Carrasco yielded seven in 6 2/3 frames. It was a dreadful start for a club coming off a 93-loss showing last year.
"Two games doesn't define your season," Acta said. "After that, they turned it around."
The Tribe's rotation has fired off strong performances like a turret gun -- Talbot the latest out of the barrel. After Talbot shut out the Angels (5-5) over eight innings, Acta gave him a chance at going the distance. A ninth-inning leadoff double from Bobby Abreu -- on Talbot's 112th offering -- changed the manager's mind.
After Pestano made quick work of the Halos, Talbot collected his first win of the season. It was an impressive effort for the right-hander, who was the long Tribesman not to log at least six innings in a game during the streak. Overall, Talbot ended with five hits scattered, four strikeouts and 13 outs created via grounders.
"You watch our starters dominate," Talbot said, "and you're like, 'I want to do that.' "
It helped that Talbot was handed an early cushion.
In the first inning, Asdrubal Cabrera drilled a 92-mph four-seamer from rookie right-hander Tyler Chatwood deep to center field for a solo home run. It was the fourth blast this season, and second in as many days, for the Indians shortstop. He had three home runs in all of 2010.
"He's unbelievable right now, isn't he?" Pestano said.
It was Matt LaPorta's turn in the second. The Tribe's first baseman sent a pitch from Chatwood slicing to right field for a three-run shot, putting the Indians up, 4-0. That was the extent of the damage allowed for Chatwood in his big league debut, but it was enough to do the Angels in.
Of course, Talbot saw to it that the lead held up.
With his steller outing, Talbot trimmed the ERA of Cleveland's rotation down to 1.55 over the course of the eight-game winning streak. Now, the staff will turn to ace Carmona, and then No. 2 man Carrasco, with a shot at winning a second road series in a row.
No one saw this coming.
"I don't think anybody expected us to come out like this," Talbot said. "But, look down the lineup. It's pretty good."
The streak has been worthy of even more superlatives.
"It's unbelievable. It's awesome," Talbot added. "The thing is, I think we're capable of keeping it going."