Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Future Must Be Without Wedge

The Cleveland Indians have been capitalizing on a very weak schedule for the last week. Winning six in a row, even with a couple miracle come backs against horrendous teams, has raised my expectations. Will this be the year we get the Wild Card and do some damage in the playoffs. Well those dreams were harnessed last night when the Tribe lost to the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays 8-6.

Even though the Indians hit into three double plays and made five errors going into the bottom of the ninth they still had a chance. Trailing 8-5 in the ninth the Indians scored and had runners at first and second with no outs. Then Wedge the genius struck again! Ronnie Belliard, who can't bunt to save his life, is asked to bunt --- this is after going 3 for 4 with three doubles. On his first attempt Belliard fouls Tampa Bay reliever Danys Baez's first pitch off for for strike one. Wait a Wild Card second here, Baez leads the American League in blown saves and we're trying to scratch for runs. Anyway, instead of taking the bunt off Wedge has Belliard bunt again. What do you think happened? Of course, Belliard bunts right back to Baez who forces the runner at third. Now with one out, Aaron Boone comes up and grounds into the Indians' fourth double play of the night. Game over. Game lost in the Wild Card standings.

Idiotic moves like Belliard bunting have been common in Wedge's mode of operation. If we're ever to reach the playoffs on Larry Dolan's shoestring budget it won't be with Wedge leading the Tribe's charge.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Buckeye State Football is the Grand Daddy of Them All

While on vacation on the beautiful Gulf shores of Florida, I ran across a Continental Airlines worker at the Tampa International Airport who bled Ohio State Buckeye scarlet & gray. Recognizing my brother-in-law's Ohio State t-shirt from about fifty-yards away, he waved us to his line faster then Ted Ginn cut through the "team up north's" (I promise Woody, I'll never say that foul eight-letter word) porous defense and special teams last November. We talked Ohio State and Ohio football with him for about ten minutes and then went on our way to our plane.

As I sat on the plane on the flight back I began to think ... Ohio really is the best football state in the country. Forget Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania, they don't even come close to the history and fervor Ohio and its residents hold for the sport. What other state can claim it's the birthplace of football? Home of legendary coaches like Paul Brown and Woody Hayes? What states' residents thirst for pigskin news year round no matter the team? Even if it's the lowly Bengals.

Football is Ohio born and bred. From the hallowed high school history of the Massillon Tigers to crisp autumn afternoons rooting on the Ohio State Buckeyes to the legendary "Battles of Ohio" featuring the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, Ohio football is heaven --- even if we've had to put up with a few devils ... Art Modell, John Cooper, Sam Wyche.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Wake Me When It's Football Season

Doom and gloom have set in on the 2005 Cleveland Indians. The torture of listening to Eric Wedge's half-hearted "Well, you got to tip your hat to FILL IN THE BLANK TEAM" as the Tribe drops game after game and plummets from contention is getting repulsive. The organization's continual excuses of being a small market team and we're only so many games out of the Wild Card frustrates fans, obvious by the poor attendance at Jacobs Field.

What might help the team win is a reinforcement of fundamentals like the pitchers holding runners on base, batters getting sacrifice bunts down and the manager calling a hit and run in the right situation. If all of the above do not change soon, you can wake me when football season officially begins.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Indians' Offense is Offensive

Don't be fooled by the 10 runs the Cleveland Indians scored Thursday afternoon against the lowly Kansas City Royals ... the 2005 edition of the Tribe lacks the punch and consistency found in contending teams. Explore the Indians' lineup position by position and you'll find below average ouput at almost every position.

Leftfield and Rightfield - Leftfielder Coco Crisp is a decent hitter with some pop in his bat but for a corner outfielder his stats are far below the norm. Each corner outfield position should yield 25 to 35 home runs and more than 100 RBIs. You couldn't get those stats if you added Crisp's numbers with those of rightfielder Casey Blake. Blake's anemic average and lack of aggressiveness at the plate have caused fans pain all year long.

Centerfield - Grady Sizemore has held his own in his first full Major League season. He's currently struggling but has proven he belongs in the Majors. The Indians can look forward to Sizemore providing 20 home run, 100 RBI performances for years to come.

Third Base and First Base - Once again, weak numbers from historic power positions. The combination of Third Baseman Aaron Boone and First Baseman Ben Broussard make former Tribe corner infielders like Brook Jacoby and Pat Tabler seem like George Brett and Don Mattingly. Boone has been mired in a season-long funk as he tries to regain his form missing the 2004 season due to an ACL injury. He's beginning to hit a little better, but when you're hitting around .200 going 1 for 4 seems like you're tearing the cover off the ball. As for Broussard, his best position is as a utility player. His inconsistency and streaky nature make him ideal for coming off the bench to pinch hit or give a starter a day off.

Shortstop and Second Base - Jhonny Peralta has been solid in his rookie year. Double-digit home runs, clutch-hitting and an average above .275 has made the departure of Omar Vizquel a little easier to swallow. Ronnie Belliard has been satisfactory at second. His stats are decent for a second sacker but his lackdaisical play is enough to rival Manny Ramirez --- minus the 40+ home runs and 140 RBIs. We won't miss Ronnie if he's traded or not back next year.

Catcher and Designated Hitter - Victor Martinez' horrid start has dampened his average. He's currently hitting around .250 with modest power and RBI numbers. I think his multi-year contract extension played a role in his early season slump. Even though he's struggled somewhat this year, Martinez is definitely one of the top offensive catchers in the American League. The same can be said for Travis Hafner at the designated hitter position. Hafner, after a slow start, has been red hot. The American League Player of the Month for June hits for average, power and RBIs. Hopefully he can recover from his facial beaning at the hands of Mark Buerlhe and help the Tribe during the second half.

Summary, we're still rebuilding even in our year of promised contention. We have four players we can count on in the future: Hafner, Martinez, Sizemore and Peralta. I say let's be modest buyers at the trade deadline and acquire some legitimate Major League talent that will help us contend this year and next.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Indian Fever is More Like the Plague

I don't know why I get excited about Larry Dolan's Cleveland Indians. Put under the clamps of Dolan's fiscal responsibility we're promised contention, not championships ... contention. That's just great! I have a chance to contend every week in the Mega Millions drawings, my odds of winning are slim! Same as the Indians chances of winning a championship during Dolan's reign.

Do you call trailing the Chicago White Sox by 14 games in the middle of July contention? I know, I know we're only two games out of the Wild Card spot, but I don't think Mark Shapiro was talking about the Wild Card when he said we'd contend in 2005. While at today's game I saw a team playing with no heart. Going through the motions following the same script of every other game they've lost against the White Sox: fall behind early, give in and take defeat. The Indians need a spark, something they've been missing since Eric Wedge gave the Detroit Tigers the game July 5 by sitting his hottest hitter Travis Hafner (the day before he hit .600 with three home runs in a doubleheader sweep). If the players aren't responding it's the manager's job to get them going. Wedge, no more of this we'll take it day to day. The team is struggling, you have no chance to overtake the White Sox and the Wild Card is beginning to slip away. Step up and light a fire under this team or the only thing you'll be contending for is third place in the "historic" American League Central.

For all of us who catch "Indian Fever" when this team teases us with a good string of games, we've really contracted the "Indian Plague." Because we should know, the team will die in the race for the post season and so will our hopes for ever seeing a championship.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Cavaliers Off-Season Has Been Fan-tastic

So far the Cleveland Cavaliers summer has been everything a true fan would want --- strides towards greatly improving the team. First, Mike Brown, then Danny Ferry, then Larry Hughes (thank God not Michael Redd --- that would have been a Buckeye state impulse buy), then Z. And please people, stop complaining about Z! He led the National Basketball Association in offensive rebounds last season, ranked sixth in blocked shots and you want to complain. I have four words for you: Remember losing Brad Daugherty.

What will be next? Hopefully the team's next move will be to solidfy the point guard position. It looks like Bowling Green graduate Antonio Daniels is off the Cavaliers' wish list, well actually he has removed himself in search of a large contract. According to the media buzz former Miami Heat guard Damon Jones and Lithuanian legend Sarunas Jasikevicius are high on the team's list. Personally I hope they land Jasikevicius. He's internationally-tested, has a deadly jumper and is a take control, gutsy player. His desire, along with LeBron's, can will this team to victories.

After taking care of the point guard position I'd like the Cavaliers to address their inside defensive presence. This can be done by signing a strong, intimidating front-line player in the mold of what Danny Fortson did for Seattle last season, or by trading Drew Gooden and either Aleksander Pavlovic or Luke Jackson. Enforcers available on the free-agent market include Robert "Tractor" Traylor (unrestricted), Gerald Wallace (restricted), Stromile Swift (unrestricted), Vitaly Potapenko (unrestricted) and Dikembe Mutombo (unrestricted).

Cavaliers fans, no matter what Danny Ferry's next moves are it looks like we're going to have a fan-tastic season to enjoy this fall.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Build It and He May Stay

Danny Ferry is at the forefront of the most important summer in the history of Cleveland Cavaliers. Ferry is trying to lay the foundation for a championship team with LeBron James being the beautiful, picturesque skyscraper that rises from the construction with the National Basketball Association's O'Brien Trophy triumphantly high above his head. But we must consider, will all this be for naught? Even if Ferry builds a contender around the "Chosen One" will he still bolt to grand metro areas such as New York City, Los Angeles or Boston where he can collect additional endorsement money from Nike?

When James' free-agency comes up after the 2008 season the collective-bargaining agreement factors that led to Ray Allen and Michael Redd staying with their current teams will not matter. Why? Because the endorsement details James has inked already far exceed any contract a team will be able to offer, including the Cavaliers. The elements that may come into play can not be controlled by the Cavaliers. Will Nike and Sprite pressure James and his Four Horsemen management team to maximize his marketability? Or will the tax-free payroll of the Florida teams take James to his own Magical Kingdom? We'll have to wait and see.

My prediction is the "Big Apple" will be LeBron's home in 2008. It's on record, going back to his high school career at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, that his surrogate stepfather Eddie Jackson wants him to earn as much as he can, meaning seizing the marketing power of a major market. Further, LeBron loves playing in New York City --- the basketball Mecca. But most importantly is James' relationship with rap star and Nets' minority owner Jay-Z . In 2008 Jay-Z's Nets are moving to Brooklyn ... new arena, new uniforms, a new era. What better way to make an impact than to bring basketball's most recognizable star to Brooklyn? Enjoy it while you can Cavaliers fans, because LeBron's days with the Cavaliers are going fast. As Jay-Z might say to us, being a Cleveland fan is a hard knock life!