Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cleveland News and Notes

News Flash: Antwan Jamison is Pretty Good

The Cavaliers won a close one in D.C. to go up 3-0 in their first round playoff series. The last two games really shouldn't have been as close as they were, score-wise. Game 2 was decided by 7 points, while Game 3 ended with a 6 point lead. The third game was about as ugly as it could be without resulting in a loss. The Cavs blew a 17 point lead in the third quarter before finally getting back on track in the fourth.

A performance like this should make Cleveland fans nervous because this Wizards team is far from a playoff contender. Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler (Washington's 1st and 3rd best players, respectively) have been sitting injured on the bench the whole series and this is the best effort the Cavs can put up? The only reassuring thought I can draw from the Cavs play as of late is that it is essentially a reflection of the regular season, where they tended to play down to the level of poor teams but doing just enough to win. On the flip side, the Cavs would elevate their game in the same way against the top teams.

Coach Brown needs to do a better job of keeping his team focused, especially with a big lead. It's difficult to pinpoint the source of the problem, but it's happened enough to provide some drama in the first round this year.

Cleveland is very fortunate Miami is on its way out of the playoffs, given the nightmares they've been causing Coach Brown the last few weeks. It's time for the Cavs to act like the 2nd seed and play a complete game; Detroit and Chicago will be far less forgiving.

Charlie Frye Unemployed

Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in.

I’ve been trying my best to ignore the Browns this off-season, but what they did in the draft this year defied expectations.

I’m stoked that they drafted offensive tackle Joe Thomas with the third pick. The offensive line was one of the team’s worst elements last year, contributing to an inconsistent running game and a constantly scrambling and injured QB corps. Plugging Thomas in with free-agent acquisition Eric Steinbach will vastly improve the O-line. Center LeCharles Bentley is a long-shot to return healthy this year, but will be available for what could be a formidable offensive line in 2008. Thomas was far from the sexy pick, but was the best fit for Cleveland and will make an immediate impact.

I’m still on the fence about the Brady Quinn acquisition (it’s a pretty lonely fence too). With so many gaping holes on the depth chart, I figured quarterback was not going to be a concern going into this year’s draft; drafting yet another QB would be a luxury, not a necessity. Which is why I was somewhat surprised when Phil Savage, the GM, traded up to snag Quinn with the 22nd pick.

Quinn essentially displaces Charlie Frye at QB next year, despite the bogus claims that there will be any competition between the two young players. Frye has a slight edge on Quinn in experience, but Romeo Crennel is very high on Quinn, since his ear has been tuned to good friend Charlie Weis this off-season.

I truly pity Frye, who was never given a chance to succeed in Cleveland with a leaky O-line, inexperienced receivers, a weak running game, and a coaching staff in a constant state of flux. Cleveland QBs were sacked 54 times in 2006, trailing only Detroit and Oakland. Despite this, Frye had the fifth highest pass completion percentage in the league at 64.3%. One of Frye’s greatest strengths was his ability to direct the offense and analyze plays; an ability he was never able to truly utilize due to the poor opportunities afforded him by the offensive line.

I’m obviously a big Frye supporter and the fact that analysts keep emphasizing Quinn’s Ohio roots and have christened him the face of the franchise already rubs salt in the wound. Many seem to have forgotten that Frye also hails from Ohio as a life-long Browns fan and played for Akron University. Frankly, I’m weary of Quinn’s ego and how he will react to his initial challenges and failures.

Quinn may be the superior quarterback, but my main concern is how he will handle the constant pressure he’ll face in the pocket. The line has been significantly upgraded to accommodate him, but I still wonder how Quinn’s development will differ in Cleveland as opposed to a more established team. Quinn will need a lot of help to succeed in his rookie year. Hopefully the coaching staff and fans are more patient with their latest quarterback.

All According to Plan...

The AL Central has played out as expected so far, with the top three teams wearing each other down. Parity seems to be the key word in the Central this year, with four of the five teams over .500 and the fourth place Tigers only 2 games out of first place. Below are the Central standings as the month of April wraps up.

W - L vs Central
Cleveland 13-7 6-2
Chicago 12-9 7-4
Minnesota 13-10 4-6
Detroit 12-10 6-5
Kansas City 7-15 5-8

If the intra-division records above are any indication, this is going to be a highly contested division. On that note, Cleveland's 6-2 record against Chicago and Minnesota is impressive so far. Even the Royals are showing improvement, with 5 wins against division rivals already (they had only 27 all last year). Yes it's only April, but with any luck this trend will continue, allowing Cleveland to seperate itself from the rest of the pack early on.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Why So Many Empty Seats?

The Indians continued their torrid streak with a 5-4, comeback win against Baltimore tonight. Apparently someone forgot to tell the fans that their baseball team is good this year. Honest, they could win some games. So why is the Jake so empty every game?

The Browns (who have had one winning season since 1999) pack the house every week, but the Tribe can't even average 20,000 a game at home? What does it take to draw a crowd these days? I could understand if the team was playing bad baseball, but they currently own the second best record in the Majors and are on a 5 game winning streak.

It's pretty sad that this team can't draw a crowd like it used to. Yeah, I know the Browns and Lebron are the top draws in Northeast Ohio now, but are there really that few dedicated baseball fans in Cleveland? I just have a hard time buying into football or basketball drawing away that many fans from the Jake. A fan is a fan, you don't just stop following baseball when basketball or football season starts.

One could argue that I'm minimizing the economic factors that contributed to 455 consecutive sellouts at the Jake, but my point is, the baseball fanbase didn't just pack up and leave during the rebuilding years. What makes it even more annoying is I don't even have the privilege of going to games on a regular basis, since I don't live in Ohio.

Playing in front of a big, noisy, excited crowd helps motivate the players, improve the team's revenue stream (albeit marginally), and brings integrity to the team. What kind of message does so many empty seats communicate to the players and other fans?

My theory is the fans are hesitant to invest as much time, money, and energy into the team as they once were, due to the disappointment of missing the playoffs the last two seasons. Is the benchmark set by the powerhouse teams of the 1990's negatively influencing the fans' perception of the current team?

If so that's a shame, because the Indians are contending again, whether the city cares or not.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Shut Up, Mel

I'm hesitant to watch Sportscenter these days. Anybody who tells you there isn't an East Coast media bias is either lying or roots for the Yanks or the Sox. I’m not saying that Alex Rodriguez doesn’t deserve the coverage or the praise at the moment because he certainly does. What he’s doing is historic and basically just freaking loco. I just don’t need to see it 24/7 while there are plenty of other fine games being played by actual baseball players (there is more than one you know). My point is, showing five yankee games in six days on national television is just disgusting. Oh well, there’s always hockey…oh wait, no there isn’t. Great.

The NHL playoffs are on and all ESPN wants to talk about is count how many times they’ll be wrong about the draft this year. And no Mel Kiper, I don't care if the Houston “didn’t draft Vince Young” Texans are on the clock. No one ever calls that junk correctly, why not just watch? I’ve seen almost as much football analysis published the week before the draft as there was for the freaking Super Bowl.

On a side note, Joe Thomas is officially one of my favorite players entering the league this year. Rather than sitting around waiting for his number to get called in New York he's going fishing with his dad instead; good for him. Since when does baseball take a back seat to a sport that doesn’t even start its season for another four months? More on that another time…

I’m always curious what goes on in the locker room after an epic loss like the one Cleveland suffered in New York (yeah, that one). Do the players just shuffle back to their lockers quietly? Does Blake lock himself in the video room with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and his Bill Emanski videos? Does Slider throw a chair through the wall? Who knows, but I bet it’d be interesting to listen in.

I don’t know what’s gotten into the Indians lately though, but it looks like the offense is finally starting to shake off the rust. Cleveland (12-7) has won five in a row and six of their last seven after getting their ass kicked in the Bronx. They are currently 6-1 in series so far and currently sit atop the toughest division in baseball. Cleveland has averaged over 6 runs a game during that stretch, including their most impressive win this season against Johan Santana, at Minnesota. The defense is still a major concern, but the pitching has looked pretty sharp as of late. I think the fact that Joe Borowski shares the league lead in saves (8), with a 9.90 ERA pretty much sums up the season so far.

It’s been ugly, but the team is still finding ways to win. It's difficult to say what this precludes at this point; hard to imagine how good this team could be once the offense, defense, and pitching start running in sync.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Regular Season Predictions for 2007

Well, I started a blog...unfortunately I don't have much time to update it the next couple weeks, but no worries. No audience, no pay, no problem, eh?

These predictions always seem to reinforce the fact that I either have no idea what I'm doing or baseball is unpredictable. Let's assume the latter.

I actually came up with these before the season started, but never got around to posting them.

Official Pre-Season Picks: 2007

AL East: NYY, Bos, Tor, Bal, TB
AL Central:
Cle, Det, Minn, Chi, KC
AL West: LA, Oak, Texas, Sea
Wild Card: Boston

NL East: NYM, Phil, Fl, Atl, Was
NL Central: Chi, Cin, Mil, St. Louis, Hous, Pitt
NL West: LA, Ari, SD, Col, SF
Wild Card: Arizona

I'd say the most difficult division to call was the NL Central. If I had any balls I would have picked Milwaukee to win the division, but those darn Cubs are so shiny and expensive; too tempting to pass over. I would be shocked if St. Louis even makes the postseason soley based on the state of their pitching staff.

Arizona is my darkhorse to make the playoffs, but I think it'll come down to the last week between Arizona and San Diego for that last spot.