Red Right 88

Life as a Cleveland Sports Fan

Archive for the month “May, 2011”

Should we be worried about the Tribe?

The Indians have been rather ugly and disappointing of late on the field, losing four of their last five games.

During the losing streak, the Tribe has only scored eight runs, has a .213 batting average, is just 2-of-20 with runners in scoring position and have posted an ERA of 6.27.

The skid hit rock bottom (we hope) Monday night against Toronto when the Indians couldn’t figure out how to get to Blue Jay starter Jo-Jo Reyes, who came into the game with an 0-4 record, a 4.70 earned-run average and a losing streak (28 starts) that stretched to 2008.

Told you it has been ugly.

So should we be worried?

Probably not.

On May 1, the Indians were 19-8, a winning percentage of .704, which they obviously were not going to sustain for an entire season.

Heading into last night’s game with Toronto, the Tribe was 31-20, which means they have played .500 ball for the month of May.

But (and there is always a but) the Indians have increased their division lead during the month, from 4.5 games over second-place Kansas City on May 1 to to 5 games over second-place Detroit heading into last night’s game.

So they have made it through a month of mediocre play and still sit comfortably in first place.

But (there it is again) the past week has put the team’s shortcomings in the spotlight.

The team has been trying to hold down the fort while waiting for Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner to return from injuries. Their absence definitely thinned out the lineup. Sizemore is back and hopefully Hafner will return sooner rather than later so the bench players, like Shelley Duncan and Travis Buck, can go back to the bench.

So the lack of offense may correct itself.

Then there is the defense.

After being solid for the first month-and-a-half of the season, the Tribe defense has fallen off a cliff. In the last six games, the Indians have committed six errors. The one game they didn’t commit an error? Saturday’s 7-3 win against Tampa.

In the first 40 games of the season, the Tribe committed 16 errors; in the past 11 games the number is 12 errors.

The Indians have to have solid defense to have a chance to win, especially with the offense slumping the way it is. This team just can’t afford to give away outs.

Luckily defense is something that should be easily fixed (or at least we hope so).

So that leaves the starting pitching.

After being so good, the starters have struggled – a lot – recently.

From Mitch Talbot (3 innings pitched, 12 hits, eight earned runs vs. Boston), to Justin Masterson (5 IP, eight hits, seven earned runs) to Fausto Carmona’s stinkfest against Toronto (4 IP, nine hits, seven earned runs), the pitching staff is slumping just as bad as the offense.

The pitching staff has given up seven or more runs five times in the last 11 games – the same number they put up in the first 40 games of the season.

And that right there probably gives us the answer we are looking for.

With the offense, the pitching and the defense all struggling at the same time, any team is going to look bad. The Tribe is most likely not as good as they looked when they started 19-8, but neither are the as bad as they have been during the 12-12 stretch of the past month.

As we write this, the Indians are in the process of building a 3-0 lead in the third inning against Toronto. So maybe the past week – and month – are just a normal part of the ebb-and-flow of a long baseball season.

After all, the only number that counts is the one that says the Tribe is in first place by five games.

***

Lots to like as the alma mater participates in post-season play.

The Kent State golf team posted a team score of 304 (16-0ver) during the first of three stroke play rounds on Tuesday at the 2011 NCAA Championship at Oklahoma State.

The Golden Flashes finished the day in ninth place among 15 teams.

After winning its third consecutive MAC championship over the weekend, the baseball team drew a No. 3 regional seed in the 2011 NCAA Championship tournament.

Ranked No. 24 in the nation, the Golden Flashes will play in the Austin Regional this weekend, opening on Friday against the No. 2 seed, Texas State.

***

TV ratings for Saturday’s Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United were up 64 percent from last year.

***

Finally, Peyton Hillis’ Madden cover has been released.

Would it have killed them to show him steamrolling a Steeler?

Life lessons from Jim Tressel

Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Wow, we certainly did not see this one coming.

Jim Tressel “resigned” on Monday as football coach at Ohio State, possibly at the urging of the university. You know, the old “you should quit because we are going to fire you” move.

What makes this all the more bizarre is that it never had to come to this.

If Tressel had just told his bosses that some players were up to shenanigans when he first learned about it, life would have gone on at Ohio State. The way life went on at Georgia following A.J. Green’s four-game suspension last season for selling memorabilia.

But he didn’t want to lose some of his best players to suspension so he sat on the information.

So that’s life lesson No. 1: What we do when no one is watching is the true reflection of our character.

It’s easy to “honor” players from the Naval Academy with a stadium full of people and the TV cameras focused on you. The same with singing the alma mater – which when you really look at it is a pointless gesture.

But when a situation came that called for Tressel to show true character, he shrunk from the moment.

He only made things worse by continuing to lie and deny that he knew something was wrong. Signing off on the players before the season started by claiming they were clean, denying he knew anything before the Sugar Bowl, lying about how he was trying to “protect” the players involved.

Once those lies started piling up, it got harder to keep them straight and, just like a loose thread on a sweater vest, everything started to unravel.

That’s life lesson No. 2: Don’t lie. We all learn that at an early age.

While we were surprised at first to learn that it was Ohio State that made the call to let Tressel go, the more we think about it the more that makes sense.

Ohio State tries to set itself up as being a program that is better than everyone else; one that doesn’t do things like “schools in the SEC.”

But for the school to continue to do nothing, or impose cosmetic punishments, would reveal it as having a win at all cost mentality. Throw in the fact that coaches who willingly lie to the NCAA – which is clearly what Tressel did – rarely keep their jobs and Ohio State was finally left with no way to spin this.

And a Sports Illustrated article detailing how this been going on for years should come as no surprise. The first time you get caught doing something wrong is rarely – if ever – the first time you committed a crime.

So now the apologists will be out looking to shoot the messenger – the media, the NCAA, Kirk Herbstreit, the players, whoever they can find – because they don’t like the message. And on some level we can understand their frustration.

They were sold a fairy tale about Tressel being a saint among sinners in college football and, it turns out, their false idol is no better than anyone else.

But above everything else, there’s no denying that Tressel has no one to blame but himself.

Cavs looking to make a deal?

Apparently, the Cavs may not be willing to settle for having the No. 1 and No. 4 pick in next month’s NBA draft.

According to ESPN, “sources” say the Cavaliers are in discussions with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons about a three-team trade that would give Cleveland the top two picks of next month’s NBA draft.

Wait, it gets better.

The Cavs would reportedly use their $14.6 million trade exception to trade for Detroit’s Rip Hamilton and also receive the Pistons’ first-round pick, No. 8.

The Cavs would then send the No. 8 pick and the No. 4 pick to Minnesota for the Timberwolves’ pick, No. 2.

Finally, the Cavs would buy Hamilton out of the last two years of his contract, which calls for him to make $25 million.

So let’s summarize: the Cavs would get the No. 2 pick in the draft (meaning they would be picking 1 & 2), they wouldn’t have to give up any players, and it would only cost them cash?

Why would they not make that trade?

As with any rumors originating from ESPN “sources,” it’s impossible to know how much truth there is to this.

Piston beat writers Vincent Goodwill (The Detroit News ) and Vincent Ellis (Detroit Free Press) both say the story has no legs.

More than likely, the trade falls into the category of “if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.” At least this far away from the draft. As we get closer to draft night though …

In any event, it is good to think that the Cavs are being creative and aggressive in trying to improve the team.

Turns out, their is an I in team

With their victory over the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Miami Heat continue to disprove the old adage that there is no I in team.

By making the finals in the first year of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh playing together, the Heat are creating a new model for the NBA where the individual is more important than the team.

The Heat deserve some credit, we suppose. They manipulated the system to their advantage, the players colluded to play together, and now they have been rewarded with what could be the first of multiple trips to the NBA Finals.

As for the Bulls, the writing is on the wall. They learned the same lesson the Cavs learned the past two years: one superstar player and a supporting cast of role players isn’t going to get it done in today’s NBA.

And really, how are the Bulls any different than the Cavs of ’08-’09 and ’09-’10?

They both were led by a dominant player (Derrick Rose and James), with a group of role players (Carlos Boozer/Antwan Jamison, Joakim Noah/Anderson Varajeo, Keith Bogans/Mo Williams) and a head coach that preaches defense first (Tom Thibodeau/Mike Brown).

How long before Rose decides, rather than looking for help, that he can’t beat the Heat and leaves Chicago? Does anyone really think that in a couple of years, when Kobe Bryant is done in LA and Dwight Howard and the Lakers come calling, that Rose won’t head out west?

The Heat haven’t won the title yet; the Mavericks still have a say in this.

But we’ve seen the future and it doesn’t look pretty, at least in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

***

Former Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse, who suffered the most inexcusable injury in baseball history, feels sorry for San Francisco catcher Buster Posey but doesn’t join the hoopleheads in calling for a rule change to protect catchers.

“The game has been around more than 100 years, and now they’re going to start protecting catchers?” Fosse told The San Francisco Chronicle. “I can’t see anything that can be changed. In high school, you can’t run over a catcher. But that’s high school. This is professional baseball. The idea is to score runs. If the catcher has the ball and he’s standing there, the runner has to stop? Is that the protection?

“I can’t believe anything can be done, and I don’t see how you could regulate something like that.”

***

The football season comes to and end on Saturday when Manchester United takes on Barcelona in what should be an exciting final of the Champions League.

Will the game by the last hurrah for Barcelona and Spain?

Can Manchester United learn from the mistakes of 2009?

Can Edwin van der Sar go out a winner?

Finally, six of the best matches between the two teams.

And just think, with a 2:45 p.m. kickoff from London’s Wembley Stadium, we’ll be able to watch the final and only miss a couple of innings of the Tribe game vs. Tampa.

Does Cleveland not hurt?

Wednesday night in San Francisco, Giants catcher Buster Posey suffered a brutal leg injury in a home plate collision with Florida’s Scott Cousins. Posey ended up with a broken bone in his left leg and speculation is that he also suffered ligament damage.

This lead to cries from Posey’s agent that Major League Baseball must change its rules to protect catchers in these situations (no word, though, on what the agent thinks about a runner being injured. Apparently that’s OK). Others jumped on the rule change bandwagon as well.

Funny, but we don’t remember anyone calling for rule changes when Indians catcher Carlos Santana was injured at home plate last season against Boston.

Apparently injuries are only a national crisis if the player who is hurt doesn’t play for Cleveland.

***

When is a sellout not a sellout? Apparently it depends on who is doing the accounting.

According to Forbes, since attendance has become such a key component for sports leagues, the actual idea that it shows how many people are actually at a game is a fantasy.

And that includes the Indians:

In terms of Major League Baseball, sellout figures are often well below seating capacity.

Case in point, the Cleveland Indians announced last Friday that they reached a sellout for Saturday’s interleague game with the Reds, the first non-Opening Day sellout since May 24, 2008 when they played the Texas Rangers. But, when the numbers came in, you had to scratch your head.

Capacity for Progressive Field is 43,545. The announced attendance was 40,631, or 2,914 short of capacity. Sellout?

In speaking with the Indians, they explained part of the difference by saying their sellout threshold varies, but 41,721 is a good barometer, getting us to 1.090 shy of a sellout, but not to capacity.

Why the difference?

According to the Indians, that threshold was broken with comps related to several factors including rainout exchanges, Club Seat benefit for season ticket holders, group leader tickets, fan appreciation coupons from last Sept, etc.

But, that still doesn’t explain how all the variation. As an MLB source said, “We need to look into this.”

Ah, when you have a six-game lead over the second-place team in your division, we can overlook a little accounting voodoo.

Razor thin Tribe

The last two days against Boston highlighted just how thin the Tribe’s margin of error is right now.

With Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner out of the lineup with injuries, and Carlos Santana in an 0-for-19 slump, the Indians need to have outstanding pitching to have any chance of staying in the game.

Tuesday night’s game was a perfect example. Fausto Carmona went eight innings and really only made one bad pitch – the two-run home run he gave up to Jason Varitek in the seventh inning of the Indians 4-2 loss.

Most nights four runs would not have been that much to overcome, but the Tribe lineup is currently a bit thin. Add in the fact that the Indians forgot how to run the bases – they had a runner thrown out at third, two base stealers were caught at second, and Matt LaPorta was doubled off in the fifth.

With the offense in its current state, that’s not going to get it down.

And the less said about Mitch Talbot’s performance in Wednesday’s 14-2 loss the better. Doesn’t matter how well you are playing, few teams are coming back from 7-0 in the first inning.

So the Indians hit the road with a two-game losing streak. Does that mean the good times have come to an end? Of course not.

Detroit was rained out Wednesday, and the Twins and White Sox both lost. Pending the outcome of the Royals game, the Tribe leads second-place Detroit by 5.5 games, KC by at least 7.5 and Chicago by 9. Minnesota is so far behind they are lucky there isn’t relegation in baseball.

The Indians entered May 4.5 games ahead of second-place KC, so they’ve increased their lead during the month. And Sizemore is expected back on Friday.

So while the last two days haven’t been fun, the Tribe is a long way from the panic zone.

***

Former Cavs coach Mike Brown has agreed to become the coach of the Lakers, taking over for the retired Phil Jackson.

“In response to rampant speculation and reports about our head coaching position and Mike Brown, we’ve met with Mike and are very impressed with him,” the team said in published reports. “In addition, we have an outline for an agreement in place and hope to sign a contract within the next few days.”

Who saw this one coming?

Although, once you get past the initial surprise, the Lakers may have made a good hire.

During his time in Cleveland, Brown:

  • Won the third-most games in team history with 272 wins;
  • Won the most postseason games in team history with 42 wins;
  • Coached the team to the playoffs five straight years;
  • Coached the team past the first round of the playoffs every year;
  • Posted at least 45 wins five straight years, the first time in team history;
  • Posted back-to-back 60-win seasons;

And no one was under more of a spotlight than the Cavs during Brown’s last two years with the team, so the pressure of coaching the NBA’s marquee franchise shouldn’t faze him.

Plus, you don’t think Kobe Bryant is just itching to prove he can win a title without Phil Jackson?

“If you’re building a championship team, the DNA always has to start on the defensive end of the floor. Always. I’m a firm believer in that,” Bryant told The Los Angeles Times. “I don’t believe in building a championship team on offense. It has to be built on defense and rebounding. Period.”

Brown certainly knows defense, so if that’s what Bryant wants, he’s going to get it.

Congrats to coach Brown – a good guy who may gotten a raw deal at the end in Cleveland.

***

The Tribe is finally getting some love from the worldwide leader – with two (two!) columns praising the team in one day.

Tim Kurkjian risks being struck down by lightening for suggesting that Asdrubal Cabrera may be the best shortstop in the American League:

The best shortstop in the American League this year is not closing in on 3,000 hits, he’s getting close to 500. He has an unusual first name, his last name is the same as his double-play partner and he was traded for a current ESPN analyst who had only 17 hits after the deal.

Meet Asdrubal Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians. He is 25 years old, a switch-hitter and, so far this season, the best player on the best team in baseball.

Then Jerry Crasnick came through with a look at how the Indians fleeced the Mariners of both Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo in separate trades in 2006:

The Cleveland Indians lack the financial wherewithal to compete for big-name free agents and their recent draft history is nondescript, to put it kindly. But the Tribe sure does hold its own on the trade market.

Scan the roster for the Indians, the surprise American League Central leaders, and you’ll find quite a bounty by way of the Pacific Northwest. Asdrubal Cabrera, who leads AL shortstops with 10 homers, 58 hits and an .900 OPS, arrived from Seattle five years ago in a late June deal for Eduardo Perez. Less than a month later, the Indians acquired outfield prospect Shin-Soo Choo and pitcher Shawn Nottingham from the Mariners for Ben Broussard.

Two positive stories in one day? Things are definitely getting strange around here.

***

Finally, today is the anniversary of arguably one of the greatest games in Champions League history – Liverpool’s win in the final against AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005.

Trailing 3-0 at halftime, the Reds scored three times in the first six minutes of the second half and eventually won the game in a penalty shootout for their fifth European Cup championship.

Tribe bandwagon getting crowded

It took 45 games and almost two months of the season, but the rest of the country has finally figured out what we’ve known here in Cleveland since early in April – the Indians are the dogs bollocks this year.

The Tribe is No. 1 in the latest ESPN.com power rankings, have held the top spot in Real Clear Sports’ ranking for the entire month, are getting love from sites as diverse as The Wall Street Journal and Gaming Today, and have even won over Boston Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy:

“They’ve been no flash in the pan,” Remy said of the Indians. “They’ve done everything. They’re pitching well, they’re hitting well, they’re playing good defense. They’re just playing great baseball right now, and they’ve gained some confidence in themselves where they figure they can win this division.”

We were listening to Mad Dog Radio on Sirius today and Larry Bowa, a studio analyst for the MLB Network, was on and said he’s taken a seat on the Tribe bandwagon.

Life is truly good for the Wahoo Warriors.

***

American Brad Friedel will be part of Fox’s coverage of the Champions League final on Saturday between Manchester United and Barcelona.

The Fox pregame show will include host Curt Menefee along with Friedel and Eric Wynalda. Martin Tyler and Alan Smith will handle the play-by-play of the match.

Friedel, who has spent the past few years with Randy Lerner’s Aston Villa squad, is rumored to be returning to Liverpool, where he played from 1997 to 2000, next season to backup Pepe Reina.

Is there help out there for Browns D-line?

While the Browns went a long way to addressing their defensive line needs in the draft by selecting defensive tackle Phil Taylor and defensive end Jabaal Sheard, there is still work to be done.

When (if? someday?) the NFL lockout ends, how good would defensive end Ray Edwards look in Orange & Brown?

Edwards, 26, recorded 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons in Minnesota. Of course, opposing offensives also had to worry about defensive end Jared Allen, but that’s still an impressive number.

The Vikings tendered a one-year qualifying offer to Edwards in March, so depending on how the labor situation works out, the Browns might have to pay some sort of compensation to the Vikings if they were interested and signed Edwards.

They did the same in 2010 with a first-round tender, so it seems reasonable that they would have done the same this year, which means the Browns would have to give up a first-round pick if they offered Edwards a contract that Minnesota declined to match.

Of course, the Browns do hold two first-round picks for next year …

While Edwards is certainly someone to keep an eye on, we’ll take a pass on bust Vernon Gholston. If Rex Ryan, who knows something about defense and motivating players, couldn’t get anything out of Gholston the past two years, it seems unlikely anyone can.

***

Saturday is the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona.

United’s Nemanja Vidic is ready for the match after United celebrated its 19th league title on Sunday.

“We have to come down after this excitement,” the Man U captain told the Daily Mail. “We have to prepare as best as we can for Barcelona. We are celebrating but everyone is thinking about the next game. It is the biggest game of the whole year. We know what it feels like to go to the final and lose. It was one of the saddest moments of my career.”

Of course, Barcelona has to get to Wembley first, as a volcanic ash cloud could disrupt the team’s travel plans.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola ruled out the possibility of UEFA postponing the game against Manchester United at Wembley, insisting the club will do what the experts advise – even if that means flying on Tuesday, two days ahead of schedule.

“We hope the volcano stays asleep for a few more days and allows our fans to get there,” Guardiola told The Guardian. “We will do what [the experts] tell us to do. If that means travelling on Wednesday or even tomorrow then so be it. If not, we will travel on Thursday as originally planned. If they say don’t worry, we’ll relax; if they say get a move on, we will. What they say we will do, we will do. We will try to plan as far ahead as possible.”

And we thought the Indians getting rained out was a pain.

Manny being Manny a winner

It’s easy to love this Indians team.

They have the best record in baseball at 29-15. The largest division lead by far in baseball – seven games. What’s not to like?

But it is more than that.

It’s the team never quitting, especially at home.

It’s a different player coming through seemingly every night.

If it’s not Travis Hafner hitting a game-winning home run against Seattle, it’s Travis Buck hitting a late-game homer against the Reds or Asdrubal Cabrera going 5-for-5 on Sunday to lead a sweep of Cincinnati.

It’s a starting rotation that has 19 wins against only 10 losses. And a bullpen that is the best in the American League.

And it’s manager Manny Acta.

We admit we were neutral when the Indians hired Acta last year. We don’t follow the National League – their snootiness about pitchers hitting and over-exaggeration on the “nuances of the double-switch” make us ill – and Acta had managed in Washington so we didn’t know much about him.

But we like his approach to the game. He takes things day to day – not in the soul-less “grind it out” way of Eric Wedge – but more of a “let’s take care of today” mentality. He worries about what he can control and deals with the rest when he has to.

The injuries to the pitching staff are a perfect example. While some were worried about what the team would do when Mitch Talbot was ready to come off the disabled list, Acta knew things would work out.

It’s unfortunate that the decision was made for the team as Alex White is now out for the next three months, but the fact that Acta kept the team focused on each day’s game – just worrying about what they can control – fills us with confidence that the Indians have the right guy in charge.

Just another reason to like Manny being Manny.

***

The Premier League season came to an end on Sunday, with Blackpool and Birmingham joining West Ham in being relegated in the closest race in league history.

And after putting on such a strong run since Kenny Dalglish took over in January, Liverpool lost its last two games of the season to miss out on European play for the first time since 1999.

“The end of the season has come at a good time for us,” Dalslish told the Daily Mail. “I’m proud of the players and the way they turned it round. It’s been a long time since this club hasn’t been in Europe but we have to get used to it. This club didn’t build its history and tradition on losing games. We don’t want that to be a habit.”

If the team can add a few more players and pick up next season where they left off this one, that shouldn’t be a problem.

“The squad only needs tinkering,” Dalglish said. “If people want to see the best players and assets of the football club wearing a red shirt, that’s what we want to try and provide. We want to get the highest quality of player in that we can. That’s what position we have been put into, and that’s what we will try to do.”

Sounds good to us.

***

Had some quiet time this morning at Red Right 88 headquarters, so we put on the DVD of the Browns 1989 opener against Pittsburgh and a couple of things stood out to us.

The Browns starting backfield was Tim Manoa and Keith Jones. No wonder the Browns drafted Eric Metcalf for that season.

Who didn’t love the Bubby Brister era in Pittsburgh? In that game, Bubby was 4-of-8 in the first half for seven yards and two interceptions. Even Derek Anderson mocks those numbers.

We forgot how much fun it was to watch Webster Slaughter, Brian Brennan and Reggie Langhorne abuse the over-rated Rod Woodson twice a year.

The Browns defense, at least that first year under Bud Carson, was really good. Guys swarmed to the ball, hit people and made things happen. We haven’t seen that around here for a while now.

Just another night at the ballpark

It was a normal night on Friday at Progressive Field – at least for the Indians.

The Tribe won its sixth consecutive home game in their last at-bat, beating the Reds, 5-4.

There seems to be no obstacle the team can’t overcome right now, especially at home.

The opposing pitcher is throwing a no-hitter into the sixth inning and you are losing 4-0? No problem.

A couple of hits, a hit batter, a few walks, a sacrifice fly and the score is tied.

“These guys are not going to give up,” manager Manny Acta said in published reports. “We’ve done that a few times now. They do feel they are never out of it and that’s a good feeling to have.”

Runner on third with two outs in the bottom of the eighth? No problem.

Just send rookie Ezequiel Carrera to the plate and have him bunt for his first major-league hit, driving in Shin-Soo Choo with what would turn out to be the winning run.

“It was a perfect spot for Carrera,” Acta said. “We needed a hit. We didn’t need an extra-base hit. Even if he hits a ground ball, he might beat it out.”

Need the bullpen to shut down the opposition so you can get back into the game? No problem.

Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez combined for four innings of shutout ball.

Just another night of the Tribe being the Tribe.

The Indians have baseball’s best record at 27-15, and lead the Central Division by six games over Detroit and Kansas City.

Acta has the players believing anything is possible. With more than 30,000 in attendance Friday night and a sellout in place for today’s game, the fans are starting to believe as well.

After Friday night’s win, is there any reason to doubt?

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