Thursday, August 21

The name on the door is CLEVELAND

Admittedly, I don't understand the Browns' new marketing slogan for the upcoming season (what door?), but I like the city-centric nature of it. I thought it was a poor decision for the Indians not to include Cleveland's name anywhere in the new Progressive Field logo, so I'm glad the Browns are showing some hometown pride. What they are not showing is an ability to play football especially well, but we'll get to that. My posting over the past few weeks has been restricted to making fun of the Indians' announcers (Underwood last night said that AsCab had two "good at-bats" even though both had been K's. I knew what he meant, but it sounded ridiculous) and publishing some thoughts on the Olympics, but since Pat Forde at has Olympic hyperbole locked down, let's stay within the friendly confines of my current residence and take a look at the three teams.

Hey, don't look now, but the Wahoos are playing some solid baseball. Since July 10 (an arbitrary point I chose to make the numbers look as shiny as possible), the club has posted an excellent 22-14 mark. On the surface, it's hard to understand how they've played this well, considering all the factors going against them:

- The league's worst bullpen, one capable of blowing four straight games against the Orioles and torching a game on any given night

- A rotation that has now replaced CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona (2007), Jake Westbrook, and Paul Byrd with Zach Jackson, Fausto Carmona (2008), Jeremy Sowers, and Anthony Reyes.

- A batting order where Franklin Gutierrez hits 2nd, Ben Francisco hits 3rd, and Andy Marte does not hit at all yet still occupies a spot in the lineup.

Yet the Tribe has managed to be quite competitive of late, improving their mark to 59-67. A lighter schedule (Toronto, Seattle, Detroit, Baltimore, KC) has helped, but they've held their own against tougher clubs as well. The key has been, quite simply, better offensive production. Look at these numbers, using July 10 as the dividing line. Their win over TB that day snapped a 10-game losing streak, the season's nadir:

First 90 games:
Runs scored/game: 4.39
Runs allowed/game: 4.56
Editor's note: this is way below expected wins for that run differential!

Last 36 games:
Runs scored/game: 5.81
Runs allowed/game: 4.83

These are very simple numbers to understand. The Tribe's recent winning ways haven't been driven by pitching, as they've actually been giving up more runs than before. They've allowed 584 runs on the year, exactly the AL average, so they have in fact been a below-average staff during this run of .611 ball. A quick look at the bullpen makes this statistic very easy to believe.

But the Tribe hitters have been swinging much better bats of late, scoring 5.81 times per contest. This is nearly a run and a half better than their first-half clip, and is over a full run better than the AL average (4.63 per game). The offensive success has been fueled by the Tribe's much-mocked "one through nine" approach; without big guns like Martinez and Hafner to carry the load (and Sizemore struggling badly in August until the Royals showed up), they've been getting contributions from up and down the lineup. Jhonny Peralta has been a force in the cleanup spot. Kelly Shoppach has provided solid power from the catcher spot. Asdrubal Cabrera has an OPS over .800 since rejoining the club. Ben Francisco puts up steady power and on-base numbers. Big League Choo completely eschews first base in favor of second and/or home. Hell, even David Dellucci and Ryan Garko have helped out over the past few weeks.

It's encouraging to see, and also in part validates the Tribe's minor-league system. Considering how many players stepped up to last year's playoff club, and how many more have been pressed into service this year, this production is quite nice. The Tribe isn't far off from contending again, soon - it's just too bad their early-season hitting troubles and ongoing relief pitching woes put them so far behind to start. Go Tribe!

Nick has written extensively about the Browns' preseason tilts, especially that early-game destruction at the hands of the Giants this past Monday. Like the opener against the Steelers last year, you saw a Browns team completely unprepared to play football; getting pushed around on both sides of the ball, taking bad penalties, executing terribly on special teams, and getting thoroughly trashed to the tune of a 30-3 deficit 16 minutes in.

We can take solace in the fact that the game doesn't really matter, and perhaps it will serve the Browns well as they get ready for the regular season. Better to do this now than when the Cowboys visit my neighborhood. There's no doubt that the Browns remain a talented club, and even in their bad games they will be more competitive than they were Monday. That was almost a perfect storm of bad football and bad breaks. But if the approach they took to game preparation remains as it was, they aren't going to win very many games. I'm hopeful that the Browns will be a more organized, focused unit come September 7.

Far more concerning to me than the actual game play is the number of injuries the Browns continue to pile up. One of the excuses offered post-game for the poor play was that there had been relatively little contact during practice. Really? How come half the team is on the IR? Winslow, Edwards, Rogers, Rucker, Heiden, Newsome (OK, Ozzie's OK, but four tight ends hurt?), Bell, and now Cribbs, Anderson, Pool. I'm going to be catching passes by the bye week if this keeps up. Come on, there hasn't even been one actual game yet! Anyway, Go Browns!

The town's traditional sports third banana goes here mostly because they're the farthest away from their season, but that doens't mean that fans of the Wine and Gold shouldn't be excited about their club.

First off, in semi-team-related news, we have star (and Ohio native!) LeBron James leading the US Olympic team towards a gold medal in Beijing. LeBron has a bronze medal from the 2004 games and the equivalent of a silver medal in the NBA; I think he and his teammates can take home both the gold medal and the Larry O'Brien trophy this year.

Granted, based on the Olympic results so far, the hardware from the Games seems like a safer bet, but it's hard not to be excited about the potential the Mo Williams trade offers the '08-'09 Cavaliers.

First off, let's be clear that the move was a pretty straightforward salary dump by Milwaukee and Seattle. We get an All-Star-caliber point guard in Williams (17.2 ppg, 6.3 apg in '07-'08) and only give up seldom-used Damon Jones and 33-year-old Joe Smith? It's one of those deals that other teams always make, only our team just made it. Not quite the Pau Gasol heist, but the kind of move a deep-pocketed team like Cleveland (wanted to see how that looked in print) will make all day.

It will be intriguing to see how Williams fits in with the Cavaliers; he can create his shot and score (.480 FG%, .385 3PT%, .865 FT%), and plays a decent floor game, but will his skills overlap and interfere too much with LeBron's? The Cavs' coaching staff never solved this riddle with Larry Hughes; doing so with Williams will be crucial to the club's success this year.

So what sort of Cavalier roster will we have this season? At point guard, likely Williams and Delonte West (expected to sign for one year). I like West off the bench at PG quite a bit. At shooting guard, Daniel Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic, Wlly Szczerbiak, and perhaps Devin Brown. Gibson's shooting skills will be key for the Cavs, and Pavlovic simply must play better than during his disastrous '07-'08 campaign. Szczerbiak can play bigger than guard, but he was a defensive liability in the playoffs and lacked his usual scoring touch. At small forward, we have the league's best player.

Down low, we lost some depth with the Smith deal. Zydrunas Ilgauskas will play what could be his last campaign - I'll take numbers just like last year's please. Anderson Varejao figures to see increased minutes, and one would hope for an improved offensive game. Beyond that, there are two big question marks: Ben Wallace's health is an ongoing concern, and while JJ Hickson is a promising young player, it's tough to expect him to contribute right away. It's possible that the frontcourt will not be a strength of the Cavaliers to the extent it has been over the last few years. More on these guys as training camp approaches, not that anyone cares at all during football season. Go Cavs!

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