Friday, July 31

You Lost Today Kid, But That Doesn't Mean You Have To Like It

Now we come to the hardest part of any GM's job: the trades. I didn't trade everyone I wanted to, but I did trade of a lot of you.

I was thinking the other day of the feeling I had in mid to late 2007 and right before the 2008 season began. It was this feeling of "even if things don't work out at least we're going to be good, right?" Wrong. So what has happened over the last few days shouldn't come as a surprise. It is obvious that the Indians ownership kind of went for broke this offseason. Well, as go for broke as you'll probably ever see. By signing Kerry Wood and trading for Mark DeRosa, 2009 was going to be a year of giving it the old college try, so to speak. However nothing really worked out as hoped, leading us to today.

Trading Victor Martinez hurts. Trading Cliff Lee isn't too surprising. However Victor was our guy, our captain. He wasn't playing for a lot of money and he was was always a trustworthy clutch hitter. Being from Venezuela he always wanted to be a shortstop and reportedly cried his eyes out when he was told to play catcher. While he occasionally flirted with Ted Williams-like batting averages he wasn't much for the limelight. In a previous post I said trade anyone not named Sizemore, Cabrera, Martinez, and Choo and I wish things had gone that way. By trading Victor you have ripped the heart out of the Indians fanbase who probably won't return until something like 2007 happens again.

So, the question is: how did we get here? The aforementioned signing of Wood and trade for DeRosa didn't help. The team was forced into a situation of winning or at least competing this year to make good on this payroll. However, that didn't happen. So with half of 2009 gone and the Indians not really drawing much attendance, something had to be done. Yes, sticking with the team we already had was an option but that probably leaves no flexibility for 2010 and this team needed pitching. So we traded anyone we could for pitching, simple as that.

Ryan Garko is a role player but not enough at first base. So he is off to the Giants.

Rafael Betancourt had a big option on the table for next year which the Indians had no intention of picking up, so why not get something for him?

Cliff Lee is a great pitcher who was cheap and had a reasonably cheap option for 2010. However seeing the writing on the wall management decided to take the best trade they could get. Yes, the trade was underwhelming. But I'm sure it was the best one on the table. Trading Cliff Lee now was really the right choice. If 2010 is a wash getting what you could for him now is better than waiting for 2010 when his stock could be lower and teams only get a few months of service.

Victor Martinez was a forgone conclusion. Inside I want Victor to be an Indian forever but his future is pretty cloudy. He is a great-hitting catcher, but at first base he is just above average. He's 30 and catchers aren't known for their longevity. On top of that Victor's defense and ability to throw out or even hold baserunners has been criticized. Oh and he has a history of injuries. So Victor's gone. Unfortunately, as Paul Cousineau said over at the DiaTribe, to a team I can not cheer for.

Carl Pavano hasn't pitched too well of late, and thus hasn't really drawn too much attention, but I suspect he might be a waiver away from being traded, and keeping him makes no sense. The real albatross is the contract of part-time DH Travis Hafner. With all this talk of payroll and budget cuts I can't help but look at Pronk's $11 million this year and next and then $13 million for 2012 and 2013. That's a lot of years and money for a DH who can't play every day. In reality, it is a lot of money for any team let alone one as payroll-focused as our Indians.

As the title implies, while I'm going to have to accept this trade and the fact the 2010 is probably going to suck, that doesn't mean I have to like it. Actually I wouldn't be too surprised if we won more games in 2010 than we do this year.

Game 1: Edwin Jackson, RHP (7-5, 2.59) vs. Fausto Carmona, RHP (2-6, 7.42)
Game 2: Rick Porcello, RHP (9-7, 4.62) vs. Jeremy Sowers, LHP (3-7, 5.15)
Game 3: Armando Galarraga, RHP (5-9, 4.84) vs. Carl Pavano, RHP (8-8, 5.66)

So we finally have the return of Fausto Carmona. Reports have been that he's walking fewer guys but he just doesn't have the same quality major league stuff. So tonight we see what the possibly-neutered Carmona can do. The ballad of Jeremy Sowers continues Saturday. Someday he won't be on this team. I'm kind of looking forward to that day. Our staff ace Carl Pavano takes the mound Sunday. Yep, just look at those ERA's, really something to behold.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Your '09 Cleveland Browns: Running Backs

It hasn't always felt like summer, but here we sit in late July. The All-Star game is history, training camps are firing up, fantasy leagues are drafting, and the Tribe has traded their latest Cy Young winner. Football season hasn't quite arrived, but it's not far away, either. With the Browns' roster basically set, it's time to give each position a closer look, starting with the running backs. I've thrown the fullbacks into the mix also, because frankly, it would be a waste of time to try writing a true "fullback preview".

The Cast
Starters: Jamal Lewis (RB), Lawrence Vickers (FB)
Backup: Jerome Harrison
On the bubble: James Davis, Noah Herron, Charles Ali(FB)

Glancing back...
After running the ball surprisingly well in 2007, Cleveland's rushing attack - and the offense as a whole - struggled mightily in 2008. Several factors likely contributed to the team's problems on the ground, including injuries and inconsistency from the offensive line, a passing attack that wasn't nearly as potent as it was one year earlier, and the fact that Jamal Lewis was banged up, and clearly wasn't running with his typical burst.

When Jamal Lewis arrived from Baltimore in 2007, he seemed pretty washed up. At the time, I certainly thought that signing Lewis was questionable at best. In 2005 and 2006, Lewis' yards per carry fell to 3.4 and 3.6, respectively, marking the first times he'd averaged less than 4.3 YPC in his career. But Lewis defied the critics in 2007, posting a healthy 4.4 YPC average, running for over 1,300 yards, and finding the end zone 9 times, as he helped the Browns become one of the NFL's pleasant surprises.

After adding depth on the offensive line and an additional wideout in Donte Stallworth, the Browns looked primed burn up the bulbs on score boards everywhere. As we know all too well, last season didn't exactly go according to plan. The offensive line was banged up and inconsistent at best, Derek Anderson played his way onto the bench, Brady Quinn's season ended prematurely due to a finger injury, Braylon Edwards couldn't catch a cold, Donte Stallworth became one of the worst free agent signings in Cleveland Browns history, and the last four games were quarterbacked by a combination of Bruce Gradkowski and Ken Freaking Dorsey (KFD, for short). Other than that, everything was peachy.

Taking the vast majority of the carries, Jamal Lewis' YPC plummeted by almost a full yard, down to 3.6. Even with 279 carries, Lewis barely cracked the 1,000-yard mark. Some of his problems can be chalked up to the problems of the offensive line (and well, the offense in general), but Lewis didn't look like he did in 2007, and his lack of burst was noticeable.

Questions about why Jerome Harrison wasn't getting more carries grew from whispers to screams of frustration by mid-season, and Harrison's continued absence was dumbfounding. In spite of averaging 7.2 YPC for the year (and 6.2 YPC the previous season), then-coaches Crennel and Chudzinski largely - and inexplicably - kept Harrison riding the pine.

The highlight of Harrison's season was his 72-yard touchdown run in Buffalo that helped the Browns notch their fourth and final victory of the season. Sadly, that was in week 11. In spite of the fact that he showed major flashes whenever he was given opportunities, Harrison received five or more touches only three times, and averaged less than three touches per game.

Coaches cited Harrison's lackluster blocking ability when explaining why he didn't play consistently, but when you see a guy display that kind of explosiveness, you find ways to get him the ball. The curious case of Jerome Harrison was just another example of how Romeo Crennel could, when evaluating certain players, allow minor flaws to compromise his judgment of the player's entire catalog of skills. In Harrison's case, Crennel definitely didn't celebrate the guy's entire catalog.

The other running back of consequence last season was Jason Wright, who skipped town during free agency to hang out with John McCain and play for the NFC champs. Wright had been with the Browns since he was signed in 2005, and had his best season in 2007, when he gained over 500 total yards. Although he lacked the raw skills to start, Wright was sound fundamentally and a solid third down back. No tears were shed upon his departure, although now all of my "Wright stuff" puns are toast.

Lawrence Vickers handled most of the fullback duties again last season, and Vickers is an above-average player, albeit at one of the most unappreciated positions on the field. In addition to being a sound blocker, Vickers has good speed for a big guy, and pretty solid hands. Vickers is fairly reliable as a safety valve receiver, runs well enough that he could be a serviceable goal line back, and he might even be able to split carries in a pinch.

The other fullback on the roster, Charles Ali, is more in the Terrelle Smith mould. Ali is a little slower and bulkier than Vickers, making him an effective blocker, but you don't want to see Chuck toting the rock. Ali did most of his work on special teams last season, and he also started four games when Vickers was sidelined.

I'm sick of talking about the '08 season. It's like Caddyshack II- let's just pretend it never happened.

Looking forward...

Let's just get the obligatory fullback discussion finished. Lawrence Vickers will once again break camp as the starter, and he should be an above-average player like he's been in the past. Although Vickers has the skill set to do more than just block, I don't expect Eric Mangini's offense to look for cute ways to get him involved. Vickers will block, and his touches should be few and far between. It's far from a certainty that Charles Ali will earn a roster spot, but my gut tells me that Mangini will like this guy. Ali is about as good of a backup fullback as you can hope for, and Coach Penguin may even prefer him to Vickers in certain formations due to his size. If Ali can show something on special teams, I think he sticks.

As much as I like Jerome Harrison, Jamal Lewis is the key to the running back position in 2009. Eric Mangini's offense will supposedly stress ball control and focus on a power running game, and Lewis is certainly the most power-oriented back on the roster. If the offensive line is better and Lewis is hitting on all cylinders, there's no reason to think he can't produce at a level either equal or similar to 2007.

As was mentioned earlier, an ankle injury hampered Lewis last season, especially down the stretch. Off-season ankle surgery should have rectified that problem. Although Lewis is going to turn 30 in late August (an age when many backs are put out to pasture) and has plenty of wear on his tires (1 carry short of 2,400), his legendary conditioning program is such that he might be able to play effectively well into his 30s.

With Lewis, there are two major question marks and they both relate to injury. First, will Lewis' bum ankle be good as new? And second, are we going to see a pattern of nagging injuries for Lewis that will have a cumulative effect? Unfortunately the answer to each query is anyone's guess at this point, but once the season starts, we'll find out quickly.

Although Jamal Lewis is the most critical cog in this season's backfield, expect to see far more of Jerome Harrison in the past. In my new book, Observing Incompetent Coaching, I devote an entire chapter to Romeo Crennel's incomprehensible neglect for Jerome Harrison over the last two seasons. The fact that Eric Mangini has liked what he's seen from Harrison and intends to get him plenty of touches should let me get to sleep this season without the aid of Jack Daniels. Honestly, Harrison's skills have been painfully obvious to just about everyone who's watched this team over the last two years.

But we've also heard these empty promises before when it comes to Harrison's playing time, so why should we believe Mangini? Well, for one, everything Mangini does has a purpose, and whether or not I agree with him, it's at least comforting to know that we won't be flipping any more coins to decide who starts at quarterback. But beyond that, there's precedent for how Mangini deals with having a speedy second fiddle like he had in New York with Leon Washington, and I'm certainly not the first to connect those dots.

Washington (Florida State) was drafted in the fourth round during Mangini's first year in the Big Apple, 2006. His rookie year, Washington split carries with Cedric Houston and Kevan Barlow, but was the most effective of the three options. In the 2007 off-season, the Jets traded for Thomas Jones (tough draw being named "Tom Jones" - how many times do you think he had to put up with "It's not unusual" jokes during his youth?), who replaced the three-headed monster as the featured back. Here's the encouraging part: even with Jones starting, Mangini made a point of getting the football into Washington's hands. Despite his reserve status, Washington never had fewer than 100 touches, and gained 566 and 803 yards from scrimmage, respectively, during the last two seasons. Mangini also utilized Washington to return kickoffs and punts.

We can probably expect Mangini to use Harrison in a similar fashion. Like Washington, Harrison is a good receiver, so expect to see some screens and swing passes mixed in. Eight to 10 touches per game is probably realistic. Josh Cribbs is such a phenomenal kick returner that we won't see Harrison returning many kickoffs, but don't be surprised if Harrison replaces Cribbs as the punt return man. That would give Cribbs a little more rest, and might allow Mangini to find some more creative ways to get Cribbs involved in the offense.

There are two questions for Harrison to answer. Number one: will his effectiveness diminish with double-digit touches? Although he's tried to add bulk, Harrison is still on the smaller side, and we don't know how he will handle the punishment that comes with significant playing time. Number two: will Harrison's blocking satisfy Mangini enough to install Harrison as the permanent third down back? If Harrison's blocking can merely be adequate, it would mean he wouldn't compromise the element of surprise for the offense. In other words, if the defense knows that Harrison can't block worth a lick, it's pretty likely that he'll be getting the ball in some way, shape, or form when he's in the game.

The other two backs vying for the number three gig are journeyman Noah Herron and Clemson product James Davis, a sixth round pick in April's draft. Herron is a name that might be vaguely familiar to some fantasy owners.

A seventh round pick of the Steelers in 2005, Herron couldn't cut it in Pittsburgh and ended up in Green Bay. He racked up 45 carries with the Packers in '05 during the final 3 games, as the Pack limped towards the finish line. Go! Pack! Go! In 2006, Herron had only 37 carries, but hit his high water mark in week 5, when he amassed 106 yards, scored a touchdown, and became waiver wire fodder for desperate fantasy owners. Unfortunately for those who took a flier on Herron (timidly raises hand), he saw very limited action for the remainder of 2006. Herron spent 2007 on IR, and spent about a month with the Buccaneers last season, with whom he didn't see any action.

James Davis was a four-year starter at Clemson whose draft stock fell after a lackluster senior year, which was due in part to a poor offensive line. Many draft pundits liked the value the Browns received when they selected Davis with their final pick in the sixth round. Here a link to DraftCountdown's scouting report on Davis. From that report, among others, it appears that Davis runs strong between the tackles, is a solid blocker, and a hard worker. On the negative side, Davis has poor timed speed, lacks agility, and isn't a very good receiver.

As a sixth round pick, Davis is hardly a stone cold lock to make the roster, but his upside should give him a leg up on Herron, whose inability to stick anywhere else should be a major red flag. Herron might have a shot at making the team as the second fullback and a special teams contributor, but I'm willing to bet Charles Ali will edge him out if Mangini decides to retain an extra fullback.

Assuming Davis makes the club, he probably won't see much action unless either Lewis or Harrison sustains an injury. That said, it would be smart to pay attention to Davis during the pre-season games, because he might very well be an important player in 2010.

We already know that Jerome Harrison has talent, and he's finally going to get some reps this season. If all goes well, you've got the "lightning" part of a backfield tandem covered. Jamal Lewis probably has some petrol left in the tank, but at his age you can't take anything for granted, and being on the wrong side of 30 doesn't make it any easier to recover from major injuries. If Lewis can't handle a sizable role in 2010, Davis may become integral. Davis doesn't have to be the featured back, but if he can just provide the "thunder" to Harrison's "lightning", grabbing him in the sixth round could turn out to be a real bargain.

On a quick tangent about organizational philosophy, I'm a huge proponent of adding running backs in the middle and late rounds, as opposed to drafting them high. In the "chicken or egg" debate between running backs and offensive linemen, I'm taking the lineman 99 times out of 100. Teams like Denver and sadly, Pittsburgh, have proven time and again that if you can open holes, it's not difficult to find someone to run through them. Ironically, both of those teams have broken tradition and spent first round picks on running backs in the last two drafts (Rashard Mendenhall and Knowshon Moreno).

The point is that there are two, maybe three backs in the league that are clearly superior to the rest (Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, and possibly LaDainian Tomlinson if he really was slowed by injuries and not age). Outside of those super-elite, there just isn't any reason to pay a premium for a position with a short shelf life, expendability, and fairly negligible differences in skill between the starters for various teams. It makes much more sense to draft a handful of backs late, hope a few pan out, and spend your premium draft choices on offensive linemen who make the rest of the offense better.

Eric Mangini only drafted one running back in three years in New York (Washington, a fourth rounder), although the Jets did trade for Thomas Jones. Next off-season will give us a better idea of how Mangini values the running back position, and how he plans to build there for the long-term. But regardless of what he thinks of running backs, we've learned that he's more than willing to invest high draft picks in offensive linemen. If rookie center Alex Mack can help solidify a line that has major questions on its right side, Jamal Lewis and the other backs should look forward to more room to run in 2009, and hopefully, a big spike in production.

Thursday, July 30

The 10 Best Sporting Events to See Live OR: Rick Reilly Has Weird Taste in Sports

In a column that ESPN paid him roughly 4.5 billion euros to pen for their website, Rick Reilly lists and defends an arbitrary collection of sport-ish gatherings that he calls the 10 best sporting events to see live. I'm really, really not a fan of Reilly's, and this list certainly confirms why. Out of the 10 we have:

- 1 exhibition event
- 1 dog sled race
- 2 golf tournaments
- A non-playoff baseball game
- A sailing race
- A bicycling race
- A non-NCAA tournament college basketball game
- A tennis tournament
- A horse race

It's almost like these were chosen at random - either that, or maximal annoyance of me. Why would you want to attend a golf tournament or a sailing race? It's so ridiculous that I feel the need to pick on Reilly's specious reasons for selecting them.

10. Home Run Derby -- Better than the All-Star Game because it's never ended in a tie. Besides, it's everything real baseball is not. Guys swing at every pitch. Every third ball is a souvenir. And you don't have to wait 45 seconds while Nomar Garciaparra re-Velcros his entire uniform between pitches.
Having not ended in a tie doesn't make it better than anything. That doesn't in any way speak to its quality as an event. Maybe it's fun in person (?), but I watched it on TV this year and it was really dull. Also, is Garciaparra still in the league? Is this from 2001?

9. Iditarod -- Whenever somebody tells me the Iditarod is cruel to dogs, I answer, "I agree, the dogs left at home." You should hear them howl when they're not picked for the team. This is the hardest event to watch. I once had to bribe an ex-Vietnam pilot to fly me to a rest stop in the middle of nowhere, where we landed in a half-plowed field and were picked up by an Inuit on a snowmobile pulling a sled. Try to be in Nome at the end. One bar almost always has a ladies' arm wrestling contest. Trust me, you'd lose.
This doesn't make any sense the second time through, either.

8. Ryder Cup -- Where else can you witness multimillionaires nearly hurling over three-foot gimmes with nothing more at stake than pride and some very ugly shirts? Unlike other golf tournaments, every shot matters every day, for better or worse.
I dunno, can't you see that at any rich, private golf course?

7. Yankees vs. Red Sox at Fenway -- There's no better place in baseball than Fenway, which is like playing in your grandmother's attic. The Green Monster isn't an architect's precious quirk; it was the only way to shoehorn the place onto the available land. And Fenway is filled with people who don't need giant clapping hands on the scoreboard to know when to cheer.
Why is one's grandmother's attic a good place to play baseball? Weird comparison. Do grandmothers have differently-sized attics? I suppose this is one I'd like to attend, even though I despise both clubs, but I think any playoff game automatically trumps it.

6. America's Cup -- You need a good Chris-Craft to see it, but if you can't bum a seat on one, who cares? The pub scene alone is priceless. Endlessly thirsty crew members, billionaires in dorky captain's hats, diamond-dripping cougars, all elbowing each other out at the bar. Bring an extra liver.
The pub scene where, in the ocean? I fail to see how rich people at a bar make this the 6th best sporting event in the world to see live.

5. Tour de France -- Like trying to get to 20 Super Bowls in 23 days, but worth it. Pick a climbing stage, bring friends and a bike, ride the course in the morning before the race (you're allowed), have lunch in a hamlet atop some exquisite Alp, watch the heart-skipping finish, have a bottle of Bordeaux, spend the night, bike down in the morning. Rinse and repeat.
Funny he makes the Super Bowl comparison and then weirdly leaves the SB off the list. Not only does this plan sound completely infeasible, but since when are the finishes of bicycle races ever close?

4. North Carolina vs. Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium -- Fans pulling the hair of Tar Heels players as they inbound the ball; students camping out for months in K-Ville for tix; the hilarious chants from the Crazies, who once yelled at Grant Hill's parents, "One more kid!"; public school vs. private; an electricity that makes the Final Four and its corporate crowd seem like a three-day seminar on bunions.
Bunions? This would be a fun one to go to, though again I'd prefer a tournament game. Do they really pull hair? That seems unsportsmanlike.

3. Wimbledon -- There's nothing in America within a par-5 of it. It's a Windsor Castle garden party with grunting. It's queens and cobblers, cheek to cheek, over grounds so huge it would take you and your Toro a month to mow. It's a phantasmagoria of color -- greens and purples and yellows -- and that's just Bud Collins' pants.
Hilarious pant joke aside, are the games fun to attend? He never addresses this, and it seems like a lot of time in the sun, and the tournament takes forever.

2. Kentucky Derby -- My life's aspiration was to be Damon Runyon, and the Derby is as close as I'll get. With its wooden stands, elegant barns, men in seersucker suits and women in hats you could land an F-14 on, it's 1927 everywhere you look. Don't miss the fillies the day before in the Kentucky Oaks or the Barnstable Brown Gala or the awful race-day breakfast at Wagner's Pharmacy, across from Gate 3. If you hear a tip there, book it, because everyone around you is a trainer, an owner or a groom.
Damon Runyan, another reference that resonates with today's readers. I've heard from friends that this event is fun, so I'll let it slide even though it's a 2-minute horse race.

1. Masters -- Sneak into the clubhouse for the peach cobbler and steal into the Eisenhower Cabin, where some paintings are actually by Eisenhower. Do the par-3 tourney Wednesday and Arnie's first tee shot Thursday; see the droop-shouldered cut players driving out Magnolia Lane Friday, Amen Corner Saturday and golf history Sunday. Because Augusta already has most of the money printed in America, it has not sold out an inch. There are no ads, just flowers. No luxury boxes, just $1.50 egg salad sandwiches. Timeless.
Just two entries ago, Reilly said there was nothing in America within a par-5 of Wimbledon (an odd mixed metaphor), and now he awards the top spot to an American golf course largely on the basis of cheap sandwiches?

Reilly wrote later that he received a lot of critical mail on this piece, and deservedly so. He even wrote a shorter post about five events about which many people inquired: why'd you leave this off? For example, you may have noticed that none of the championships of the 4 major North American sports (college or pro) made his list.

1) The Super Bowl. It's too hyped, too over produced and crammed with too many people who have absolutely nothing to do with football to make any top-10 list. Unless you really think Super Bowl weekend is the place to stage the premier of Barbershop 2, which actually happened. Half the celebs and a third of the corporate suits at it can't name a single player on either team. Most people leave Saturday. The worm now officially eats the bird.
I hate, hate, hate it when people call the Super Bowl "too hyped." It's the biggest fucking game in American sports - should we downplay it? Stay low-key? He was all about the bar scene at the America's Cup - aren't there pre-Super Bowl parties? This is the most inexcusable omission on his list, and what's more, he knows it and seems to be smugly defiant at leaving it off.

2) The World Series. Because baseball is so greedy, the World Series now often doesn't end until Halloween, which means you find yourself sitting in Busch stadium around Nov. 1, freezing your redbird off, not really caring who beats whom, just hoping you can get out of there before your tongue sticks permanently to your frozen beer.
1) Please explain the "greedy" accusation further. 2) If you sat in Busch Stadium last year, you definitely were "not really caring who beats whom," because the Cardinals didn't play, and 3) people watch football games in Buffalo in December, so suck it up. It's the World Series!

3) The Olympics. They're just much, much, much better on TV. Any Olympics. On TV, the men's ski jumping is 30 seconds away from the women's figure skating. In real life, it's two overpriced tickets, four Tylenol and a three-hour bus ride with a Japanese photographer asleep on your shoulder the whole way. Fun for a weekend, but then go home and watch it on your plasma.
I don't doubt that they're better on TV, but aren't a lot of other things? Can't you follow a golf tournament a lot easier on TV, or the Tour de France? That latter one sounded like a real hassle when he described it - now a bus ride is too much? Personally, I'd love to be there for some of the track and field events. If the Kentucky Derby made this list, couldn't the men's 100m final, for instance?

4) The BCS Championship Game. Until we get a playoff, it's a pointless exercise, like covering a Cuban election.
Whether you prefer a playoff or not, it's not "pointless." It decides the championship of a major collegiate sport. The Cuban election thing is a typically forced Reilly metaphor, and an inapt one. It's hard for me to grasp how a one-party rigged election is like two of the best (if not the two best) college football teams in the nation battling for a championship.

5) Soccer. I've had hundreds of emails telling me I'm despicable for not picking Barca v. Real Madrid (Spain); Boca Juniors v. River Plate (Buenos Aires); and Rangers F.C. v. Celtic F.C. (Glasgow), along with a few hundred other rivalries in The Beautiful Fake an Injury Like Your Achilles Just Snapped Game. One guy wrote: "River-Boca fans shoot each other on the streets!" Whoa, cool! Can you get me two up front?
Soccer sucks - I'm with you here, Rick!

Tuesday, July 28

I must kill the Queen

As the Tribe gets set to square off against the Angels, who I refuse to call by their silly new-ish name, I see they're sporting their 1986 California Angels uniforms, thus validating me!

I assume all fans watching the game are thinking the same thing as me: Reggie Jackson in an Angels uni in The Naked Gun attempting to kill Queen Elizabeth but ultimately being thwarted by Frank Drebin. One can only hope tonight's game is as exciting, or at least features a lion attacking a baserunner.

Monday, July 27

Obviously Betancourt was weighing this team down.

If you don't already know the results of this weekend's Cleveland Indians series in Seattle, I hate to ruin it for you upfront, but the Cleveland Indians have now won four in a row. This series the Indians offense scored 9, 10, and 12 runs, while the Mariners mustered a grand total of just six runs, with three runs apiece coming in the last two games of this three game series.

Getting things started for the Indians was Aaron Laffey. Laffey pitched a gem, going 7.0 innings, allowing only three hits and recording a career-high seven strikeouts. Laffey was backed by an Indians offense that only scored one run the first six innings. Both Travis Hafner and Ben Francisco homered in the seventh to give Laffey a relatively safe margin of four runs. Joe Smith and Tony Sipp split the eighth inning two outs to one, respectively, and Rafael Perez pitched a two-strikeout ninth to close the book on the Mariners. Oh and the Indians scored five runs in the top of the ninth too. Indians (39-58) win 9-0.

Saturday's game saw a bench clearing, well it wasn't a brawl really. Everyone just stood around but the benches were cleared nonetheless. Anywho, Jeremy Sowers took the mound for the Indians and the last post I may have referred to him as pretty much just a AAA pitcher. Let's not get too excited about this, but Sowers also went seven innings giving up, wait for it, zero runs. Offensively the Indians spread the runs out a little more this time scoring two, four, two, and two runs starting in the third inning and ending in the sixth. Chris Gimenez, Asdrubal Cabrera, and the hot-hitting Ryan Garko all homered with one guy on. Gimenez also had an awesome catch in right field to take away a home run. As for the fight, I'm not even going to go into details. However I will point out Jose Veras has pretty much sucked since we picked him up. This game's effort saw him give up two runs on three hits before getting out of the ninth. Tribe (40-58) win 10-3.

Today's series finally begins with me saying Cliff Lee started and pretty much ends with Jhonny Peralta hitting a grand slam. That's all you need to know. Sure, Lee gave up two runs in the first but that was it. Did the Indians hit any home runs this series? Yes Grady Sizemore, the aforementioned Mr. Peralta, Hafner, and Francisco all homered bringing the grand total for the weekend to 11. Tribe (41-58) win 12-3.

Make no mistake: the Indians destroyed this Mariners this weekend. Tons of offense, amazing starting pitching were my ridiculously obvious reasons for this series sweep. Laffey's outing was encouraging, Sowers' was more maddening but as always well see him pitch again later, and Lee was his usual self. The offense coming alive was something we haven't seen over a sustained stretch of three games yet this season. Sure, that series against the Yankees in New York was nice but this was different. So what does it mean? Probably very little. The Mariners are still over .500 and this is the same team the Indians lost three out of four in Cleveland just a week ago.

An interesting note is that the Indians will have faced nine straight left-handed starters coming Monday. I hope Garko and Francisco have enjoyed it.

The Indians now head to California to take on the Angels.

Game 1:Carl Pavano, RHP (8-8, 5.48) vs. Joe Saunders, LHP (8-6, 4.94)
Game 2:David Huff, LHP (5-4, 6.39) vs. Jered Weaver, RHP (10-3, 3.57)
Game 3:Aaron Laffey, LHP (4-2, 3.71) vs. John Lackey, RHP (6-4, 4.22)

I like our chances against Saunders tomorrow. Hopefully, the good Carl Pavano shows up. Jered Weaver and John Lackey are two pretty good pitchers. Weaver has been good all year and Lackey is coming off two strong starts. Starting pitching is what has really impressed these last two series and hopefully David Huff and Laffey can keep it going.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Sunday, July 26

FCF race season begins!

A picture of Pittsburgh? On a Cleveland sports blog? What's going on here?

Dont worry, there hasn't been a paradigm shift here; Nick and I just did the Pittsburgh Triathlon this Sunday. As an aside, even though I enjoy being here in Cleveland, have no plans to leave, and love the sports teams, Pittsburgh really is a superior to Cleveland in most respects. Trust me, I've lived in both cities, and in most categories (other than teeth per person), they've got us beat right now. But we're making a comeback. And we're still not Detroit.

Both of us opted for the Sprint distance: Nick because it best suits his skills, me because my recently-repaired knee probably can't handle a 10K run too well right now. The results were positive: out of 276 finishers (165 men), Nick placed 12th (overall and among men) and I finished 65th (55th among men). Yeah, I lost to 10 girls, but I have a bum knee, and you didn't do the race at all, so you lost to 111 women. So there. I also notched 14th in the male 30-34 age group, which infuriates me, because I'm fucking 29, not 30. USA Triathlon automatically makes you whatever age you'll be on Dec. 31, which ensures that, on average, half of all race entrants will be listed as a year older than they are. They do it to keep athletes in the same bracket during a calendar year, but what it does for me is bump me up to what turns out to be a harder (and inaccurate) division prematurely. Damn, I thought that after high school, my late birthday wouldn't cost me in athletics anymore.

Anyway, though storms loomed overhead, it was overall a pretty good day for FCF Racing to make their 2009 triathlon debut. The night before was inauspicious; our free lodging plans fell through on us late, but another generous friend and his wife put us up for the night, so things worked out. Somehow, it seems the pizza, beer, and desserts we had the night before weren't ideal pre-race food.

We got up at 4:15 am on raceday, at which point Nick managed to lock himself out of the house. Always something with this kid. We actually got there, set up in the transition area, and ready to go with time to spare, which hasn't been our MO in the past. The three waves of International distance racers hit the water between PNC Park and Heinz Field starting at 6:45, and the under-39 Sprint men hopped in the Allegheny at 7:10. This group included me, Nick, and this hilarious costume Nick was wearing. The swim course was weird; the International people had to swim upstream a bit towards The Roberto Clemente Bridge then head back to the transition area with the current, 1500 m total. The Sprinters only had to do the downstream point-to-point portion, 600 m total. Were we a bit unclear at first on exactly where to go, but it made sense once we got out in the river. The Internationalers leaving first meant a bit of a traffic jam with us, but not too bad. You'd like to have the Sprint group lead off, but they did it this way to minimize the total race time. Fair enough. Nick was 14th out of the water at 9:09; I was 134th at 12:24. Who knew I was such a lousy swimmer?

We hopped on the bicycles for a 20 km ride that was mostly uphill on the way out (up I-279 North) and downhill on the way back. For me, at least, it was also pretty windy and rainy for a good portion of the return, though that passed before I got back to the North Shore. Nick was 22nd in the bike leg at 34:44; I was 35th at 36:38. Much better event for me.

Finally came the run, which I knew was going to be a problem for me because of the knee. Not only did the surgery cut into my training quite a bit, but it's still not fully healed, and running is much more difficult than cycling or swimming. It's a tough deal because running is typically my best event, but now is temporarily my worst discipline. The run went along the Allegheny river - a pretty pleasant course to travel. The only weird thing was how the signs pushed runners to stay to the left. Without elaborating too much: left is not the side runners (and bikers) generally stay on, and they didn't all that much at this race either. Seems maybe next year they could iron out that one. Nick kept up his all-around consistent work on foot, notching 18th in the run with a 21:45 5K. I turned in an embarrassing 152nd at 28:48, the slowest 5K I've ever run in competition, a jaunt that probably cost me 20 spots in the overall rankings. Oh well.

Overall, I really liked the Pittsburgh Triathlon. This was the first year they had a Sprint distance, so you have to expect a few logistical issues with integrating the two courses. Still, the race was really well located and set up; parking was easy, transition areas were numbered, course layout was logical, volunteer staffing was solid, and the post-race spread was excellent. I'll probably head back to the Golden Triangle for this event in 2010. And this time I'll be 30 for real.

Next up for our intrepid triathletes: the Cleveland Triathlon, August 2.

Friday, July 24

Wait, did we just win a series?

Without me even paying too much attention, the Indians went out and won a series. On the road, even! Against a .500 team! The real surprise was that both wins were one-run games. One was even a come-from-behind victory. Too bad no one is really going to notice.

The Tribe and the Blue Jays opened a three -ame set at the Rogers Center in Toronto Tuesday with our pitching savior Cliff Lee facing off against Brett Cecil (3-1). The Cleveland offense had been asleep for a few games and this game was no different. Luckily for the Tribe, Lee was pitching well. His only big mistake was allowing a solo shot by Scott Rolen, who is having a pretty decent season with a .849 OPS, in the seventh. As far as the Indians offense: all you need to know is what took place in the top of the ninth. Ryan Garko pinch-hit for Kelly Shoppach and proceeded to get an infield single. Yes, Ryan Garko legged out an infield single. Garko is so quick that he was immediately pinch run for by Luis Valbuena. Next up, Grady Sizemore attempted a sac bunt, Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay threw to second to get Valbuena, but his throw was off and continued into the outfield. Valbuena ended up at third with Grady on second with zero outs. The Blue Jays intentionally walked Asdrubal Cabrera to load the bases, at which point Shin-Soo Choo grounded into a fielders choice that went to home plate for the force out.

At this point in our story, Victor Martinez strides to the plate, having gotten a hit in only 9 of his last 83 at bats. The first pitch is hit foul and the second one is in there for a called strike. Victor is down two strikes and hits a double into left field. Both Sizemore and Cabrera score and we have two on with only one out having taken the lead 2-1. Hafner strikes out swinging, Peralta walks to load the bases again with two outs, and then Ben Francisco grounds into a fielder's choice. Inning over, but what an inning.

So you're Eric Wedge. You have Cliff Lee on the mound with a one-run lead in the ninth. Do you send him back out there, or bring in your $20 million dollar reliever with Toronto hitters Vernon Wells, Rolen, and Overbay, the number three, four, and five hitters coming to the plate? Well, you let Cliff pitch the ninth and he goes one, two, three. Tribe (37-57) win 2-1.

Wednesday's game was less fun, thanks to a seven-run effort by Carl Pavano in 4.2 innings followed by Jose Veras' 1.1 innings which plated three more Blue Jays. Offensively the Indians put up a heroic effort helped by a three-run home run by Valbuena, but it wasn't enough with the Indians first two pitchers spotting the Blue Jays 10 runs. Indians (37-58) lose 6-10.

Thursday's game was exciting too, but I won't go into as much detail. David Huff, who seems to alternate good and bad starts, went 7.2 innings and allowed four runs (which is good I guess). The Blue Jays pitchers, on the other hand only allowed two earned runs. However, thanks to two Toronto errors, the Indians tallied 5 runs and Kerry Wood picked up his 13th save of the season. Tribe (38-58) win 5-4.

The big news this week, besides these amazing victories, was the trade of Rafael Betancourt to the Colorado Rockies. In return the Indians got relief pitching prospect Connor Graham. In every article on Graham I've read it mentions how he is 6-6 235 lbs. Yes, he is a big guy who throws in the low to mid 90's. Control has been an issue which shouldn't be surprising for a guy who has only pitched in high-A ball. The Indians are sending him to AA Akron. The real reason the Indians made this trade was they thought that Betancourt's 2010 option of $5.4 million wasn't looking like it was going to happen and they felt their return was worth more than what they were giving up. Relief pitching prospects are scarce in the Indians system, in case you didn't know. Senor Slo-Mo will be missed.

Word around the internets seems to speculate that neither Lee or Martinez are likely to be moved. The asking price is simply too high for either. The post-steroid era seems to skew performance back to the under 30 crowd, so teams must be considerate of how valuable a cheaper, young, and maybe better player is.

The Indians take on Seattle again this weekend, beginning a six-game West Coast trip. Hopefully the results against Seattle are a little better this time around.

Game 1: Aaron Laffey, LHP (3-2, 4.27) vs. Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP (0-0, 0.00)
Game 2: Jeremy Sowers, LHP (2-7, 5.77) vs. Erik Bedard, LHP (5-2, 2.70)
Game 3: Cliff Lee, LHP (6-9, 3.17) vs. To be announced

For the record, Ryan Rowland Hyphen Smith is a lefty who has never faced the Indians. I'm leery of any lefty call-up against the Indians based solely on their history against them, despite the fact I know history doesn't mean much of anything. Jeremy Sowers gets another shot to show everyone how he's a AAA pitcher. I don't remember seeing half this many TBA pitchers last year. If the Indians can set some semblance of a rotation I suspect most teams should be able to as well.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)

Tuesday, July 21

The Downtown report

Checking in from my perch in Downtown Cleveland, trying to stare the leaves into turning colors...

- The sports scene here Downtown is absolutely dead, at least for the moment. The Indians are playing, yes, and the ballpark is as nice as ever, but it's hard to imagine there being any less enthusiasm for the club. As I begin this post, the Wahoos are leading 2-1 in the 9th and my stomach is starting to churn.

- A while back, I ranked the sports months of the year. July placed 11th and August 12th. Fallow times for sports fans.

- I think most people are sort of trying not to think too much about the Indians right now, keeping loose tabs in case they go crazy and win two games in a row or something. In the meantime, there's sort of a cautious underbubbling of excitement for the upcoming Browns and Cavaliers campaigns.

- In the case of the Browns, it's not so much that anyone (except, maybe, Nick) thinks they're going to be anything but lousy, but more that damnit, we like professional football. I, personally, am of the mindset that the Football Gods can't beat me. 10 years of terrible football, and I'm ready as ever to break out the beers, jerseys, and game-day text messages in 2009. Bring it on.

- The Buckeyes, on the other hand, should be pretty solid this year. I think Figgs touched on this earlier, but their season looks, on paper, pretty easy to map out: lose at home to USC and on the road to Penn State, take down everyone else and beat the tar out of michigan, and maybe score a BCS berth. You know what? I'd take it.

- Expectations for the Cavs this year will be the highest they've been, last year. Even more so in 2009-10, though, you get the feeling they're going for broke this season. LeBron's final year of this deal, Shaq - anything less than a title is a disappointment, and that's all there is to it. Incidentally, I love the Jamario Moon signing (provided Miami doesn't match the offer sheet). Not just because I like his package of skills, but because I saw him play as a member of the Albany Patroons when I was a resident of the Capital District. He was a fan favorite then ("Mooooon!") and I was happy to see him finally break through in the NBA. Now he's got a chance to get himself some fancy jewelry.

- Triathlon season kicks off for Nick and I this weekend in Pittsburgh, PA. 10 weeks off my knee surgery, I'm still not running too fast, so my times are going to be pretty pedestrian this year. Some days I still can't run at all; let's hope this Sunday isn't one of those. We'll also be participating in the Cleveland Triathlon the following Sunday, August 2.

- Hated listening to the TV broadcast booth this past weekend, for a number of reasons. First of all, can we stop lionizing Ichiro Suzuki because he gets a lot of infield hits? They're not any better than walks. Second, can we stop pretending that pitching and defense are somehow "old school"? Yes, teams are scoring less now than in the home run era, and runs were hard to come by back in the day, but teams always needed strong pitching and defensive play to win. This annoys me.

- 2-1 Tribe. Winning gives me a chill even when it pulls us to within 13 games of first. There will be other seasons.

Wednesday, July 15

So what happens now?

As a quick crib, Terry Pluto had an article yesterday 13 thoughts on what should happen in the Cleveland Indians' second half of the season I suggest you check out. My feelings mirror much of Mr. Pluto's, so: what are those?

- Trading Carl Pavano is a no-brainer. Actually it would probably be stupid not to. Re-signing him is pretty much out of the question, since the Indians' payroll next year shouldn't be expected to grow, since the weather's lousy, downtown is a pit, the stadium's falling apart, and we can't draw dick. Well the stadium isn't falling apart but that drawing dick part is true and isn't helping things.

- Actually trade everyone you can not named Sizemore, Cabrera, Martinez, and Choo.

- Victor Martinez is someone I don't want to see traded because he seriously signed a below-market deal to stay an Indian.

- Cliff Lee is the only pitcher we have that is even close to reliable. However, if the braintrust who put this year's contender together thinks the return is worth it, I really won't shed too many tears over losing a pitcher I've been a fan for a long time.

- No one is taking Hafner or his contract, so I guess he's going to be an Indian for a few more seasons.

- I'm not sure what we are doing with the bullpen so I'm not even going to mention it.

- Where is Matt LaPorta anyway?

- If Wedge is done this year, can we get Bobby Valentine back from Japan?

The Indians return to action tomorrow with a four-game series against the Mariners. The following are your expected starters:

Game 1: Garrett Olson, LHP (3-2, 4.42) vs. Cliff Lee, LHP (4-9, 3.47)
Game 2: Felix Hernandez, RHP (9-3, 2.53) vs. Tomo Ohka, RHP (0-3, 6.40)
Game 3: Jarrod Washburn, LHP (6-6, 2.96) vs. David Huff, LHP (4-3, 6.71)
Game 4: Erik Bedard, LHP (5-2, 2.63) vs. Aaron Laffey, LHP (3-2, 4.24)

Back in the day when Canton had a Frontier League team they had guaranteed wins, where if you brought a ticket from a loss you could get into another game. Well, Tomo Ohka's starts are looking more like guaranteed losses. Last series he was teamed up against Detroit's All-Star Indian killer Justin Verlander and now he draws Felix Hernandez. Prove me wrong Tomo, prove me wrong! Otherwise, the absence of Pavano is the obvious factor here. Pavano shouldn't be in an Indians uniform for too much longer.

Marge: What makes you think this Darryl Strawberry character is better than you?
Homer: Marge, forget it. He's bigger than me, faster than me, stronger than me, and he already has more friends around the plant than I do.
Bart: You make me sick, Homer. You're the one who told me I could do anything if I just put my mind to it!
Homer: Well, now that you're a little bit older, I can tell you that's a crock! No matter how good you are at something, there's always about a million people better than you.
Bart: Gotcha. Can't win, don't try.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Tuesday, July 14

Nice - three straight days without the Indians

I looked, but I wasn't able to find the crying Chief Wahoo graphic.

Needless to say, this first half has been almost impossibly bad. Consider that all four of the FCF writers picked the Indians to take the division, and here they instead sit at 35-54, 14 games out of first and dead last in the American League. Granted, we're all homers, but there was some general optimism nationwide about the Tribe headed into this campaign, enough that it was at least reasonable to pick them to win the Central. It's hard to imagine a team underperforming expectations any more than this year's Indians.

For comparison, consider that I started watching baseball in 1986, before several of this site's authors were even born. The Indians went .519 that year yet somehow finished 5th of 7 teams in the Al East. They spent 17 years in a 7-team division, of which 1986 was the 10th. Here's where they placed:

7th: 4
6th: 9
5th: 2
4th: 2
3rd: 0
2nd: 0
1st: 0

That's horrible. They were so bad that they made an awesome movie about how futile the franchise was. They were a blight. Why am I bringing this up?

Because the 2009 Indians are still the worst Cleveland baseball team I've ever seen. They are horrible. There is nothing good about them except, possibly Shin-Soo Choo. They're completely unlikable, they're starting to turn on each other and the management, they're constantly inventing ways to lose (6 games behind their 3rd-order Pythagorean prediction), and I've already been to three rain-delayed games. This sucks. It's been a long time since I had to look this far forward to the Browns posting their annual complement of 5 wins.

But, hey, we get three days off, and we can use them to make a cursory look into the numbers to see why they're so bad, even though we pretty much already know.

We've slipped to 5th in runs scored, which is still respectable, especially for a club with a team OPS+ of just 98. Very little has changed since we last looked at the data. We have two and a half good batters:
- Choo (OPS+ 129, OBP .403)
- Victor Martinez (OPS+ 121, team-leading 14 home runs)
- Travis Hafner (OPS+ 142, but only has played in 41 games)

That's it. Ryan Garko is a bit above average but not really when you consider where he plays in the field, and we wisely dealt a consistent performer in Mark DeRosa before he got hurt. Grady Sizemore is up to 99, but an on-base of .324 is not nearly good enough for him. I can't even talk about the rest of the team's batting - it's too annoying. We don't even put up good at-bats anymore. Speaking of which, am I the only person who's noticed that Rick Manning and Matt Underwood only call an at-bat a "good at-bat" if it involves more than 6 pitches and ends in a walk? Not only that, but they excitedly label every such plate appearance as a "good at-bat"? And that, as I just realized, a walk is in fact not an at-bat at all? And that this is a bad baseball team?

Our second half rotation will be: Cliff Lee, Tomo Ohka, David Huff, Jeremy Sowers, and like one start from Carl Pavano. Is there any point in continuing this article?

A couple of subpar outings have dropped Cliff Lee to a still-easily-team-leading 129 in the ERA+ metric among starting pitchers. Rafael Betancourt and Matt Herges have been OK out of the pen, and Tony Sipp has been valuable (ERA+ 162). Everyone else is a total nightmare except the oft-injured Aaron Laffey. Our fire starters, other than Lee, with the most starts, have an average ERA+ of 72. Seventy-two. The bullpen isn't much better, because even with Lee, the team ERA+ is a putrid 83+. This isn't my computer and I don't want to ruin the keyboard, so I'm going to stop now.

Go Tribe, I guess.

Sunday, July 12

They were who we thought they were.

The Tribe played a three-game series against the very much still in first place in the AL Central Detroit Tigers in that expanse of a ballpark they call Comerica. Were there some highlights? Sure - this is baseball - but mostly it was pretty much the same results we've come to expect from these Indians over the last couple of months.

Friday's series opener saw Edwin Jackson and Cliff Lee taking the mound for their respective teams. While Lee went seven innings and gave up three runs on five hits Jackson's line of seven innings one run on four hits was better. Cliff Lee got no run support and that pretty much says it all. That single run is thanks to Ryan Garko (starting in the huge right field in Detroit) hitting a solo shot in the fifth. Garko in the outfield meant Kelly Shoppach and his .194 average was behind the plate. Having to squeeze Victor Martinez, Shoppach, Garko and Travis Hafner into a lineup is not a part of Eric Wedge's job that I envy. Tribe lose (34-53) 1-5.

Saturday's game was the first STO game I've seen this year thanks to a free MLB.TV preview. I missed the first few frames due to a phone call but I saw what I suspect were the important Cleveland Indians parts. It was Negro League night before a sold out crowd in Detroit, so the Detriot Stars were taking on the Cleveland Buckeyes. Carl Pavano had a really good game for the Buckeyes. He got a first pitch strike on 90% of the Stars batters he faced. That and eight innings of work and Pavano was everything a team playing this bad could ask for. The Buckeyes didn't have a home run, but did hit four doubles and a triple by Grady Sizemore. OK, one of those doubles was stretched into a triple and Luis Valbuena was called out because the umpire couldn't see that a tag was never applied, but that's the way it goes I guess. The play that put the Buckeyes up for good was a two RBI single Hafner blooped into left field that Ryan Raburn had in his glove but couldn't hold on to on a dive. After that Pavano cruised. Kerry Wood, who is our closer and all, was called on to pitch the ninth. Wood walked Placido Polanco on four straight fastballs and after falling behind Miguel Cabrera 1-2 he gave up a two-run homer, making it a one-run game. After that, Wood settled down and got two flyouts and an infield ground out. Kerry Wood's outing aside, this was a nice game. The picture for this article is of an Adam Everett bunt that Peralta fielded barehanded and threw a strike to Garko at first. It was a impressive play. Other than that some guy named Clete Thomas is platooning with Magglio Ordonez in right field. Really Clete? Buckeyes (35-53) win 5-4.

Sunday's match-up was All-Star Justin Verlander against Tomo Ohka. Guess how this one turned out? I'll make this short. Ohka goes 3.2 allowing five, followed by Mike Gosling's 1.1 and three runs, followed by Winston Abreu's 1.0 and two runs, Chris Perez and Rafeal Betancourt finish off the final two bottom frames with scoreless innings. The Indians lone run came in the ninth. Jhonny Peralta walks, Valbuena hits a double, Ben Francisco walks to load the bases and then Jamey Carroll walks. Take that, shutout! Tribe (35-54) lose 10-1.

The good news is we have the All-Star game to thank for a break in this mess of an Indians season. Tomorrow is the sometimes way-too-long Home Run Derby, followed by the game Tuesday and an off day Wednesday, and we don't have to see this team take the field again until Thursday against the Mariners. With Pavano's excellent eight-inning effort on Saturday, his future is almost guaranteed to be with another team come the July 31st trade deadline. So expect to see a lot more of Ohka and Jeremy Sowers since they might not be going anywhere soon.

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Pretty much sums it up

Tribe manager Eric Wedge after Saturday's game:

"That was one of our best all-around games this year. It was great to see us playing good baseball."

This, following a 5-4 win. A one-run win was one of the Tribe's best all-around games on the year. Wow.

Thursday, July 9

And the Tribe played on.

I'm going to say that we've hit an all-new low in Indians interest here but they keep playing them so I occasionally listen to them, at least for a few innings.

Game one was a typical Jeremy Sowers start - he was doing OK for a few innings only to see it fall apart after the fourth. Jeremy's customary 5.1 innings resulted in four earned runs on five hits. Newly-acquired Chris Perez pitched the rest of the sixth inning, which resulted in two more earned runs and his second blown save. Yes, he already has two blown saves with us. Chris you're fitting in just fine. Fellow newcomer Winston Abreu did his best to fit into our bullpen scheme by getting one out and surrendering four runs on three hits. I once named a cow Winston, after Sir Winston Churchill. Somehow everyone's favorite back-end reliever Tomo Ohka pitched the remaining 1.2 innings and didn't allow a hit. Offensively, Grady Sizemore did hit two home runs, netting a whole three runs batted in. Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner both had two hits each. If you've added up all the runs given up by Indians pitching you might see where this is going, Indians (33-51) lose 6-10.

Thursday saw the return of Aaron Laffey to the Indians starting rotation. While his rehab starts from the oblique injury were less than spectacular, he is back after missing the required minimum six weeks the oblique injury seems to require. Unfortunately for Laffey and the Tribe they were facing Jose Contreras who has been lights out since being sent down to AAA and recalled. Maybe the White Sox threatened to send him to back to Cuba because Contreras had the Indians swing and missing on his way to striking out nine Indians in 6.1 innings of work. Laffey did OK but maybe six weeks off and some bullpen work hadn't done him any real favors as demonstrated by his 6.0 innings and four runs on seven hits. Actually, four runs in six is above average for this staff, so I guess Laffey did fine. Jhonny Peralta hit and scored the only Indians run with a solo shot off Contreras in the seventh. Other than that the only other highlight was Chris Perez pitching a scoreless and hitless eighth. Indians (33-52) lose 1-5.

Today's day game was intermittently listened to through the flimsiest-constructed free Chinese-made headphones you can find in Mexico. About halfway through the game the right speaker goes out and listening to the game becomes almost unbearable, but not for the usual reasons. Kelly Shoppach had one hit, a grand slam, and two walks and two strike outs. What are the three true outcomes again? Ryan Garko added four hits and Peralta chipped in three and Choo struck out three times going hitless. Pitching wise this wasn't a game to remember. Three of the six pitchers used by the White Sox combined for ten walks. Chicago reliever D.J. Carrasco accounted for five in 1.2 innings alone. On the other side of the coin, David Huff (pictured above since I wasn't even sure what he looked like) gave up a massive eight runs on eleven hits in 4.1 innings. However, the Indians' bullpen some how, some way, (keeps coming up with funky ass shit like every single day) pitched 4.2 innings of shutout ball. The headline was that Kerry Wood pitched his first ever 1.0+ inning save going 1.1 innings. Betancourt pitched a scoreless inning and it was nice to see him back. The Tribe (34-52) was ahead all day and needed every single run to win 10-8.

Well I'm beyond the point of saying stuff like, Garko shouldn't be in the outfield (he had a few hits today and a clutch RBI) and Sowers should be pitching out of the bullpen. What I will say is when our radios announcers spend a good deal of time talking about the Twins and the White Sox playing a series this weekend you get the sense that this season is over for those only interested in competitive baseball.

The Indians head to Detroit for a series against the Tigers who lead this AL Central by 2.5 games...but not over the Tribe.

Game 1: Cliff Lee, LHP (4-8, 3.45) vs. Edwin Jackson, RHP (6-4, 2.59)
Game 2: Carl Pavano, RHP (7-7, 5.36) vs. Armando Galarraga, RHP (5-7, 5.03)
Game 3: Tomo Ohka, RHP (0-2, 5.65) vs. Justin Verlander, RHP (9-4, 3.59)

Wait Ohka? Didn't he pitch in relief Tuesday? Yes, Carmona isn't ready and so To-mo Oh-ka (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap) is taking the mound. The Cliff Lee / Edwin Jackson matchup is obviously the pitching centerpiece of this series.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/David Banks)

Sunday, July 5

Coupla serieses

Having visited with my esteemed colleague John Hawkins this weekend, I'm fully aware of how pressed he is for time. Thus, I'm bringing you short recaps of the two three-game series played this past week in Progressive Field.

Chicago White Socks
Wow, this series sucked. Uneven weather and a totally lifeless, hapless Tribe club made me realize on Tuesday night just what a bad product the organization is putting on the field right now. The value of a night or day spent at the ballpark has rarely been lower than it is now. How's that for an intro?

I was fortunate enough to be seeing No Doubt instead of Game 1 of the series, a 6-3 loss to the Socks. Carl Pavano turned in a strong start, yielding just 2 runs over 7 innings; unfortunately, the punchless Tribe offense was kept off the board by White Sock starter Gavin Floyd. Newly-acquired reliever Chris Perez came on in the 9th to try to keep it at 2-0, and, in a rather transparent effort to "fit in" with the bullpen and be regarded as "one of the guys," walked a guy, hit a guy, and gave up 4 runs while recording just 2 outs. Welcome to the worst bullpen ever, Chris!

The Indians actually managed a bit of a rally in their half of the 9th, cutting it to 6-3 on a solo shot by Shin-Soo Choo and a two-run job from Ryan Garko, but they would get no closer. Two of the runs were charged to Matt Thornton, who was still awarded a "Hold," the dumbest stat in the land. Tribe manager Eric Wedge was ejected for arguing (incorrectly) that a squibber hit by Ryan Garko should have been called foul. Blah.

Game 2 of the series was even worse, as the Tribe parlayed a rare bad outing from staff ace Cliff Lee into a rain-shortened 11-4 loss. Lee gave up 4 in the 1st, which reminded me of the part in Airplane! where Robert Stack is telling everyone in the control tower how they need to build up Ted Stryker's confidence and then after the first thing Stryker tells him he freaks out, starts swearing, and declares it hopeless. If we can't even depend on Lee, then things are worse than we suspected.

Not much to say here. Lee was the real story, smacked around for 7 runs in just 3 innings. Lest fans might worry that his outing might have interfered with another horrible bullpen outing, Mike Gosling allayed any such fears by yielding 4 runs in 2 2/3 innings to bring Chicago's total to 11 runs. The Wahoos touched Clayton Richard for 4 runs in 6 innings on a Travis Hafner solo home run and a three-run double by Asdrubal Cabrera, but it was far too little for the home team.

Game 3 was what they mean when they talk about a team "mailing it in." The Tribe lost 6-2 in a game where it never seemed like they had any interest in playing. Jeremy Sowers took the loss, giving up 5 runs in 6 innings while the bulllpen actually kept the Socks to just one more over the final three frames. Jose Contreras stymied Tribe bats all night, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits over 8 innings to earn the W. That guy kills us.

The key to this game was Sowers; more specifically, him once again being left in the game too long. I rarely fault managers for losing games and prefer to seek out the logic behind their decisions; this one, however, is largely on Wedge. YOU CAN'T LEAVE SOWERS IN TO FACE A LINEUP A THIRD TIME!!! It's logically incoherent to play all the percentages with lefty/righty matchups and lineup construction, and then ignore the fact that Sowers' batting average allowed numbers look like this (approximate):

1st time through: .220
2nd time through: .256
3rd time through: 2.567

This guy gets killed the third time through, over and over again, and we don't make an adjustment. I know our bullpen isn't strong, but this is flatly unacceptable. An organization that puts such an emphasis on research and data analysis should not tolerate ignoring this fairly obvious and well-established trend.

The sweep at the hands of Chicago left the Indians at a season-worst 31-49. But hey, off-day! Not only did I not have to watch the Indians lose, but no Tomo Ohka start! I very nearly titled this article "Looking Forward to Off-Days," and would have had they not played a little better against Oakland.

Oakland Athletics
The A's came to town over the Independence Day weekend, and the Erie Warriors fared significantly better. Game 1 was the Shin-Soo Choo show, as the Cleveland right fielder had a carrer night by going 4-5 with 2 home runs and 7 runs batted in to lead the Tribe to a 15-3 rout over Oakland. David Huff got the win with a Bare Minimum Quality Start (6 IP, 3 ER), and the Indians' bullpen shut down Oakland for three innings when it didn't really matter.

The Tribe hitters just battered the A's staff, notching runs against the first 5 pitchers that faced them. Though Choo was the undoubted star, other Tribesmen chipped in as well: Cabrera had 2 hits and drove in three runs; Grady Sizemore reached base 5 times and scored thrice; and Ben Francisco reached base four times (3-4 and a walk) and rounded the bases all four times.

Game 2 was a surprisingly well-played affair that saw the Indians claim a 5-2 victory. Pavano delivered his second good outing of the week, yielding just 2 runs over 6 2/3 innings for his 7th win on the year. Relievers Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, and Kerry Wood allowed just one baserunner for the next 2 2/3, and Wood even did this bizarre thing where he simply got out three opponent batters in a row and the game ended. I kinda liked the new approach. Trailing 1-0, Cleveland struck for three in the 3rd on a Luis Valbuena RBI single and a two-run shot from the suddenly-hot Ben Francisco. Grady Sizemore plated the final two Tribe tallies with a solo home run in the 6th and an RBI groundout the following inning. This is the kind of games this team was supposed to be winning all year, but the bullpen so often turned them into 9-5 losses.

Game 3 was basically the same thing as Game 2, only it was the A's taking home a 5-2 victory. Oakland starter Gio Gonzalez played the Pavano role, yielding only 2 runs through six innings. The only Indians markers came on a two-out RBI double from Sizemore to score Jamey Carroll and a solo home run from Jhonny Peralta. The A's never put together a big rally against Tribe starter Cliff Lee (another BMQS of 6 IP, 3 ER), but were consistent throughout the afternoon, adding a single run to their total in each of 5 different innings, including insurance markers in the 8th and 9th. In avoiding the sweep, the A's dropped the Tribe's mark to 33-50.

So, another week remains before the All-Star Break in this so-far disastrous season for our club. If I'm available, I'll post some first-half thoughts; in the meantime, congratulations to Victor Martinez on his selection to the American League All-Star team. It's too bad we never score any runs for Lee, or he might be headed to St. Louis as well. Choo also deserves a mention, as his .407 OBP puts him 3rd in the AL behind Boston's Kevin Youkilis and Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who's reaching at a remarkable .464 clip. Anyway, there's time for that later; here's the lefty-loaded rotation with which we'll be exacting revenge from the White Socks in their park this week:

Tuesday: Sowers, L, (2-6, 5.68) vs Buehrle, L, (8-2, 3.09)
Wednesday: Laffey, L, (3-1, 3.93, welcome back!) vs Contreras, R, (3-7, 4.84)
Tuesday: Huff, L, (4-3, 6.06) vs Richard, L, (3-1, 4.42)

Go Tribe!