Saturday, April 30

Buckeye Sporcles!

With all the turmoil surrounding Jim Tressel and the Ohio St football program right now, us fans could use some fun. GET IT!

Get your mind going with some random Buckeye trivia questions. My lone miss was the name of the student section.

Draft picks of the Jim Tressel era.
My favorite one. I expected to do better than the 46/57 mark that I put up, but the ones I missed were pretty tough (including two from '02 that I never even heard of). I didn't miss any high picks or any skill position players, except for one very forgettable receiver, so I'm OK with my score.

Heisman Trophy Winners
Something to get your confidence back up. Perfect score baby!

Starting QB's since 1960
30/50 here. All of them from '91 on, never heard of the ones I missed.

Starting bball lineups since 2000
Switching gears to the hardwood here. Picked up 35/55, getting all but one from '05 on (including Je'Kel Foster...don't act like you're not impressed). Boy was this team bad at the beginning part of the decade. I only got one player from '00-'02.

Career receiving leaders.
Such a storied tradition of great wideouts...starting in the '90s. Only got 11/20.

Only 43/86 overall, but in my mind an impressive 27/33 since I was born in '86.

Friday, April 29

Drafting high

Sorry, Browns fans - I'm still talking about the NBA Draft here. I read an interesting story by the PD's Jodie Valade (full disclosure: I know Jodie) about the recent history of teams with the #1 overall pick in the NBA and how they fared in their subsequent campaigns after garnering the draft's top prize. As I demonstrated a couple of weeks ago, pulling for the Cavs to finish dead last in the NBA was the completely wrong thing to do as a fan, and the performance of teams drafting first overall, as opposed to second or third, furthers that view.

#1 pick
Using Valade's table of win differentials the year after drafting first, teams with the #1 pick since 2003 experience an average of +10.9 wins the next year. Not bad. The lone club to decrease in wins in this scenario: this year's Wizards with John Wall. Part of the observed increase in team wins is because of the new star - part of it is because often these clubs have nowhere to go but up. The weirdest one on the table is Toronto's rise in 2006-07 after drafting Andrea Bargnani - he really isn't all that good but the Riptors still shot up 20 wins. Does anyone know why this happened? Anyway, if you throw out the Blazers' season after drafting Greg Oden and the Clippers' first campaign after selecting Blake Griffin (neither played a single game in their first year in the league), the average improvement is +11.3. That's right: over the past nine years, teams who didn't even get to use their #1 pick for so much as a single game did slightly better than those who had their prize available in the first year post-lottery.

#2 pick
The average improvement in wins here is +10.7 - almost identical to the #1 pick. There's one less data point here because Charlotte was an expansion team and of course had zero wins the year before taking Emeka Okafor, so I obviously excluded the "increase" they experienced in their inaugural season. The other special cases for the #2 pick are Detroit (which had the #2 in 2003 because of a trade, not because they were bad; in a normal lottery Dwyane Wade goes #2 and the average here almost certainly goes up) and Seattle in 2007 (because they picked Kevin Durant but were blowing up the team to move it.) Take those two points out and you're at +16.4, considerably better than the results from the #1. Interesting.

#3 pick
Since 2003, the third pick on average garners a club +13.9 wins in the following year, the highest of the top three! The only special case here is Memphis in '08 - they got #3 pick OJ Mayo in a trade rather than drafting him. Take him and an already-modestly good Grizzly team out of the equation, and you're at +15.6 wins. Now that's impressive!

Does this mean that the #3 pick is necessarily more valuable than the #1? No, of course not, and there's certainly more to evaluating a player's impact on a team than their improvement in wins over his first season. But these numbers do strongly suggest that picks in the Top 3 at the draft (and possibly a bit further down) are pretty fungible - you just have to nab the right player. It also suggests, in case I haven't been clear about this, that rooting for the Cavaliers to finish dead last in the NBA last year was a terrible, terrible idea.

An interesting exercise would be to see at what point in the draft order the expected value of win increase in the following season turns negative. The whole NBA goes .500 every year, so the sum of all the draft slots has to be close to zero (not exactly, since teams sometimes have multiple/no first-rounders in a given season), and teams usually have to be near the top to fall, though some have done a remarkably good job at staying on top. I wonder if the +/- flattens out (whatever the inverse of a plateau is) once you reach the middle of the draft or thereabouts.

Wednesday, April 27

Cleveland Cavaliers 2010-11 Season in Review

At this point, there is absolutely no point detailing what went on with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2010 off-season, so let's just start this recap of the Cavs' recent, bizarrely entertaining 19-63 campaign in October, right before the season started. The new-look Cavaliers were widely expected to drop precipitously in the standings - as I've Twittered throughout the year and written about here,'s Kelly Dwyer picked the comically-low win total of 12 for the Cavs (only 58% too low), while a lot of prognosticators had the Cavs winning around 30. No matter where in the lower reaches one saw Cleveland finishing, it was pretty obvious that they were going to fall sharply from the 60-win heights of the previous two campaigns and could even see an end to their five-year streak of reaching the playoffs. Yet I'm not sure anyone saw a campaign this weird unfolding.

Beating Boston
Things started off pretty damn well for the new-look Cavaliers, as they notched a 95-87 Opening Night home victory over the hated Boston Celtics, who when we last saw them were once again dispatching Cleveland from the playoffs, largely thanks to the anti-heroics of a certain former Cavalier. None of that residue was present on this night, just a solid, exciting victory that showed the Cavs still had some talent left.

The First-Place Cavaliers
It's true, they were all alone in first place in the Central at 4-3 early on! Those were good times. Looking back, I see that their season-high three-game win streak was built by wins over the East's dregs: Washington, New Jersey, and Philly (who hadn't started clicking yet). Ah, hindsight.

Holding Their Own Early On
Despite facing some superior opponents, the Cavs remained competitive, improving to 7-9 after a Nov. 27 win over the Memphis Grizzlies (attended by this blogger). The highlight of this stretch, other than the Boston win, was an 83-81 win over Milwaukee punctuated by Mo Williams' buzzer-beating J over Brandon Jennings. The 7-9 mark might sound like a fairly modest first fifth of the season, but that extrapolates to 36 wins over a full season. The Indiana Pacers claimed the East's 8th seed with a 35-47 mark on the year. Just think: we could be getting hammered by the Bulls right now!

December 2, 2010
Anytime the national media is spinning a 28-point home loss as a positive because no spectators tried to physically assault a member of the opposing team, well...your team might not be in the healthiest position.

Everything about this game was awful - the negative energy, the dominant play by the Heat and their major free-agent acquisition, and especially the utterly supine play by the home Cavaliers. That lack of effort, coupled with the club's talent gap, portended stormy times on the horizon. And boy, were those times ever fucking stormy. I saw Tornado Alley yesterday at the Great Lakes Science Center, and in the scene where the guy in the Killdozer finally gets a shot from inside a tornado, I think I saw Manny Harris and Alonzo Gee flying at the screen.

Falling to Pieces
Following the humiliating beatdown at the hands of Miami and the Three DB-gos (h/t to former FCF columnist Nick for the name), the Cavaliers started to unravel. The effort of the early-season games vanished. Defensive cohesion and intensity were non-existent. The Cavaliers stopped believing they could win, and made sure that self-defeating view came to pass. They were out of a lot of games within moments of the opening tip. It was getting hard to watch - I never gave up, but certainly entertained the thought, and made sure I had a backup activity planned for myself for those nights where Cleveland dug themselves a giant early hole, which was a lot of those nights. I mean, how do you lose by 34 points to the Minnesota Timberwolves? (Look it up yourself - this really happened, though an evening in the Great Lakes brewery with JHH eased the pain considerably.)

Cleveland finally snapped a 10-game skid with a thrilling overtime Dec. 18 victory over the New York Knicks (which I watched at Nick's Sports Cafe after a very pleasant evening at Snow Days), but the worst was yet to come. Not against New York, though - we owned them to the tune of 3-1 this season. Thanks for coming out, Knicks. Speaking of the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony valiantly and singlehandedly keeping them in Game 2 with the Celtics was the best playoff performance I've seen so far, albeit a losing one. Yeah, Brandon Roy was tough on Saturday, but at least he had LaMarcus Aldridge around.

The Day the Season Died
When Anderson Varejao injured a part of ankle that no one had ever even heard of in practice on January 6, 2011, it effectively ended any chance the already-shorthanded Cavaliers had to remain competitive for the rest of the year. With the Cavs already missing Mo Williams and having lost eight straight since the win over New York, burying them in a brutal stretch of 18 L's in 19 games, the timing couldn't have been worse to lose their best defensive player, a cat with a steadily improving offensive arsenal and a real feel for winning basketball. Things looked really bad for Byron Scott and his Cavalier squad: turns out that they really, really were.

The Losing Streak
Even the most pessimistic sports fan couldn't have foreseen what would happen next: an NBA-record 26-game losing streak. Things spiraled totally out of control (click link): a hilarious Onion article, a website called (usually featuring only the word "No" in giant Comic Sans font), and more. It's never a good sign when your team's losing streak is being compared to teams in different sports to gain perspective. There were really ugly nights in this stretch: a 112-57 obliteration at the hands of the Lakers; a 70-point first half yielded to Utah followed by an eighty-point first half surrendered to the Nuggets; and another 27-point loss to Miami.

I reviewed the results to look for games where the Cavaliers came close, and there were even fewer than I recalled. There was a last-second home loss to Minny (on a last-second shot by a possibly-stoned Michael Beasley, no less) and a two-point road defeat to the Nets (where Anthony Parker's last-second attempt fell short), and...that's about it. Lots of bad losses. I did, during this streak, develop a strange love for the crazy jumping and erratic-yet-occasionally-brilliant game of Christian Eyenga, but that was quickly becoming not enough to stay focused night after long night.

Snapping the Streak
FINALLY, on February 11, Cleveland's historic losing streak came to an end. I was at the game that finally ended it, a 126-119 overtime win over the LA Clippers, and I don't know if I've ever seen a more excited basketball crowd. A really weird kind of magical night at the Q, but a great experience. Among my crew was a coworker from Brazil who'd never attended an NBA game - I'm pretty sure I singlehandedly doubled his career total for high fives. I was psyched.

With that monkey off their back, and with the arrival of Baron Davis and rejuvenation of JJ Hickson, the Cavaliers would quietly go 10-18 to close out the season, winning at a clip of .357 that represented an improvement of .357 over their previous 26 contests.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Back to the Forum, Even Though They Now Play in the Staples Center, Referenced Awesomely in This One System of a Down Song Man Did Those Guys Rock
One of those wins was a shocking 104-99 victory over the LA Lakers, avenging the franchise-worst 55-point loss a month prior. People made all sorts of excuses: LA was at the end of a long road trip, the All-Star break was coming up, blah blah blah. You lost to the Cavs, deal with it. I watched this game in its entirety on NBA GameCast from my hotel in Norway, where the game ended at approximately 4 am while I was pulling an all-nighter in an effort to sleep through as much of the next day's transatlantic flight as possible. This worked, by the way.

Cleveland notched a few more wins over the next few weeks, including a home win over the Knicks (also with Francis, Nick, and the Fanuc brothers in the stands), ANOTHER win over New York (the Cavs' first roadie win in nearly a mind-boggling four months), and a couple more here and there.

But all of those paled in comparison to the Cavaliers exorcising all sorts of demons on March 29 with a fantastic 102-90 home win over the Miami Heat. I'd rewatch every single one of their 63 losses again if it meant I got to experience that win again. Easily the most exciting win of the season, a victory that made the traumatic off-season and the difficulties of enduring the whole epic losing streak all seem worth it. I felt really, really good that night - I even wandered downstairs with my Cavaliers sweatshirt on for a victory drink. too bad the bar didn't have Great Lakes' Quitness. Suck it, LeBron.

Sprinting to the Finish Line
The Cavaliers didn't let up after their triumphant victory over the NBA's most hated, collecting four more wins in their last nine to finish at 19-63. As I've written about extensively, Cavalier fans should embrace this late-season improved play instead of fretting about the zero value of "earning" slightly higher lottery odds. The Cavs' more consistent winning was sparked by the floor leadership and fearless play of Baron Davis, who led the club despite being in obvious pain. No way do we beat the Heat without Baron. JJ Hickson also figured things out late in the season. JJ finished the year with a solid 13.8 ppg and 8.7 rpg, but after the turn of the new year, he averaged 11.0 rpg and showed a new focus on defense. Very good sign for the future prospects of the Cavaliers, and if Erden, Hollins, and Varejao can lock down center and allow JJ to slide back to the 4, things will be even rosier.

A Look Ahead
I was going to consider the near- and long-term future of the Cavs at the end of this recap, but considering how much roster turnover we can expect with four draft picks, the impending "labor" negotiations, and the fact that the Indians are in first place, I think that can wait for another day.

Monday, April 25

Waiting for the Indians' season to not be "too early"

I have to admit, I still don't know what to make of the 2011 Indians. On one hand, I've always thought that a fast start to season did more good than the usual Indians post-All-Star Game success. But you could easily point out (Eric Wedge-style) that all the games are weighed the same at the end of the season, so whether you started hot or finished hot, it doesn't matter if you didn't perform well the rest of the season. A hot start might be more fun because ultimately I want an Indians team that is in or close to contention, and being ten or more games back of the AL Central leader at any point in a season isn't going to bring fans to the ballpark and isn't going to hold my interest.

It appears that I should always be worried about a game started by Fausto Carmona and Orlando Cabrera isn't likely in the middle of a resurgent (if he was younger this adjective would be breakout) season. It's the little things like this that often divides your two classes of Cleveland sports fan. The group that I suspect is in the majority was just waiting for the Indians to hit a rough patch so they could immediately declare these Indians as pretenders to the AL central crown, such as it is. The other group is just looking for a reason to care again and have a reason to be interested in baseball over the coming months. While even that description seems pessimistic, I want to point out to you that the height of Cleveland-based sportsfandom is usually lower than Campbell Hill.

Now that's not to say I think these Indians don't have a chance. I think they do and I suspected a slight correction of sorts had to happen sometime. Are the Indians better than almost anyone thought or even dared to hope? Yes, but so are the Royals. Can the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox be this bad? I really hope so but probably not all of them.

While the pessimist in me wants to point out all the flaws, I can take solace in the fact that Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana haven't really hit well yet. Regardless, this team should be concerned first and foremost with the pitching and defense, which I think can be good, but probably not great. At a certain point of a season a team's record gains a level of inertia that takes real effort to change. Even with a loss today the Indians are 5 games above .500 and finishing 86-76 wouldn't be so bad, would it?

Go Tribe!

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Thursday, April 14


To the surprise of many observers and the chagrin of some fans, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been winning some games lately. In fact, after bottoming out at 8-45 at the tail end of their historic 26-game losing streak, the Cavs finished the year with a 11-18 stretch, including wins in 4 out of their last 6 games. Neither mark establishes the Cavs as championship favorites in 2011-12, but it was a hell of a lot more fun than watching them get mauled every night.

Yet, some fans see this improved play as a negative, because the Cavaliers' win total finally eclipsed that of the Minnesota Timberwolves, moving Cleveland out of the NBA's basement. This means that, when the NBA Draft order is set by the lottery, the Cavaliers will have a lower chance than Minnesota to win the #1 overall pick, 20% to 25%. There was a vocal faction of Cavs supporters who would have preferred to have the Cavaliers keep losing and aim for the bottom in an effort to garner the most ping-pong balls.

I understand where these fans are coming from, but I hope to demonstrate to you that this is not the correct view of the situation.

Forget for a minute the soul-destroying nihilism that attends rooting for your favorite team to lose games - let's focus instead on more tangible things like expected values and draft slots. It is true that the dead-last team gets 25% of the balls while next-to-last has a 20% share, giving #30 a 25% better chance at landing the top overall selection. Read this article for a primer on the current lottery system and odds.

What I want for you to see is that the view that a team should strive to finish dead last in the NBA in order to gain a 25% - 20% advantage in ping-pong balls for the #1 pick is overly simplistic. There's more at stake than just the #1 pick. Thus, I went to the trouble of calculating the expected value of the bottom finishers' draft slots, to show that finishing last (as opposed to near-last) is NOT a significant thing. Although 30th place does give you slightly better lottery odds, it's not a difference worth rooting for (plus you don't have to sell your soul). The worst team in the league has an expected draft slot of 2.64; 2nd-to-last has one of 2.98; 3rd-to-last is 3.41, not even a full pick lower than the worst team should expect. That means, on average, the 2nd-worst team in the league will win the third pick and the worst team in the league the 2.7th pick. This is a very small difference in odds. Essentially, during one in every three lotteries, you would expect #30's draft slot to be one higher than #29's. All the hand-wringing about Cleveland's late-season mini-surge was for that?

Some will argue against tanking by referencing the fact that since 1994 (when the odds were set at 25 percent), the team with the NBA's worst record has come out with the No. 1 pick only twice. This is completely irrelevant, as past events have no bearing on this year's lottery. I mention this in the interest of good statistics and analysis, even though history is squarely on my side.

The volatility of history does suggest, and I think this is relevant to the 2011-12 Cavs, that there is nothing guaranteeing that a pick one slot higher is going to be superior anyway (Darko, Olowakandi, Bargnani, Oden, etc.). Even though Cleveland improved their 2010-11 record to next-to-last, they'll pick somewhere in the Top 5, which again according to the numbers will on average be the #3 slot (also the case had they remained in 30th). Having that high pick and hitting on it is what matters. Jordan went #3, let's remember. The differentiation between the top few picks is not typically such that the worst-overall's one better draft slot every three years (on average) should be expected to translate into a noticeable difference in player quality.

If you still like the idea of tanking for a high pick, I'd suggest that rooting for the Clippers to lose this year is a far more profitable endeavor than hoping the Cavs torch their own campaign. Cleveland's other #1 pick slot in the 2011 draft depends on where LA's redheaded stepchild finishes, not where we end up, since we got the pick from them in a trade.

It's been said, and I agree, that the worst thing you can be long-term in the NBA is mediocre. No one is arguing that point, really, though some have made it with reference to this particular situation even though it doesn't support the notion of the Cavs racing to the bottom. The ultimate goal in the NBA is to win the Finals, and bottoming out and drafting a franchise player is a clearer path to such glory than is grinding out 43-win seasons for a decade. Yet the idea that a team needs to reach the league's absolute rock bottom, as opposed to merely being bottom-5 bad, is not supported by numbers or history.

The point I am making is that finishing very last as opposed to second-, third-, or fourth-from-last gives you a vanishingly small improvement in chances for long-term championship success. That is the bottom line here. Almost as importantly, as a fan, it's certainly not a worthwhile goal. It's pointless to root for one's own team to suffer through such a disastrous season, particularly when such ignominous campaigns don't produce value in the long run above the remainder of the high lottery clubs. Consider 2002-3; Cleveland was last and Miami 4th-to-last, we got the #1 pick, they got #3, and they have a banner. Boo.

Going back, check out who's finished dead last in the NBA the past 25 years (a number chosen because that's how many I looked up before I got bored):

2010 Nets
2009 Kings
2008 Heat
2007 Grizz
2006 Blazers
2005 Hawks
2004 Magic
2003 Cavs/Nuggets
2002 Warriors
2001 Bulls
2000 Clippers
1999 Grizzlies
1998 Nuggets
1997 Grizzlies
1996 Grizzlies (my goodness this franchise is bad)
1995 Clippers
1994 Mavericks
1993 Mavericks
1992 Timberwolves
1991 Nuggets
1990 Nets
1989 Heat
1988 Clippers
1987 Clippers
1986 Knicks

ONE has gone on to win the NBA in the intervening time after a dead-last year, and that was the Heat in 2006, a full SEVENTEEN years after doing so. Some got good (the Cavs and Magic both reached the finals), a lot of them stayed bad (Grizz, Clips), some got good for other reasons (Heat by free agency, Bulls getting Rose in a year they didn't finish dead last), but finishing dead last historically simply isn't a goal worth striving for as a fan either short- or long-term. I'm confident that if I went back and looked up the 2nd-to-last teams, their record of success after those down years would be just as good as the above clubs. Boston was 2nd-to-last the year before their title run in 2008.

The message is that the Cavs being a lottery team and hitting on their pick(s) is what's important - fans hoping that they reach the very bottom is pointless and, frankly, no fun. I hate to go all Herm Edwards on you and remind you that you play to win the game, but the value realized by the club's improved play and comfortability in Coach Byron Scott's system far outweighs the "benefits" of a dead-last-in-the-NBA finish, which as we have seen is basically nil.

Monday, April 11

Triple S

JHH wanted small sample sizes? Well let's give him small sample sizes. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you outlandish conclusions based on nine games!

The Team
At 7-2, the Tribe is headed right for a solid 126-36 finish. I see no roadblocks standing in the way of them running away with an AL Central title and posting the greatest single season in Major League History.

Manny Acta
The Tribe's Pythagorean won-loss is 6-3, one game lower than their actual W-L. Thus: Manny Acta's managerial strategies steal the Wahoos one game every nine, a talent that would transform an ordinary 81-81 club into a 99-game winner. Or, in the case of the 2011 Indians, turning a so-so 108-game winner into the 126-36 juggernaut you see before you. Manager of the Year.

This is pretty brutal, regardless of sample size, though the Opening Day sellout is quickly getting weighed down by a series of 9,000-strong crowds.

Travis Hafner
OPS is 1.063, just like in the glory days. Time for Indians brass to rebuild Pronkville, by which I mean re-hang that one cheap-looking banner out there that inexplicably wasn't done in Indians colors.

Asdrubal Cabrera
Your 2011 American League MVP, on pace to participate in 18 triple plays at shortstop, crack 54 home runs, and OPS+ 166. I think his arm feels OK now.

Orlando Cabrera
Even I can't extrapolate The OC's .417 OBP and .917 OPS over a full season, even jokingly, but man has this guy had a good influence on the club. It's amazing how much easier it is to win baseball games when your infield isn't constantly kicking balls around and giving away runs, and your bullpen doesn't torch every third game. Plus it's cool to have a Cabrera-Cabrera double play combination.

Jack Hannahan
Nothing remarkable here, just The Zookeeper providing the 153 OPS+, 36 home runs, and 108 RBI we expected when we signed a guy with a lifetime OPS+ below 80 who didn't play in the Majors last season.

Team Speed
72 steals for the year actually sounds about right. Rickey had 60 at the break.

Shin-Soo Choo
There is absolutely, unequivocally, no way Shin-Soo Choo is going to improve on the 59 OPS+ that he's posted so far this season, and this will definitely be his batting metric at the end of the 2011 season. May as well trade him now.

Justin Masterson
Your 2011 AL Cy Young winner, posting a 36-0 mark on the strength of a 1.35 ERA and 162 strikeouts.

Fausto Carmona
Pay no attention to the seven dominant shutout innings Fausto chucked against the HoSox last week - he is undoubtedly headed for a disastrous season having compiled a 9.00 ERA, and will probably be traded mid-year.

Chris and Rafael Perez
As a duo, the Los Perez are on track to post a 36-0 record, 72 saves, and no earned runs in 162 innings pitched. Sheer dominance.

Yes sir, other than these unproven, worry-ridden characters Carmona and Choo, the Indians look to be headed to a rollicking 2011. Go Tribe!

Sunday, April 10

Winning with a small sample size

Let me start by stating the obvious: when your baseball team is winning, it makes the season a lot more fun. Eight games into the season, we have a hint as to how this team can perform and boy is it nice to have a winning record. As Terry Pluto points out in his Talkin’ article today:

The Indians were 4-2 heading into Friday's game at Seattle, which they won. It was the first time since Sept. 22, 2008, that they were two games over .500. Think about that: more than two years to be just two games over .500 at any point in the season! And at 5-2 heading into Saturday night's game, you can feel the impact as people once again are talking Tribe.

So yeah, it has been a while since the Indians had a winning record. I could point out how it is way easier to have a winning record early in a season but the Tribe haven’t had a winning record this early in the previous two seasons either so basically I’ll take whatever I can get.

One thing that team president Mark Shapiro pointed out on twitter is that it is nice to see the Indians win in different ways; game-ending squeeze bunt: check, huge offensive blowout: check, dominant starting pitching: check, bullpen: check. This is often called finding a way to win and I’m not that good of a writer to not use this same cliché.

Biggest surprises

I hate to jump on this bandwagon but Travis Hafner being effective is probably my biggest surprise. Even if he breaks down later in the season some production now is better than what we’ve gotten the last three seasons. The other big surprise is the starting pitching being so good after the first two games went so badly.

Hope for the future

Justin Masterson is for real and maybe this rotation isn't so bad. That, combined with an offense capable of 10-run innings, hopefully points to the Indians' performance so far not being a complete aberration. While many people likely want to point to Grady Sizemore’s return as another piece of good news, I’m not so sure we can expect Grady to really contribute the way we remember he did before the last two missed seasons. I do however like an outfield with Shin Soo-Choo, Michael Brantley, and Grady Sizemore more than one with Austin Kearns or Travis Buck. And lastly, Manny Acta has done everything right this young season.

The upcoming series with the Angels will give another measure of this team’s ability. The Angels enter Sunday at 4-4 but already sit three games back of the Texas Rangers. That series is followed by a homestand against the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Thursday, April 7

Downtown Report: Opening Day

While it's hard for me to write a true Downtown Report when I've been spending most of my time in the mountains of West Virginia, I did get to spend a recent week back in the Buckeye State, a week that included the Indians' bizarre Opening Day loss but also plenty of Downtown shenanigans.

Thanks to the wonders of the Interwebs, I've been able to monitor closely our favorite clubs from a distance, and I see a certain sense of optimism on the Cleveland sports front, despite the woes our three major teams have experienced of late. The start of a new Indians campaign always brings hope, whether the club is expected to contend or not (the Indians are: not). The Cavs are cellar-dwellers, but on the way up. The Monsters are headed for their first playoff berth. And we might not have to be subjected to another season of Browns football! Let's get to the details.

Opening Day turned out to be every bit as awesomely fun and logistically unmanageable as I expected. The Erie crowd came in on Thursday, and Sporcles were the order of the evening - we ended up playing so many sports quizzes that we forgot to even go to Pacers! Crazy stuff. That evening also saw me ask no one in particular "how is babby formed?" for the first of about 10000 times over the weekend. For the record, I rocked the Indians Opening Day lineups quiz, Figgs and I tied the general Opening Day quiz (or did you win by one?), and Figgs and Nick crushed Beards and I at NFL Drafts while we cruised in NBA drafts. Figgs took top honors in the "Name All NFL Teams' Leading Passer, Rusher, and Receiver." Good times.

Friday saw a wide variety of characters filtering in and out of my joint all day long. Those around around 1 pm saw arguably the most epic game of RBI Baseball ever between Milkey and me. Our man from the 'Nati Light brought his hitting shoes, posting a nine-spot in the top of the first inning and putting me in a serious hole. Three times I had to score in my half of an inning just to avoid the 10-run forfeit rule, but eventually started clawing my way back and stiffening up the defense, tying the contest at 23 heading into the 9th (36 total runs!) A walk-off home run to lead off the bottom of the 9th later, this version of the Impossible Return was complete.

But more generally, if you like cheap beer, cheaper whisky, Bop-It, Major League (which gets better every time I see it), and toy drum demonstrations, Reserve Square was the place to be. Of course, when 3 pm rolled around, there was the matter of the Tribe opener to attend to.

Fausto Carmona took a page right out of my book in Cleveland's first game against the Ninja Blacksox, getting ripped for 10 ER in 3 IP. RHP Carmona (0-1, 30.00) should look nice on the preview of Thursday's game. Just in case there was any rumors about the Tribe rallying, Justin Germano came in and put a few more bullets in the corpse, running the count to an unfathomable 14-0.

As the sunshine warmed up the fans, the Indians made a valiant rally. Could they pull off what I had done just hours earlier with fat San Francisco Giant players? Nope. They did outscore the Chicagolanders 10-1 over the final 5 frames, but still absorbed a 15-10 defeat to start the 2011 campaign. Inspired by Carmona's outing, Carlos Carrasco tried to follow up as best he could, giving up five runs almost immediately to Cleveland's foes. Once again, the Wahoos never recovered, dropping to 0-2 with the 8-3 loss.

But a funny thing happened on the way to 0-162: starting pitching. The Tribe rotation is filled with "question marks," but in their season debuts, Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin turned those into exclamation points with a pair of strong outings, helping the Tribe salvage the Chicago series with a 7-1 victory (JM) and open the Boston set with a 3-1 win (JT). The starting pitcher is still the most important player in baseball, and as Phil Davison would say, "IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN...AND IT ALWAYS WILL BE." Let's hope that going forward the rest of the staff finds the magic that Masterson and Tomlin brought to their first starts. And now I bring you, one line summaries of the Indians through four games.

Michael Brantley
Keep getting on base, son.

Asdrubal Cabrera
Already notched his annual triple play.

Orlando Cabrera
Clutch hits in the two wins are gravy atop his strong defense.

Carlos Santana
Let's keep him.

Travis Hafner
Fingers crossed...

Matt LaPorta
All the signs of a bust, despite FCF's sponsorship.

Jack Hannahan
The Zookeeper is raking so far.

Shin-Soo Choo
Do not, repeat, do not worry about this man. He will be fine. (I wrote this before his home run against Boston).

Austin Kearns
These games count, you know.

I'm just excited that the Tribe is back. Baseball is about more than just the game - it's about the fact that Spring might actually show up, that we get to go watch games outdoors, and that we have something else to fall back on besides basketball. Go Tribe!

I might be the only one who feels this way, but it there happens to not be an NFL season in 2011, I won't be bothered one bit. I'll save the dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars I would have spent backing another 6-10 campaign from the Brownies - surely I can find something productive to do with my fall Sundays.

That having been said, if there is a season, I'm all in.

I'm aware that the NFL Draft is coming up sometime in April, and because of the looming lockout, my interest in this event has dropped from zero My high school buddy Neil Stein has an opposite view, having devoted basically his entire website to the draft and scheduling some appearances on local radio programs. Good luck, Neil!

I still think the NFL Draft is an utter and complete waste of time, and can't understand why people get into it. In particular, I hate the mentality that this is one of the better days of the year for the Browns since they've been so bad over the past decade. Please. The games are the thing, whether the club is good or not. There's no chance to win with the Draft - every one is the same unsatisfying conclusion - we got some new players, and it'll be 1-3 years before we know if they're any good. Wake me up in August.

Now that I'm thinking about it, shouldn't the NBA Draft be more popular? It doesn't take nearly as long, and lottery picks really have a chance to turn around a team's fortunes in a hurry. Seems to me this should be the event with all the hoopla.

The more I reflect on the Jim Tressel violation, the more I wonder what the hell he was thinking. I mean, he knew what he was doing was wrong, and did it anyway. For a guy that cultivates such a persona of integrity and sportsmanship, this seems very out of character, and is really a difficult thing to accept and come to terms with. Hopefully it's the last time.

But hey, the Buckeyes basketball team got one first-place vote! It's not clear to me why the AP bothers to have a poll after the season - I didn't even realize they did this until I saw the story about Northern Arizona's coach awarding his first-place vote to Ohio State. I see the guy's point, and not just because I'm a Buckeye fan - in general, they indeed had a better season than either Butler or UConn. Big ups to the coach for revealing himself as well - the vote could have remained anonymous.

As fun and entertaining as the NCAA Tournament is, it is clearly not an ideal way to decide a champion given the volatility of basketball. Contrast the tournament with the NBA Playoffs - the best team damn sure wins that tournament. The regular season is almost totally devalued in the current college system - I don't know if there's a better balance that can be reached, but one-loss-and-done favors the little guys a bit too much.

While I'm on the subject of one-and-dones, what purpose does the practice of having a guy play one year at a college and leave serve? Doesn't that kind of suck? Yes, it does.

At 16-61, the Cavs are one win away from tying the 17-65 mark they posted in 2002-03, paving the way for that fateful lottery ball and...oops, lost my train of thought. Let's move along.

The Cavs are basement-dwellers, for sure, but I feel like they're forming a new bond with fans - witness (awful word choice by me there) the delirious fans during the wins over the Clippers (to break the streak), Knicks, and yes, the despicable Heat. We're down, but on the rise. Both the experience of a year in Byron Scott's system and the influx of players veteran (Varejao, Jamison) and rookie (welcome lottery pick #1 and lottery pick #2) should almost certainly produce a superior Cavaliers team in 2011-12.

Wednesday, April 6

JHH makes a pilgrimage

Our Tribe expert paid a visit to the Royals and took this photo from Kaufmann Stadium. Not bad for a $5 ticket! Plus he got to see the Black Sox lose - the Royals and Indians are now 1-2 in the AL Central.