Tuesday, January 1

The Downtown Report: 2012 in Cleveland and Ohio Sports

First up, a little housekeeping. For years I've called this semi-regular feature "The Downtown Report" so I could talk about our favorite teams and give some perspective from my perch downtown, in the epicenter of the action. However, I've now moved, and unless you're one of those suburbanites who thinks everything with a Cleveland address is "downtown," the term is no longer accurate. I'm in Ohio City, or Detroit Shoreway if you prefer - still only three miles away from Cleveland sports glory. I think I'll keep the name for this feature, though.

On to sports. I began my Downtown Report 2011 review of Cleveland sports with the simple phrase, "That was tough," referring to the difficulty of enduring collective fandom of the Cleveland professional teams and The Ohio State University.

2012 was also fairly tough, in case you didn't notice. In fact, the whole situation is and has been kind of dire. For perspective, consider a piece I wrote last year documenting how 2011 and 1991 were the two worst seasons in aggregate since I started watching in the mid-80's. This past campaign wasn't quite as awful as those for OSU-friendly Clevelanders, but it wasn't far off:

- The Cavs remained buried at the bottom of the Central Division, though they moved up from 15th in the East to 13th (yay) and improved their win percentage from .232 to .318 (fyi: it was .805 and .744 the two years prior). That's pretty much holding steady since the club's nightmarish first season post-LeBron. They're at .226 in the 2012-13 campaign so far, in case you were wondering.

- The Indians totally collapsed after a solid start, posting a dismal 68-94 record and barely edging Minnesota to avoid the worst record in the AL. That's a significant drop from their 2nd-place 2011 campaign.

- The Browns are 5-10 and at the bottom of the AFC North following up a season where they went 4-12 and ended up at the bottom of the North. Business as usual.

In total, for a fan of only the Cleveland clubs, 2012 was even a rawer deal in total than was 2011, and frankly, things aren't exactly looking up. The Cavs' roster is painfully thin, the Browns' rookie QB is almost as old as me, and the Indians are mired in small-market purgatory.

But how about those Buckeyes! Ohio State had a banner year in athletics, as the basketball team led by Jared Sullinger made a Final Four appearance and the Renegade Buckeyes football squad posted a sparkling 12-0 perfect season despite a postseason ban. I'm glad the scarlet and gray were around to alleviate some of the misery caused by the blue, red, white, brown, orange, wine, and gold.

But hey, sports are supposed to be fun, so let's try to have ourselves a nice little retrospective and hit some of the high points, such as they were. We'll also see how my quick predictions for the teams worked out.

It's hard to tell what to expect from the 2012 bunch, but as presently constructed I don't see them besting [80-82] by much....some of the questions will probably resolve themselves positively and others negatively, so I see the Indians probably treading water in 2012.

Well...this now looks a bit like wishful thinking, given the actual end result. It wasn't all bad - the Wahoos were sitting at 44-41 at the All Star Break, and were very much in competition for the AL Central and the expanded Wild Cards. Then, the wheels just completely came the hell off, with the hapless Indians unraveling to the tune of 24-53 after the break. At one point, from July 27 through August 31, the Tribe was a preposterous 5-28. Yes, you read that right: 5-28. They went 13-17 the rest of the way out for a final record of 68-94, placing 4th in the division and greasing the skids for manager Manny Acta's exit.

I'm sorry to see Acta go, because I think he generaly did a good job and was a likeable personality, and I think stability can be a good thing for a team. On the plus side, being able to replace him with a top-flight manager like Terry Francona softens the blow a bit. Of course, and I can't stress this enough: the manager doesn't matter much in Major League Baseball.

Unlike the comically dramatic 2011 campaign, 2012 was pretty light on signature moments, at least the good ones. The opening series didn't portend well, as Chris Perez coughed up a three-run lead in the opener in a game the Indians eventually dropped in 16 innings. The next day, with my crew and I making our first appearance at Progressive Field on the year, the Indians lost another game in extras. At least I got to play like three hours of pop-a-shot against Canadians after that one.

The bulk of my excursions to Tribe games were less than thrilling this season - I missed a lot of time because I couldn't fit in a stadium seat for a while after each of my two knee surgeries, and was something like 2-8 at the park this season when I did make it. That mark included thrilling 8-1 and 9-0 losses at the hands of the hated White Socks. Blah. I actually can't remember seeing a win in person, now that you mention it. Hell, the Indians couldn't even be bothered to even reply to FCF's application for the Social Suite. That's lame.

But back to baseball. From a numbers standpoint, Shin-Soo Choo (OPS+ 131), Carlos Santana (121), Asdrubal Cabrera (115), and Michael Brantley (113) were the Indians' best offensive players, though Jason Kipnis (107) had a solid season and Travis Hafner (121) and Lonnie Chisenhall (108) contributed in limited appearances.

Finding positives among the pitching staff is more challenging - our six main starters posted ERA+ numbers of 79, 72, 92, 71, 61, and 65. Our best starter was Zach McAllister, and his ERA was 4.24. That's no kind of way to win ballgames. In case you were wondering, all five of the Nationals' chuckers had ERA's below four. I know it's the NL, but still. Closer Chris Perez was more erratic than in past seasons, though he did post a 3.59 ERA and saved 39/43 games. The Indians' two best relivers were Joe Smith (132) and Vinnie Pestano (152) - Pestano, in particular, was fantastic this season.

Despite a distinct lack of flash (and pitching), the Indians ended May at 24-17 just a game and a half back of the AL Central lead. That was fun. The rest of the season was: not fun. Part of this is because I was basically on hiatus this summer and didn't really document the Wahoos so much, but I honestly can't remember anything fun or good or exciting that happened during the second half of the year. You know what? Let's just pretend this year didn't happen and start looking forward. Agreed?

I like the off-season moves the Tribe has made so far - they got a solid return for Choo in Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer, and the Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds signings really fill some needs for the club. Still, they seriously lack depth and quality in the rotation (unless Ubaldo Jimenez returns to form), and aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut just yet. Don't underestimate how bad the Indians were in 2011: this was a season where they scored fewer runs than every team except Seattle and gave up more runs than every team in the league.

The Indians look like they're a long way from being competitive, but hopefully they can at least start moving in the right direction. Go Tribe!

you'll be able to knock me over with a feather if they improve the talent (and coaching) enough to get above .500 next year.

Admittedly, I wasn't out on too far of a limb here predicting a sub-.500 season for the Cleveland Browns. I should say that my actual pick was 6-10, and if the Thaddeus Lewis Era kicks off the way I expect it to, we will see that lofty ambition realized this Sunday.

The narrative for the Browns' 2012 has been one of progress - sure, they haven't won a lot of games, but they've been in almost all of the ones they've played, they're young, the new guys like Weeden and Richardson are coming along, and the defense has stepped it up. It has certainly seemed like the team has been more watchable, less dire and hapless than the 2011 edition.

Unfortunately, they aren't really a whole lot better, other than collecting one or two more wins. Let's look at some summary statistics for the 2011 and 2012 Browns using pro-football-reference's Simple Rating System. The easiest way to think of SRS is as a point spread vs a league-average opponent on a neutral field; a perfectly average NFL team will score 0.0.

Overall SRS
2011: -5.4
2012: -4.9

Offensive SRS
2011: -7.2
2012: -4.4

Defensive SRS
2011: +1.8
2012: -0.6

According to SRS, the Browns have improved slightly - instead of getting 5.5 points from an average opponent, they now only get 5. Good times! On an SRS basis, the offense has improved about a field goal a game and, perhaps surprisingly, the defense has given that field goal back. Now, maybe this is because they actually are more competitive, and their opponents need to score more points to defeat them instead of rushing the ball for entire second halves and leaving with wins against the Browns without having to worry about scoring additional points. I'm not entirely sure how that can be untangled.

Last year, the Browns scored just 13.6 points per contest, 30th in the NFL, which was frankly awful and hard-to-watch. The defense was 5th in points allowed at 19.2 per, but as I suggested earlier, that might be tied in part to the offensive ineptitude. This year, they're scoring 19.5 per game (23rd) and allowing 22.9 (19th). Their point differential has improved from -5.6 a game (27th) to -3.5 per contest (23rd), which is a good trend, but along with SRS, suggests that the whole thing about them being more competitive has been overstated a bit.

The thing that concerns me most about the franchise going forward is, not surprisingly, the quarterback situation. Brandon Weeden has shown some promise in spots, but overall hasn't been a strong performer. Yes, he's a rookie, but so are Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Bobby Griff, and those guys have been pretty good this year, no? But perhaps the better comparison is to Colt McCoy's performance in 2011. Yes, McCoy was a second-year player in 2011, but it was his first full season behind center for the Browns, his 2010 and 2011 numbers are virtually identical, and he's still four years Weeden's junior, so the comparison is apt.

What we see is that, even with what seems to be a clearly superior set of complemetary pieces, from pleasant surprise Mitchell Schwartz bolstering the line, to speedsters Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin, to wrecking ball Trent Richardson behind him, 2012 Weeden hasn't outperformed 2011 McCoy. Take a look:

McCoy 2011 (13 games): 210 ypg, 57.2 comp %, 14 TD, 11 INT, 74,6 passer rating, 40.1 QBR
Weeden 2012 (15 games): 226 ypg, 54.7 comp %, 14 TD, 17 INT, 72.6 passer rating, 26.6 QBR

If anything, I'd take 2011 McCoy, which isn't a very strong endorsement of Weeden's performance so far. I'm also slightly concerned about Richardson going forward - he's shown that he can ram ahead for three yards pretty much any time he wants, and has a real nose for the end zone, but he's broken very few runs past 10 yards this season, with a long of just 32. I don't want to take away from what he's done - 950 yards and 11 TD on the ground is nothing to sneeze at. Maybe it's injuries - we'll just have to see.

Phil Dawson is awesome.

What should we expect from the 2013 Browns? Well, we're going to suck again, I would imagine. For all the depth we've assembled, especially on the defensive line, we still don't have playmakers, and the organization will once again be in a state of flux as Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner relieve Pat Shurmur (and probably Tom Heckert) of his duties and start rebuilding the organization their way.

Optimism is high headed into the New Year for both the hoops and gridiron squads. The basketballers are loaded and should make some noise in the NCAA tournament, while the football team will benefit from Braxton Miller's development and the addition of a top-flight coach in Urban Meyer.


The Buckeye basketballers posted a 31-8 record on the campaign, including a 13-5 mark good for a three-way tie with michigan and Michigan State atop the Big Ten standings, marking Ohio State's third straight season with at least a share of the Big 10 regular season hoops crown. It was a true tie, as OSU split their series with both rival schools from the state up north, and MSU and um did likewise, the home team winning all six contests. OSU was paced all season by two-time All-American Jared Sullinger, senior leader Willian Buford, and newcomers Deshaun Thomas and defensive ace Aaron Craft.

The Buckeyes entered the Big Ten tournament as the #3 seed thanks to a tiebreaker of them having the worst record of the three co-champions against 4th-place Wisconsin. Whatever. The two-time defending champion Buckeyess smashed their way into the finals, pulling away late for a convincing 88-71 win over Purdue and an absolute pummeling of the school up north, 77-55. Wow did I ever enjoy that game. OSU wasn't able to three-peat, unfortunately, as the Spartans toppled them 68-64 in a quality game.

The Buckeyes secured a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, their fourth straight bid, and dispatched Loyola (MD) and perennial bracket buster Gonzaga to reach their third straight Sweet Sixteen. Unlike the previous two seasons, the Buckeyes were not to be denied in the third round, ousting in-state rival Cincinnati and regional top seed Syracuse to reach the Final Four. The Buckeyes' title dreams ended with a hard-fought 64-62 loss to a tough Kansas team, a loss soothed someewhat by the knowledge that OSU probably would have gotten hammered by that ridiculous Kentucky team in the championship game.

So, although another strong Buckeye season ended in an NCAA Tourney defeat, it was a hell of a run. It was also much better than the run michigan had, where they were bounced (and confused by the Ohio Bobcats. Wow did I ever enjoy that game.

Facing a one-season bowl ban in the inaugural season of head coach Urban Meyer, the football Buckeyes knew they wouldn't suffer the same end as their basketball counterparts. So, they did what any self-respecting Renegade Buckeye squad would do - went out and won all 12 of their games. Done and done. Incidentally, the "Buckeyes" label will take you to all of Figgs' excellent game recaps here on the site.

After sleepwalking through a 4-0 non-conference start, the Bucks passed their first real test with a 17-16 win over Michigan State in East Lansing. They returned home and just firebombed Nebraska 63-38 before winning a surprisingly close 52-49 shootout over Indiana to move to 7-0.

Then came the craziest game of the year, an improbable 29-22 overtime win over unranked Purdue that needed the services of an insane last-minute rally drive engineer by backup QB Kenny Guiton. Not only did this contest keep OSU in the ranks of the unbeaten, it also broke a rather unfortunate string of losses Figgs and I had suffered watching Buckeye games together.

Wins over Penn state and Illinois moved Ohio State to 10-0, and a thrilling OT win over Wisconsin (in Madison) left them with just one game in their way to claim the undefeated mantle: michigan. There was no fucking way we were losing this game, and we didn't, winning 26-21 as can't-tie left The Game hungry for the 3rd time in 4 years. Good riddance, pal.

Oh, and OSU has Braxton Miller for the next two years. Can someone say "11 of 13"?

Expectations are low, and I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the club. This season is really about Irving and Thompson, and seeing if one or two other guys emerge as potential contributors. They'll very likely be a lottery team again, and that's alright, but in the meantime I'll enjoy the action and bask in the wins when they do happen.

I haven't done a whole lot of the "bask"ing I talked about, as the Cavs have continued to limp along winning one out of four games or so while providing very little of the entertainment value that the 2010-11 club was so rich in, despite its poor record.

I was right about the season being about Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, just as this season is again about that duo along with 2012 draft picks Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.

The good news is: Irving is a star, already among the top point guards in the NBA. Irving put up 18.5 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.7 rebounds a game in his rookie campaign, bumping those to 23.5/5.5/3.9 this season. His shooting percentages have stayed basically the same (47%/40%/87% a year ago, 47%/41%/80% this season). This is all on a team where he's not getting much support and has really no one else who can create shots. The only flaw in Irving's game is that he spends too many of them in streetclothes, missing 14 games a year ago and 10 so far this season.

Thompson, well, the jury is still out on this kid. He clearly has some athletic gifts, and is averaging just under 9 points and 9 rebounds a game this year...but that's not quite the value a club wants to see form the 4th overall pick. My concerns with him are that he doesn't seem to have the strongest grasp of how to play the game, and that at 59% from the line he's a liability late in games.

The other new fellows, #4 overall selection Dion Waiters and #17 pick Tyler Zeller, haven't quite set the world on fire yet. Zeller puts up 8 points and 5 boards a game but seems a bit overmatched at this early stage in his career. Waiters is scoring 14.6 a contest and makes some dazzling plays that bode well for his future, but doesn't have a complete, efficient game yet, connecting on just 37% of his attempts from the field and 33% of his threes.

As for the rest of the roster...there's Anderson Varejao, who is having by far his finest season at the age of 30 and is deserving of an all-star spot. Varejao is scoring 14.1 a game and pulling down an NBA-best 14.4 rebounds a contest. The guy is simply amazing. As with Irving, the only problem with Varejao's game at present is when he's not on the court to ply it.

After those five players, the Cavs roster is really, really shaky, with no one else who could even be a role player on a decent NBA team. Between the early development stage of the young players, injuries, and the total lack of bench depth, it's not hard to see why they're 7-24. It is hard to see, unfortunately. how to turn that mark around.

FCF Racing
Pro and college sports aside, there's the matter of FCF's participation in distance racing events, which has been off-and-on over the past few years. This season was again a mix of off and on, with the gang unable to get together for too much action.

On the good side was what Nick has modestly described as "The Rise of Allburn," as he got his career back on track by completing his first half-marathon and placing 4th overall in the Cleveland Triathlon. Nice work! I believe Figgs posted some career bests as well.

For me? Not so much. I did knock down the greatest game-winning shot I've ever seen, but http://forestcityfanatics.blogspot.com/2012/06/downtown-report-rehabbin-again.html injury problems kept me out of the game for most of the year. I'm unlikely to ever play basketball, softball, volleyball, or anything like that ever again.

I can run again, at least, and my athletics career might be back on track, but who knows. I managed to work in two so-so 5k's and a 10k before the year closed, so hopefully I can rejoin Team FCF for a successful 2013. Hopefully our teams do the same.

Thanks for reading anything any of us at FCF wrote in 2012, and here's to a prosperous new year in Ohio sports.

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