Monday, May 31

I wish we had ten Shelly Duncans

In case you haven't noticed, and judging by attendance you haven't, the Indians are pretty bad. Their current record of 17-28 is only better than Baltimore and Houston and . . . that's it. Losing six in a row last week, two of those against the Royals, didn't help things much either. With Grady Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera hurt and Luis Valbuena hitting .144, you almost have to be surprised by a win during any game at this point. I suspect the rest of this season should probably be concerned with getting the most value for our trade-worthy players such as Branyan and Westbrook.

There have been a few bright spots in this season so far. Newly-called-up Shelly Duncan, who is older than everyone who writes for this blog, is hitting .600 after five at bats. Somehow Mitch Talbot (6-3) and Fausto Carmona (4-2) have winning records. I read somewhere, however, that Justin Masterson is two losses away from tying the club record for consecutive losses, so that's not so good.

Maybe the most unfortunate statistic right now is that the club's Pythagorean record stands at 18-27. Thus our 17-28 can't be chalked up to too much bad luck, though the injuries sure haven't helped much. I think I can safely say the Indians are a few years away from even being considered for contention again. That would seem to mean that the likes of Travis Hafner, Shin-Soo Choo, and even Grady Sizemore might not figure into those competitive daydream sequences you occasionally might have.

Having said all that, I don't want to sound like baseball still can't be enjoyed. Seventeen times this year the Indians have won and I've enjoyed seeing, hearing, and reading about each one. So that enjoyment is a little more spread out over the summer. I still can't wait to see my first Indians game in person this year and I still can't wait to take my two-week-old daughter to her first game. Hopefully I can convince her to be an Indians fan but I think a little winning within the next 12 to 14 years would help. Luckily I think the organization should be able to field a competitive team in that time.

Game 1: Jake Westbrook, RHP (2-3, 4.78) vs. Jeremy Bonderman, RHP (2-2, 3.78)
Game 2: Fausto Carmona, RHP (4-3, 3.69) vs. Armando Galarraga, RHP (1-1, 4.50)
Game 3: David Huff, LHP (2-6, 5.54) vs. Rick Porcello, RHP (4-5, 5.27)

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Thursday, May 27

Chug one for the Chief

It's no secret that attendance is down - way down - at Tribe games played on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario here in 2010. No one in Cleveland has any money, the Indians are in last place, and I personally keep getting stuck in Europe.

The Indians have done quite a bit to try to boost the number of fans they put in the seats, including the "Get Gear, Go Cheer" promotion where spending $50 in the Team Shop gets you a pair of freebies in the mezzanine (of course I already did this, and might even run it back). The club also, as it's done for years, actively courts the family/kids demographic with all sort of events for youngsters, especially on home Sunday afternoon games. This is all well and good - the more little'uns we can get in the teepee, the better. I just realized how creepy that sounds, but I'm thinking of course in terms of the Cleveland Indians' future fan base.

However, I think that the Indians' focus on people who haven't quite mastered the art of walking leaves out a key demographic: people like me. You know, rich, handsome, stylish. Alright, I'm not any of those things, but I am 30 and single, and Kids Run the Bases Day isn't exactly luring me to Progressive Field. What would draw me to the park, however is a section focused on yuppies drinking. Yeah, there's the Party Deck and the hilariously-named Ridgid Jobsite, but that's not what I have in mind. I've yet to decide on a name for this locale, but the early frontrunner is Wasted Wahoos. Here are the details:

- We'll be located in the cheap seats, Upper Outfield Reserved. These are normally $7-9 per game.

- There will be a keg filled with beer located in the middle of this section. When the keg is empty, a different, full keg will replace it. We may or may not tear out some seats for better keg access, but come on, entire sections are being left unsold right now!

- Fans with WW tickets get a 16-oz plastic cup and a wristband with 6 plastic tickets, like they have at the Pigskin Classic, each good for a refill. You could divert roughly 90% of ballpark security to this region; if anything, it would make it overall easier to keep troublemakers in check because they'd all flock here. Plus, you could have security do like Tom Smykowski's lawyer suggests in Office Space and "kick someone's ass the first day" so people know to keep it in check.

- This is only tangentially related to my master plan, but the vendors at Progressive Field have badges that say "We ID Under 30." Next year I'll be 31, thus they cannot card me. Even they are not above the policy. I asked one of the ladies if I could simply refuse once I turn 31, and she said, "not unless you start looking a lot older." This seems to me like inconsistent application of the rules. Why set a semi-arbitrary number like this and then not adhere to it?

- While I'm digressing, I feel like the no-beer-after-the-top-of-the-7th-inning policy shouldn't apply to me. I chose to live Downtown, in large part so I can walk places and not worry about motorized transport. I should be able to show them my ID so they know I'm on foot and get served as long as I like.

- Now, back to the party section. Both sides need to profit from this endeavor. Beers are currently $7.75 for a 16-oz domestic draft. We're giving 6 tokens, which at full price would be $46.50. Let's call the ticket and the drinks $45 then. This can be negotiated. At this point, your decision is whether you want to get 4 or more, which I occasionally do and suspect that other people like myself without any real responsibilities do as well.

- As long as I'm dreaming, the kegs are filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon. Hey, it's Tribe colors!

Monday, May 24

Don't call it a comeback

On May 17, 2009, I watched the Cleveland Marathon.

That certainly wasn't how I'd planned to spend the morning; I had registered in December with the full intent of completing the course for the first time since 2005. Instead, I ended up not running so much as a foot of the race, as I watched a friend finish from a few selected spots along the course, including the finish.

As regular readers of FCF's racing coverage know, the reason is that I had surgery on May 15, 2009, and could barely walk, much less run 26.2 miles. I suppose I could have put off the operation until the week after and maybe faked my way through the half-marathon, but I wasn't well-trained because of the injury, and figured the sooner I got on the road to recovery, the better off I'd be when triathlon season rolled around. As it turns out, I wasn't quite ready for the first couple of tris, but I was closer than I would have been had I pretended like I could run the Cleveland race.

As I hobbled to and from the 2009 race, I resolved that if my knee healed properly, I'd re-up for the 2010 edition and take care of some unfinished business from 2009.

As I've written previously, I came back from the knee operation with a vengeance, crushing every personal record I'd ever set: 5K, 10K, half-marathon, Great Race, Olympic triathlon, Sprint triathlon, you name it. And so, in December, I threw my name in the hat once again for the 2010 Cleveland Marathon. This time I wouldn't be denied. Plus, I got this cool pair of gloves for registering early and it was only $55. Score.

I never really stopped running during the winter, even after tri season ended in early September and I ran my final race of 2009 at the Pigskin Classic in late November (right before Ohio State mauled Michigan for the 6th straight year). I shifted more of my training indoors for weights and cycling, but kept running periodically even in the snow and cold.

This paid off when I started my training in earnest in February. If you want to be a decent distance athlete in northeast Ohio, you simply have to get used to running in poor conditions, and I sure did that. There's no way to prepare for a bad-weather run; it's going to suck, and you just have to deal with that. I just strapped on my running tights and winter hat, loosened up a bit, and got it done. My favorite part of snow running: this giant pile of snow that the City always constructed near Cleveland Browns Stadium that I relished jumping over/through/onto when I reached that spot in my run.

The weather would clear up here and there, as for my 12-mile run around the city and assorted other jaunts, but it would always drop back down just to remind me that it could. I executed some pretty classic runs while in Norway as well, piling up up a career-best 45-mile week in the Norge that was highlighted by my epic 17-mile run through Oslo and a 10-mile mission to recover my iPod, which I had left at my previous hotel.

Throughout the training, I had a few aches and pains, as I suspect most avid runners do. The arch of my right foot had a little two-week fit but stopped bothering me about two months before the race and never resurfaced. The surgically-repaired left knee never gave me any bother, nor did the right knee that's historically been the more painful of the two. My right hip area, now that's another story. It's a weird injury because of how non-specific it is; sometimes the hip flexor, sometimes the outside of the hip, usually the buttock, sometimes the hamstring, occasionally the lower back. I'm out of alignment and I know this, but what to do? No matter - I got through the training (fnishing the long weeks by setting a PR in the Cleveland 10-miler on a day when I should have done 18) and declared myself ready for the Marathon.

One more misstep, of course: I played softball for the first time in about two years the Wednesday before the race. For all the distance work I've done, I haven't spent much time on speed work and haven't been playing actual sports, so the explosive components of my muscles have been quite underworked. Well, except for Wednesday, when I played a doubleheader as hard as I could and paid the price the next day.

And the next.

And Friday.

Just for fun, Saturday too.

By Sunday, it was mostly gone but not 100%, but I figured the fatigue that was in store for me during the race would easily override any residual soreness from softball. I was right.


I didn't have any beer for the seven days prior to the race - how's that for dedication to my craft? Got up at 6 am feeling as well as I was going to, and at 6:40 walked the entire two blocks over to the start line. It was about 45 degrees out, and never topped 55 degrees, but I went shirtless because that's how I roll. I did not regret this decision.

At 7 am, it was on. Check out the race course:

My plan was to set a pretty fast pace and back off if necessary. my previous time was 4:07:43; I knew I'd beat that easily as long as my hip area didn't completely sell me out. That's a 9:30 pace. Started off heading north and running around Browns Stadium, where I saw my first band of the day, playing a hard rock version of...wait for it..."Hava Naguila." Alright, then.

Headed south towards Tremont as I weaved my way through various runners and edged my way past the 4:00 and 3:50 pace teams, as well as some people who were walking the marathon, or perhaps the half marathon. Now look, TFB readers know how much I abhor writing all caps, so know that I'm not doing what I'm about to do lightly. Ready? DON'T START NEAR THE FRONT IF YOU'RE PLANNING ON WALKING THE COURSE. I will never understand how these people can be this stupid and/or inconsiderate.

Anyway, I cruised along with the pack through Tremont, where I heard "Stayin' Alive" and "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," both of which effecively quickened my pace. I was hitting 8-minute miles at this point, cognizant of the fact that I wouldn't be able to maintain it all race but still comfortable with the speed. We made our way through Ohio City, onto Detroit Ave, and headed for points West. After clearing Edgewater Park, we returned East along the Shoreway, where I got my first taste of an unusual East to West wind. It's usually the other way. Plus, since the Shoreway is elevated and right near Lake Erie, there's no escaping the wind's wrath.

Thank goodness for Bert and Ernie.

There were two people along the side of the road on Route 2 sporting giant Bert and Ernie costume heads and equipped with a boom box playing dance music as they gyrated hilariously. I cannot say enough about the joy these two individuals brought me in our brief encounter. I'd sign up for next year if I knew they'd be back. If only there were some way to properly recognize them for their humanitarian efforts.

Anyway, I made my way back Downtown, past Browns Stadium and the Rock Hall once again, and crossed the half-marathon line next to the waste of a perfectly good shoreline that is Burke Airport. I was sitting at 1:46 at this point, averaging 8:10 miles. Yep, still not sustainable, but why not keep trying?

Well, turns out that the wind was hanging around at points East as well, and was none to happy to see me trying to race. The next three miles on the Lakefront Bikeway were rough, running right into the sun and a stiff wind. I know, photons don't actually slow you down, but running towards the sun is harder, and that's the way it is. I was still at a good pace, but 8:10 was quickly becoming a thing of the past. Finally, around Mile 17, we turned into Rockefeller Park, but the damage was done. I knew I had to run about 10-minute miles to break four hours, which I was pretty sure I could do, but by the same token it wasn't going to be easy.

Two things happened at Mile 19:
1) I walked for the first time
2) I decided I wanted to go home

Fortunately, thought #2 was consistent with my objective of finishing the race, since I live right near the star/finish lines, and the walking didn't get me down too much. I knew I needed to, and I was so far ahead of my time goal that I could afford it. Do I wish I could have run the whole way? Sure, but walking advances you as well. I walked about 100 meters every mile the rest of the way until I reached Mile 25, which I think was a decent plan.

People kept cheering for us and saying, "Great job, runners! You look great!" Funny, I didn't feel great.

I also saw a sign that read "They have BEER at the finish!" and one that said "Go Cavs!" only "Cavs" was X'ed out and they'd written "Runners" below it. Nice. Also: "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon." He doesn't believe in evolution either, so that's two up I have on Chuck. I imagine Ben Stein hasn't completed a marathon either. Or a thought. I'm getting distracted - this was a approximately how much my mind was wandering late in the race as well.

After the excursion in the park, we got back on City streets and started our return voyage towards the finish line. I was down with that. Around this point, I heard someone play "Runnin' on Empty" by Jackson Browne, which made me want to hit said DJ. What's wrong, didn't have "We're Not Gonna Make It" by the Presidents of the United States of America? Sometime between here and the finish, I also heard "Stayin' Alive" and "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" for the second time each, which delighted me. It's hard to imagine a scenario where one hears too much C+C Music Factory during a race.

Man did I ever want to finish when I hit Mile 25 near Cleveland State. This was for sure the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, and I absolutely wanted it to be over. I was comforted by the thought of seeing friends and family at the finish, which was enough to get me there in the end. Gave the fist pump as I crossed the finish line with a full-body sigh of relief, and it was over.

I finished in 3:54:47, knocking 13 minutes off of my previous effort. Here's me finishing, in a picture that strikes me as really funny because the ladies in front sort of dominate the frame while I'm off wandering in the background. I would direct your attention to their red bibs, which were what half-marathoners wore. So they didn't beat me, in case that's what you're thinking - I ran twice as fast, twice as far. Just so we're clear.

3200 people started or at least registered for the race, and only 2315 finished, so I beat over a quarter of the field just by attrition. I managed 790th place overall (66th percentile), 601st among men (58th %ile), and 106th in my division (52nd %ile). The average time for all marathon finishers was 4:18:47; for men it was 4:08:35, and for men 30-34 it was 4:03:42. All I really strive to be in life is slightly above average at things.

My splits really tell the tale of the race. Here's my pace for various segments of the race, given in kilometers (1.6 km ~ 1 mile):
0-10: 8:02
10-21: 8:09
21-30: 9:04
30-42: 10:23

Yep, the wheels really fell off there over the last quarter of the race. If I could have just kept shuffling along, I could have dropped my time below 3:50. The thing that bothered me the most about having to walk was doing so in front of the cheering fans. Not that they were specifically cheering for me, of course, but they took their time to come out and support the racers, and here I am on a Sunday stroll walking leisurely past them. I still don't think my strategy was bad, but walking is not fun in a race. I did finish relatively strong for some family members, shown below:

Despite my slow late-race pacing, I'm really happy with the day, even if I know I left at least five minutes on the course and neglected to have so much as one post-race beer! I'll do another one of these things, and I'll beat that time. Just not anytime soon.

Sunday, May 23

The Downtown Report

We are potentially a month away from the Browns being the best top-tier professional sports team in Cleveland. Yes, the same Browns who were once 1-11. But consider: the local footballers have made strides towards mediocrity while the Indians are one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball and the Cavaliers could be headed for a precipitous drop-off, dependent on certain off-season roster moves.

But hey, it's super-nice outside, the summer road racing and triathlon seasons are getting into full swing, and I've installed myself as the leadoff man and shortstop on a softball team whose membership goes to the bar after the games. So hey, the guys who get paid to play ball might not be delivering the goods, but Francis sure is.

I'm now 0-3 on the season in attendance at Progressive Field, having gone to Friday's run-of-the-mill 6-4 loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds with Nick and Figgs. I know they're bad, but they do sport a 6-12 home record. This means there's roughly a 30% chance of me being 0-3 at this point. Fortunately, the odds that I go all season without seeing a Tribe W at their current home win % and my current attendance rate are just under 1%, so I'm bound to go home happy once before this season ends. This analysis does not account for the presence of Kerry Wood.

I was going to take a look at the numbers for the Tribe at the 1/4 point of the season, but it kinda doesn't sound so fun anymore. Our team OPS+ is 93 and our team ERA+ is 89 - what do you want me to say? Choo, Kearns, and Hafner are the only three guys who've really hit well this year, Branyan and Peralta are both somehow slightly above league average, and the rest of the lineup is scary bad. Oh yeah, and both of our young stars, Cabrera and Sizemore, are currently residing on the DL. Runs should continue to be at a premium, even with the impending call-up of Carlos Santana.

Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot have pitched well in the starting rotation, though Talbot's peripheral values suggest a drop-off in the near future. Jake Westbrook is still finding his way back, but will probably not be in a Cleveland uniform by the time he gets all the way back to his old form. The less said about our other two starters, Huff and Masterson, the better. The bullpen is simple: Chris Perez and Tony Sipp have been outstanding, Aaron Laffey has been effective as a long man, and the rest of the 'pen has been pretty ugly.

The bottom line is that our team simply isn't that good. What one hopes for is the emergence of a few young guys and maybe a few fun W's sprinkled in among the already-impressive roster of heartbreaking L's we've already asembled. Yes, I am managing expectations.


I'm not losing a minute of sleep worrying about the Cavaliers' near-term future; I've got too much going on to concern myself with off-season dealing five months before the season, enjoying my time away from the game.

I'm aware what's going on in the rest of the NBA playoffs, but not because I've actively sought out any information on it. I honestly don't care. OK, I'm happy that those dummies in Orlando are starting their summer earlier than they anticipated, but that's it.

Wednesday, May 19

Today, Andy stops analyzing the NBA playoffs

And you thought my first round was bad!I definitely didn't have my finger on the pulse of the league once again, particularly out West. Let's review the carnage:

My pick: Cavs in 6
Actual: No comment.

My pick: Magic in 6
Actual: Magic in 1. Quarter. That's when this series was over, even though they played 11 more to fulfill contractual obligations.

My pick: Jazz in 6
Actual: Lakers in 6.

My pick: Spurs in 6
Actual: Suns in 4. I hate the Spurs. No matter what I pick, I get their series wrong. Except the 2007 Finals, that is.

Eastern Conference Finals
Can't do it. Too painful, don't care, hate both these teams. See, this is the advantage of being an amateur sportswriter instead of a professional - if I don't want to write about something, I just sit it out. QED. Here's my pick: some team I despise in some number of games between 4 and 7.

Western Conference Finals
See above. Not that this wouldn't be good basketball to watch, I just can't get back into hoops after the Cavs' debacle. It's like you broke up with a girl you really cared about and then it's hard to date another one right away, even if she's really great. I don't know, maybe it's like that, who knows. Is it football season yet?

Tuesday, May 18

Positives from the Cavs' early playoff exit

I don't need to tell you that the Cavs' postseason performance was lousy, that it was hugely disappointing, or that one of Cleveland's best chances at a title in almost 15 years has vanished. Any hacky sportswriter can (and will) write about that, and LeBron James' impending free agency, until the cows come home, and I'm not going to read any of it. I'm cheerfully taking a head-in-the-sand approach to reading about the NBA and NHL after my clubs' inglorious exits on consecutive days and instead focusing on the positives that will emerge from having my May and June free of postseason distractions. So while you may not need me to rehash the devastating end of another Cleveland pro sports campaign (the 69th straight of my fan career sans championship), you do need me to tell you the good things about it:

- Not facing Orlando saves you anywhere from 12-21 hours of looking at Dwight Howard, Stan Van Jeremy, Mickaeioul Pietrus, Vince Carter, and the rest of the Magic. Seriously, did you want to put yourself through that much time watching their ridiculous sarcastic grins? With all the post-foul mugging and griping these teams do, I wonder how a Celtics-Magic contest stays under five hours.

- I'm not entirely convinced we were getting past the Lakers anyway.

- More time to spend with your families and community. OK, I'm kidding about that, but more time to spend at the bar anyway.

- Tribe attendance may start routinely topping 10K again.

- Speaking of 10K, I'm going to try to salvage this disastrous sports week by running a 10K in Cleveland this Sunday...then running three more back-to-back, then 2.195 more kilometers. Yes, that's right, a marathon. It may sound daunting, but fortunately I know the secret to good training: playing softball for the first time in two years as hard as you possibly can and straining every muscle in your body four days prior to the race. Don't worry, I'll answer the bell on Sunday.

- With Papa Hawkins having gone AWOL, you'll get more of my exciting perfunctory Indians coverage!

- At least 7 more months without seeing that goddamn fucking montage of Cleveland's worst sports moments that all the networks show every fucking time one of our teams plays a big game. That thing makes me borderline homicidal, just like it will when they show it during the Browns' first playoff game this winter.

Friday, May 14

Season over - status of Brown, Ferry, LeBron unknown

I don't want to talk about it.

Sunday, May 9

Sleepy Cavs Fall in Boston, 97-87

No Urgency
After handing the Celtics their worst home loss in franchise history, the Cavs regressed back into the same kind of lethargic play which has marked most of their post-season thus far, falling to the Celtics 97-87 in Boston this evening. It was an extremely frustrating game for Cavs fans. The Celtics weren’t more talented or even more experienced than the Cavs – they simply put forth a stronger collective effort.

The Cavs were backed into a bit of a corner after getting embarrassed at home during game two, and they responded with a tremendous effort on Friday night. That victory put all the pressure onto the Celtics, but instead of coming out focused and ready to take a 3-1 lead back to Cleveland, the Cavs looked flat, tentative, and lazy.

Once again, these Cavaliers failed to show the mental toughness to play hard for 48 minutes in a game that wasn’t a “must win,” and that’s a tough pill to swallow.
The Cavs are still going to win this series because they have home court, and because all things considered they’re simply a more talented bunch than the Celtics. But the Orlando Magic loom in the Eastern Finals, and they’ll provide a very even match for the Cavs. When facing the Magic, the Cavs are going to have to become more effective self-motivators and press their advantages when they’re given opportunities, otherwise they’re going to suffer the same fate as their ’08-’09 counterparts.

If you want the biggest reason why the Cavs came up short today, it was getting beat again, and again, and again in transition. Getting back on defense to prevent easy buckets is something that’s emphasized from the earliest stages of organized basketball and all the way up to the professional level, but apparently our Cavs haven’t received the message. That failure comes down to lousy fundamentals and lack of hustle, both of which are very unsettling.

Rajon Rondo and company deserve credit for going back to the well and hustling down for easy baskets, but most of this was on the Cavs. Mike Brown has become an easy target for frustrated Cleveland fans in this series – and at times for good reason – but if his players aren’t getting back, it’s not because he hasn’t harped on the subject repeatedly. This is the playoffs, and if these guys can’t get themselves motivated for the playoffs against a huge conference rival, then there isn’t a coach alive or dead who can help them.

LeBron needs to cowboy up
We all know how important LeBron is to the Cavs, and nobody’s debating that. But with LeBron, it’s not just the numbers that make this team go – it’s his attitude and his focus. The Cavaliers are 100% LeBron James’ team, and as such, he sets the tone for the entire squad. When LeBron comes out like a raging inferno like he did on Friday, we’ve seen how the rest of his compatriots follow suit. When LeBron comes out tentative and a little passive, well, we’ve seen that too.

I’m sure that LeBron’s elbow is bothering him, but it didn’t stop him from giving the entire city of Boston an open-handed slap to the face on Friday. Everybody’s hurting at this time of year, and if LeBron and the team doctors think that it’s okay for him to be out there, then his elbow shouldn’t be a huge issue once the adrenaline starts pumping. We’ve seen plenty of players, including one Kobe Bean Bryant (this very season, no less), grit their teeth and play effectively through worse.

LeBron has to realize that these guys are following his lead, and if he doesn’t hold himself accountable for the energy and focus of the entire team, more stale performances are on the way. As LeBron goes, so go the Cavs. My money’s on seeing a more focused, assertive LeBron in game five. However, the real test is going to come if the Cavs win game five and have a chance to close the Celtics out in Boston.

Today’s P.J. Brown
When the Cavs lost to the Celtics in the Eastern Semifinals two years ago, it took a hot quarter from an unlikely hero – P.J. Brown – to finish them off. Today, Tony Allen played P.J. Brown. Sure, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo did the heavy lifting. Well, in Rondo’s case, he did more than heavy lifting, but of those three only Garnett cracked 50% shooting.

On the other hand, Tony Allen scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. That sneaky little performance was responsible for doing the Cavs in as much as any other. The Cavs didn’t get that kind of shot in the arm from their bench, and it’s a big reason why they fell short.

The return of the Shaqtus
Shaq probably had his best game of the post-season tonight, chipping in with 17 points and 5 rebounds, including a solid 7-for-11 at the line. O’Neal was also shooting an impressive (for him) 70% from the line in the playoffs entering Sunday, so it looks like he was working on more than just his conditioning while he was sidelined. It was good to see Shaq very active around the hoop, and although his first priority should be defense, a consistent offensive contribution from the big man could also be a terrific asset.

So this is the part where I start to rip on Mike Brown a little bit. I mentioned earlier that the lack of focus on fundamentals and hustle can be blamed on LeBron and the rest of the players, but some of Brown’s substitutions were a little questionable. Shaq was one of the few Cavs who was delivering on offense, and once he got his fifth foul he never reentered the game.

I know that Mike Brown doesn’t like to play Shaq late in the game because of his free throw shooting, but Shaq was riding the pine for the whole fourth quarter.
Considering how the Cavs were struggling to score consistently and find an offensive identity, that move didn’t make sense. Shaq doesn’t have to be on the floor inside of two or three minutes, but let him go out there, make some baskets and put the Celtics deeper into foul trouble. Plus, the way Shaq has shot free throws in the playoffs doesn’t really make him a huge liability at the line, although whether or not he could shoot that well during crunch time certainly remains to be seen.

One of the few things the Cavs had going for them was accumulating lots of early fouls on the Celtics, but they took their collective boot heel off of the Celtics’ throats late in the game by staying out of the paint. Shaq might have been able to knock Kendrick Perkins and/or Kevin Garnett out of the game. Yes, he had five fouls himself, but so what if he had fouled out? What was Mike Brown saving him for, overtime? The next time Shaq clearly has his A-game, he needs to stay on the floor until he fouls out or he’s rendered ineffective.

More on Mike Brown
Most of the Cavs looked half-asleep for the majority of the game, and Mike Brown only gave significant bench minutes to Delonte West and Anderson Varejao. Weren’t we stroking Danny Ferry for putting together a deep roster just a few months ago?

J.J. Hickson only played five minutes and Jamario Moon only played three. Daniel Gibson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Jawad Williams didn’t take their warm-ups off all game. Gibson and Ilgauskas are limited defensively, but they can make jumpers. It would have made sense to put those guys in for at least a few series, if for no other reason than to try to catch lightning in a bottle.

Mike Brown can definitely be an easy scapegoat when things don’t go swimmingly for the Cavs, and while I usually find myself defending Brown, he’s not great at making mid-game adjustments or finding the best mix of players during the game. Brown hasn’t shown any marked improvement in these areas in the last few years, and you can bet that his job will be under review if the Cavs blow this series.

Up Next: 5/11, Game Five vs. Boston, Quicken Loans Arena, 8:00, TNT

The Downtown Report

Somehow, I must have gotten into a time machine and traveled back to March, because there's no other way to explain this ridiculous weather we're dealing with here in the 216. But the time machine explanation doesn't hold water, because I don't recall having stepped into a hot tube in the past few weeks.

We're dealing with quite a dichotomy with our two active teams (OK, three, if you count the Gladiators); the Cavs remain a legitimate title contender, and the Indians remain a legitimate 4th-place-in-the-AL-Central contender. The Cavs played arguably their best game of the season on Friday night, cutting a wide swath of destruction through the not-Boston Garden en route to a 2-1 series lead. The Indians, meanwhile, were rained out in a storm so bad it knocked out the satellite at the Downtown bar that Nick, Figgs, and I were stationed at, meaning they had to wait another day to collect their 5th straight loss while we fretted over the possibility that the Cavs' lead might have dipped below 30.

OK, so I didn't write anything after the Cavs' Game 2 loss, a 104-86 embarrassment on their own floor at the hands of the hated Boston Celtics. Frankly, I didn't know what to write. I was a bit worried, both about LeBron's elbow problem and about how clueless the club looked, especially in that fateful 3rd quarter where they were outscored 31-12. I feel compelled to point out that, in the other three quarters of the game, the Cavs were a +1.

The major problem was, once again, Rajon Rondo, who scored 13 points while notching a preposterous 19 assists. The guy lived in the paint, and his teammates repeatedly made the Cavaliers pay. One of those contributions in particular, however, smacked of unsustainability; 17 points on 7-8 shooting from Rasheed Wallace (who still managed to post a -2 +/- rating). The Celtic starters were the entire story here, as each of them reached double figures in scoring with a collective +69 for the game. Boston shot 51% and the Cavs shot 40%, "led" by Mo Williams' inexcusable 1-9 performance. Cleveland was outrebounded 43-32. I'm tired of talking about this game.

Game 3, now that was fun. LeBron set the tone early for the team, coming out firing with 21 first-quarter points in a dominant 12-minute effort that put the Cavs in command at 36-17 early on. Cleveland never let up from there, as their lead eventually ballooned to 33 points and ended up at 29 for the final 124-95 margin, the worst home playoff loss in the Celtics' storied history.

LeBron was fabulous, with an MVP-ish 38/8/7 line, plus a steal, two blocks and just a single turnover, leading to a stunning +30 rating. Another masterpiece from the league's best player. Five other Cavaliers hit double digits in an impressively-balanced effort, anchored by another workmanlike 20/12 from Antawn Jamison, who Nick and I have nicknamed "Tawn Tawn" to commemorate Nick's 5000th career Star Wars reference. I hope we can ride him to another victory (Jamison, not Nick), or at least the South Marker.

All 5 Cavalier starters were +20 or better. The club shot 59.5% to Boston's 42.7%. Cleveland outrebounded Boston 45-30, in part because there weren't any missed shots for Boston to collect defensive boards on. Man, the Cavs even knocked down 31-34 free throws. You can look up and down the Cavs' stat sheet and not find anything bothersome.

What I liked the best is that they never once let Boston get any momentum, never let the crowd get anywhere near the game. Even after constructing a 20-point lead, they kept pushing - every time Boston got a basket or two and you thought they might mount a run, Cleveland came right back with a big bucket. Every single time. That focus and execution was what impressed me the most about this game.

I noticed a contrast between the two blowouts we saw in Games 2 and 3 of the series in terms of the play of the team absorbing the beating. In Game 2, Cleveland looked lost, disoriented, and confused at both ends of the floor as Boston carved them up in the 3rd quarter. They corrected some of that in the 4th as they mounted a futile comeback, but there was simply no team coherence during the stretch that cost them the game. On the other hand, Boston never looked like they were struggling to figure things out, even as Cleveland was kicking them around. They didn't look bad so much as Cleveland just looked good. As a Cavalier fan, I think this bodes well for us - if we play good basketball and execute the way we can when we're on, Boston simply can't beat us. And I still don't think they will.

Now, for a word on the officiating, and the Celtics' response to it: you are a bunch of crybabies. All of you. Stop whining. As Brian Windhorst twittered, "Watching a game at TD Garden is sort of like watching a game at Duke, fans & players mortified when they don't get every call. EVERY call." It's true. The Celtics must practice this or something. It's unreal. They're all exactly like that guy you hate to play pickup ball against, every last one. Über-fan Bill Simmons even twitter-criticized the "pro-Cle refs" at the game, a crew who were so overwhelmingly in favor of the Cavaliers that they called two more fouls against Cleveland than against Boston. Strong point, Bill. Plus, don't forget that the Celtics are old, slow, and notoriously dirty. Is it a huge surprise that they might get a few fouls called against them? I find it particularly gratifying that the refs have nailed Kevin Garnett in three straight games for cheap shots he's taken at the Cavs.

Hopefully they'll only have to catch him twice more this year.

Well, this isn't quite a fun of a thing to write about, especialy since Paul Cousineau has taken pretty much every relevant point regarding the Indians and written splendidly about it. The score was 4-1 when I started writing this piece, and the Wahoos are now knotted at 4 and suddenly find themselves in serious danger of falling behind and setting the stage for their 6th straight loss. Where early in the season they could stay near .500 with decent pitching offsetting their putrid offensive production, the hurlers (ERA+ of 93) have dropped back and the batters (OPS+ 90) have continued their weak-hitting ways. It's brutal.

Nevertheless, Nick, Figgs, and I ventured down to Progressive Field on Saturday to support the local club, and there really wasn't a lot to like, other than the hilarious jokes we made all game, many of them at the expense of unappealing Tiger fans.

There was the sad inevitability of Cleveland's 6-4 defeat - even when they tied the game, I never had a good feeling that they'd win, the exact opposite of how I view late-game Cavalier situations.

There was the way they lost - Detroit collecting a free run on a careless error by Louie Goodworth, Cleveland squandering one with back-to-back strikeouts with a runner on third. There was the continued presence of Jhonny Peralta on the field.

There was an inexplicably nasty mid-May day weather-wise, with strong gusting winds and surprisingly cold temperatures. I almost lost my favorite hat.

There was a lifeless, forgivably-sparse crowd, reported at 18K but that barely looked more than 10K, half of which seemed to be Tiger fans. It made me a little sad, actually, thinking about the great moments that park has seen compared to Saturday's state. I sure hope things pick up for the Tribe.

Don't think for one second I've given up on 2010, or that I won't be back many times before the season ends. Things are just tough right now. But the weather will get better. And we will win a few more games. And they will keep selling beer at Progressive Field.

For those of you who don't think the Browns have superstar talent, I offer you the 2009 NBA MVP: LeBron James of the Cleveland Browns. It's true - check the title of the browser window when you open the link. I guess that ad campaign really struck a chord with ESPN's staff!

Wednesday, May 5

Tribe fun facts

1) This year, the Indians have yet to produce a home run from the catcher, first base, or center field position. Read that twice.

2) The Indians are 1-8 in series-opening games and 9-8 in games 2-3 of a series. 1-8! We're already sitting at -39 in run differential; we've posted a -34 in series openers. Someone wake these guys up for the first game of each matchup!

Monday, May 3

The Downtown Report

Things are good in Cleveland, no? The weather is coming along quite nicely, and the Cavs are poised to advance to the Conference Finals for the third time in four years. The City stopped bugging me about taxes that I had already paid, Pearl Jam is coming here next Sunday, and our County government is about those CaVs!

I've probably spilled enough digital ink on the CaVs of late that you don't need any more analysis of our basketball club, but it's fun, isn't it? I saw cars parked places Downtown last night that I had never seen before. I actually went over to the East side for the game, because some friends were getting together for the game and wanted to see how small of a TV we could watch the contest on without audio.

Things didn't look so great in the first half for our heroes, as they took an 11-point defecit into the locker room against a tough-looking Celtics club. Two things bothered me: we were missing far too many layups and short shots, and the Celtics (especially Rajon Rondo) were getting to the basket with ease. I figured the first would even out, as it in fact did, but I wasn't sure if we'd slow down Boston's offensive attack.

The first happened - we scored just 43 points in the entire first half before exploding for 36 in the 3rd quarter alone. Those short shots found their way into the bottom of the net, as did everything Mo Williams tossed up. Mo Gotti was huge for the Cavalier comeback. The Cavs' offense always feeds from their defense, and once they ratcheted up the intensity on the defensive end of the floor (Boston scored 54 in the first half and just 39 in the second), their game flowed much more naturally.

As with the Bulls series, it's clear to me that Shaq and Z aren't what we need to be effective against the C's. I wrote it a while back, and Bill Simmons twittered it last night: "Hickson-Jamison-LBJ-Mo-West is his best lineup in this series." I omitted Simmons' needless potshot at Coach brown, and would add Varejao to the big man mix especially down the stretch, but generally speaking this was true months ago and remains so. That lineup, along with our deep bench is going to win us this series and hopefully two more.

Go Tribe! The Wahoos are, perhaps not surprisingly, muddling along at 10-13 right now. The culprit continues to be an anemic hitting attack, with the same usual suspects (Peralta, Sizemore, LaPorta) simply not supplying the firepower this club needs to score runs consistently. Couple that with the growing pains of a young pitching staff, and you get 10-13. This many games in, I'm starting to wonder if the offense will, in fact, come around.

But hey, Progressive Field is still lovely. Friday's game against the twinkies was the first home contest during which I was in the United States, and since it was 70 degrees out, I wandered down the street to catch a game. Even got a couple of PBR 24's at Panini's before reaching the ballyard. Sure, they got kicked around by Minnesota (thanks to yet another defensive boner that turned a 2-0 defecit into a 5-0 hole), but the nachos were solid.

Nick obviously provides much more timely and trenchant Draft coverage than I am either capable of or interested in producing, but perhaps I can offer a comment. As someone who didn't watch one single second of the Draft (I will not watch teams hold glorified off-season HR meetings while PLAYOFF hockey and basketball are being played), I of course read Nick's post-Draft coverage to see what we got.

I will say this compared to last year: there isn't a player there (like, say, either of our 2nd-round WR's) where I look and say, "why the hell did we pick that guy?" Looks to me like we had a lot of positions of need and picked highly-rated players who play those positions. So, from that perhaps-meaningless but perhaps-telling piece of insta-analysis, I'm optimistic that Cleveland's new hiring and staffing team has some real acumen. I will be ready for the 2010 campaign, that's for sure.