Thursday, June 29, 2017

Corey Kluber's grip on the ball and the game frightens me even

The Indians beat Texas today, 5-1, to win 3-of-4 from the Rangers and make the best of a homestand that started off being swept by the Twins. Corey Kluber continues his post DL tear.

All I know is that when I see Kluber's two fingers on the ball like this, even I get frightened of being embarassed on national television, like so many hitters.

(Courtesy Tony Dejak, AP)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Cavs might as well not even show up; a look at the media previews of the NBA Finals

Everyone predicted a rubber match between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers since, well, basically 5 minutes after Kyrie Irving drove a dagger into Warriors fans' hearts in Game 7. Or at least since the best team in the league, the one that one an NBA-record 73 games, who had the unanimous MVP, added the second best player in the world to its roster.

Now that the inevitable is upon us, let's see what the experts are saying. (Spoiler alert, nearly everyone believes the same thing.)

Zach Lowe, (clickthrough to a great, lengthy analytical breakdown.) If Cleveland regresses to somewhere between its current form and its desultory regular-season play, this is a walkover. If the Warriors have another gear in reserve, this is a walkover. If neither of those things prove true, this is not a walkover. The Cavs have a fighting chance....The bet here, though, is that the Cavs fall short in a competitive series. Warriors in 6

Sam Amick, USA TodayWarriors in 6. "Curry, Green and Kevin Durant are playing at their peak, while Klay Thompson is the slumping shooter who's surely about to blow his top any minute now. The greatness of LeBron James, the continued ascension of Kyrie Irving and the better-than-ever comfort level of Kevin Love will be enough to help the Cavs put up a good fight, but this Warriors group is just too good to be beat."

SI's Lee JenkinsWarriors in 5. "[Durant] doesn’t need to be sensational. Neither does Steph Curry nor Klay Thompson nor Draymond Green. If they simply play well, Golden State wins. The dynamic is different for James, just as it was in ’11. He has to be superhuman."

Sean Deveney, Sporting NewsWarriors in 6. "[The Cavaliers] can’t keep pace with the Warriors, winners of 27 of their last 28 games, in terms of depth. The Cavs and Warriors went seven games last year, and Cleveland returns much the same lineup this time around. Golden State has lost Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, but they brought in Durant, and his playoff performance to date — 25.2 points on 55.6 percent shooting — has been exactly what the Warriors wanted when they signed him last July."

SI's Chris BallardWarriors sweep in 4. " ...the only way to see the Warriors losing this series is if they self-sabotage, and that appears unlikely...[LeBron will] go down as the best ever and it may not be all that close by the time he’s done. But he cannot overcome this level of talent, cohesion, and depth. Last year, Golden State intentionally chased history in the regular season. This year they’ll make it, becoming the first team to go undefeated in the playoffs.

Kevin Pelton, Cites a couple sources, from RPM, "Golden State would be expected to win in four games about 20 percent of matchups and win the series 88 percent of the time", and from "market-based PredictWise," "an implied probability of 72 percent for the Warriors to win the Finals."

SI's Ben Golliver: Warriors in 5. "The Warriors lack the best player in this series, but they possess more overall talent, better two-way balance, more useful depth, greater lineup versatility, and more individual match-ups to exploit. That, plus home-court advantage and a renewed focus following last year’s catastrophe, should be enough to complete the redemption mission.  "

SI's Matt Dollinger: Cavaliers in 6. [editor's note: WAIT A MINUTE WHAT IS THIS DOING HERE?] " The Cavaliers have the mental edge. This shouldn't be underestimated. LeBron is in the Warriors' heads. They genuinely fear him after being pushed to the brink of seppuku in last year's Finals. And as for the newcomer who wasn't around last June, why do you think he left Oklahoma City? He's done underestimating LeBron, too."

SI's Rob Mahoney: Warriors in 5. "These Warriors aren’t unbeatable, but to beat them four times in seven games would require some dramatic turn of events beyond what we could reasonably expect. These should be competitive games, all in all. I just don’t expect there to be all that many of them, given that Golden State is better prepared to handle just the kind of counters that wore them down over the course of last year’s Finals."

SI's Rohan Nadkarni: Warriors in 5.  "...there’s no sane reasoning for picking the Cavaliers... The Warriors are the more talented group, and they are playing with a feverish motivation after the embarrassment of last year’s Finals. Frankly, I wouldn’t be shocked if this series was a sweep. But I’ll also happily accept my comeuppance if LeBron makes me eat these words."

SI's DeAntae Prince: Warriors in 6.  "[The Cavs]  don't have enough to overwhelm a motivated Warriors team with a hungry Durant leading the charge. I never feel completely comfortable betting against LeBron, but this is the one team with the talent to overwhelm his Cavaliers.

SI's Jeremy Woo: Cavaliers in 7. [editor's note: WHO PUT THIS IN, AGAIN??] "...his is the best edition of the Warriors so far, [but] jumping to sensible conclusions with these teams isn’t always worth the energy. The best version to date of an all-time talented team that hasn’t even lost once in the playoffs should win, right? After all, the only rational basketball argument here is LeBron James, still at the peak of his remarkable powers, with an ascendant sidekick, Jordan’s records in his rearview mirror and all the motivation to repeat he could ever need. And you know what? Somehow… it all sounds kinda reasonable. Screw it—Cavs in seven."

Scott Rafferty, Sporting News: It's hard to quote from Rafferty's piece, but the jist of it is that the Warriors have a worse-than-death-play with a Durant-Curry pick and roll that is much better than the Green-Curry pick and roll that the Cavs were able to counter last year, and that the league hasn't seen it much because they are holding it for these very Finals. (That's actually Chad Lowe's supposition.)

Chris Barnewall, CBSSports.comWarriors in 7. "I was so close to picking Cleveland. So very close.[But the Warriors] had the best offense all season. Their defense has been incredible all season. They've just been more consistent and they added Kevin freakin' Durant. Don't be surprised if Cleveland takes this the distance again, but Golden State just has too much incredible talent on its roster."

Tom Ley, Deadspin: "I mean, the Warriors are probably going to win, but I’ve managed to talk myself into believing that the Cavs can win. I will believe this up until Durant drops 40 points in each of the first two games and the Cavs go down 0-2. How about you?"

Maurice Moton, Bleacher Report: Cavs in 7. [Editor's note: OKAY THIS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS.] "Many feel Durant tilts the balance in the Warriors' favor for an early knockout, but Love's arrival on the big stage along with the Cavaliers' deep bench rotation evens the playing field."

Bill Reiter, Warriors in 7. "The back-and-forth series is punctuated by LeBron James again rising to another level with a championship on the line, and Curry asserting himself and looking again like a unanimous MVP comes down to the final game. This time, the Warriors win at home at Oracle and the confetti falls for them and their revenge tour." (Editor's note: this prediction wasn't really worth anything, as it didn't say anything.)

Ethan Skolnick, Warriors in 7. "While James will be spectacular, and while we saw he can steal a seventh game at Oracle, that home court edge has to count for something at some point. This time, the fortified Warriors, with lessons learned from their sloppy finish, close stronger."

SI's Andrew SharpWarriors in 5.  "... LeBron is why I'm giving the Cavs a game here. But the Warriors are probably too good to make this any closer. Golden State has a better chance at sweeping this series than the Cavs do at winning it. They are too explosive on offense, and too relentless on defense, and too good at creating fatal mismatches.  All of that was true even last year, and that was before the third-best player in basketball joined the second-best player in basketball on the best team in the league. I won't overthink it from there. This seems like it may be a more interesting matchup on paper than it will be on the court. It's great that both teams are healthy and rolling, yes, but when this year's Warriors are rolling, nothing else matters. Not even LeBron."James Herbert, Warriors in 6. "I would have picked the Warriors in five before the playoffs started, but the Cavs' run through the East makes that seem disrespectful."

Matt Moore, Warriors in 6.  "Durant's just too much, he's just really such a great player and when you add him to this team, there's just too much there for the Cavs to handle. The Warriors will overwhelm them with talent, will stay focused, will find enough offensive answers to outlast LeBron James,.."

Jack Maloney, Warriors in 5. "Last year's meeting between these two probably would have ended in five games if a hadn't happened, and now the Warriors have Kevin Durant."

Brad Botkin, Cavs in 7. "You can call up all the advanced stats you want, but basketball, when you really get down to to it, particularly in playoff situations that often come down to winning a few crucial possessions, tends to be pretty simple: Best player wins. Give me LeBron in another epic series."

Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today: Warriors in 6. "The Cavs have enough offensive power to win games in the series, but do they have enough defense to win the series? The Cavs’ defense has been questioned all season, and it improved during the playoffs. But Cleveland didn’t face an offense like Golden State’s, nor did the Warriors face an offense like the Cavs’ this series, the burden of proof is on Cleveland’s defense.]

Michael Singer, USA Today: Warriors in 7. "The Warriors are a devastating group that not only have last year's collapse still lingering in their minds, but also an inherent motivation in Steve Kerr."

AJ Neuharth-Keusch, USA Today: Warriors in 6. "This is a Cavaliers team that struggled mightily on the defensive end in the regular season. Sure, they've been significantly better in the playoffs, but their first three opponents couldn't hold a candle to Golden State. Simple as it sounds, the Warriors are just too strong and talented on both ends of the floor to end another campaign without the Larry O'Brien Trophy."

The ESPN gaggle:

ESPN's Basketball Power Index93% chance of the Warriors winning the series (at the end of a large statistical breakdown of the players and teams.

ESPN's FiveThirtyEight90% chance of the Warriors winning the series.

ESPN's Fan Panel70% chance of the Warriors winning the series.

Friday, May 5, 2017

LeBron James' Game 2 was rare as hell

Sometimes, what LeBron James does on the court defies description. All the talk about the MVP, or even the best player in the league, virtually shelves LeBron as a "yeah, him too" while focusing on Curry, Harden, Westbrook, or Leonard. Yet when you watch this man play, imposing his will on teams during the playoffs, it is amazing to behold. All James did on Wednesday was score 39 points on only 14 (!) field goal attempts. That sounds good in a vacuum. But then consider, it has only been done five times before Wednesday night!

Courtesy here
The only playoff game in this set was by Terry Porter, who was marvelously efficient one night in 1992. And besides Rolando Blackman, the other games were all done by big men-- all time greats Mourning, Shaq, and Dwight. Note that LeBron is older than anyone who has done this before, by two years. Just, wow.

Of course, he did other things beside just rack up stats on Wednesday. Like this, which I'm pretty sure has never been done before in an NBA game.

And that led to this piece of Twitter perfection. As has been said before, the Simpsons have done it already. No matter what it is.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Worrying about the Cavs on the eve of the playoffs

Image courtesy of @elliotgerard and @graphatick
Cavs roar into the 2017 postseason, or so we hope
 In this the Year 1 ATC (After The Championship), Cleveland fans may have gotten complacent, maybe even a little bored, watching the Cavaliers slog thorough a long regular season before the only season that matters cranks up in earnest. 

You also have to wonder if the Cavs themselves feel the same, considering this tremendously talented team has complied a 26-24 record since January 1. This season's squad has cycled through two dozen players as well as numerous lineup changes, while displaying an exasperating inability to stop opposing teams at the point of attack.

Call it a championship hangover or frustration at not having a consistently healthy lineup from night to night. For a postseason shoe-in like Cleveland, the regular season is an 82-game lab experiment of rotations and schemes leading to a two-month meat-grinder where all that preparation pays off. But the Wine and Gold appeared to still be figuring things out as Coach Ty Lue eschewed seeding for resting his top stars.

So if there's a switch to be flipped, the Cavs better be flexing their, uh, flipping fingers as they prepare for this afternoon's first-round opener against the Pacers. Nobody needs to be reminded of the all-world talent on this roster. Just as critically, the Cavs won't have to deal with back-to-backs or long road trips. Logic tells me that LeBron and Co. will be focused, rejuvenated and ready for another lengthy playoff run.

Or are those optimistic adjectives just me whistling past the graveyard? It's freaking hard to repeat, and even getting out of the East is no longer the near certainty it was at the beginning of the year. If last year's beautiful championship dream hadn't happened, I'd be grimly waiting for the hammer to fall. As it stands, I'm willing to see how things play out.

Ideally, the next week will lay to rest stories about injuries and lackadaisical play, and reintroduce the intense, fun-loving group that brought Cleveland so much joy one year ago.

note: credit for the image of Lebron used above goes to @elliotgerard and @graphatick

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Indians win a feel-good Home Opener, and a look at Edwin Encarnacion's past Aprils

In a true feel-good ending on Opening Day in Cleveland, Michael Brantley--who had to painfully watch the 2016 pennant run by his teammates--doubled in Francisco Lindor to win on the Home Opener 2-1 over the White Sox. As thrilling as it was for the play itself, seeing Brantley get the hit was just amazing as well, for his teammates even more than Michael himself, I bet.

Photo courtesy PD/Chuck Crow
The Indians' offense promises to be dangerous from top to bottom, and Brantley is hopefully going to be a huge part of that.

The other, even bigger addition to the Indians' lineup, unfortunately, had an extremely rough day at the plate. Edwin Encarnacion grounded into not one, but two bases loaded double plays in the sixth and eighth inning when a base hit--or more--could have been the game winner. It's not every day when your two strikeouts are the most productive at bats of the day, that's for sure.

Encarnacion has not come out of the gate strong so far--opening day bomb aside. But that's not particularly unusual, or the least bit alarming. As of today, he has a negative WAR, and is batting .185 with a .600 OPS, and only the single (but majestic) home run and RBI to his name.

The good news, of course, is that this slump could be any 7 game stretch. It just happens that it's the first week of the season. And on top of that, his career monthly stats suggest that he's a bit of a slow starter. His OPS in March and April is .757 for his career, the lowest of any month, and nearly 11% lower than his career OPS.

As the weather warms, I'm sure Edwin's bat will too, and that will be something to behold.