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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What CST Thinks about the 2017 Indians on today's Home Opener

Cleveland Indians 2017 Season

Hey, today is the home opener! Feels like a good time to finally get our predictions on the record. Better late than never. Good motto for Cleveland sports, actually.

Cleveland Indians record: 92-70
Finish: First place in AL Central
World Series: Indians over Cubs in an epic rematch

I gotta say, I'm never EVER going to get over the 2016 World Series. The memory hurts enough without me living in Wrigleyville and having to see championship gear and W flags everywhere I look for the past five months. This year, if the wubbas can stay healthy, they will be another tough out. It's not every year the team that loses Game 7 in extra innings, in effect, adds a #4 and #5 hitter and #2 and #3 starter. It's an embarassment of riches, and I hope they take advantage of it.

Cleveland Indians record: 95-67
Finish: First in AL Central
World Series: Indians over Giants

It's a long season, but the Tribe will lock up the division early, given much needed rest. Once the playoffs start, anything can happen but this year the breaks in the World Series go the Indians' way.
Cleveland Indians record: 99-63
Finish: First in AL Central, beating Boston for pennant
World Series: Giants over Indians in 7

This is a very, very good club that added a nuclear weapon of a
right-handed power hitter in Edwin Encarnacion. Injuries will be the
only thing that stops this team from making a deep push into the
Cleveland Indians record: 95-67
Finish: First in AL Central
World Series: Indians over Cubs in 7

Great starting rotation, unbelievable bullpen, best power hitter since Albert Belle, in Tito I trust.

Cleveland Indians record: 88-74
Finish: American League Wild Card
World Series: Indians over Cubs in 7

The only way I truly find any peace is an extra inning victory at Wrigley Field in a legendary deciding game, where I am standing in right center, mocking those nescient, flaky, front-running CubFan dolts. For good measure, Trevor Bauer is permanently sent to the minors in June. Soon after, Bauer's vehicle is randomly keyed by an angry mob of Trumpkins...which leads Trevor to confess on Twitter that none of his old major-league teammates supported Trump. In fact, the only Trump supporter in all of MLB is Kyle Schwarber, who ends up striking out to end the 2017 World Series.

Cleveland Indians record: 92-70
Finish: First in AL Central
World Series: This year they get it done.

2017 makes up for the pain of 2016.

Cleveland Indians record: 18-3
Finish: 18-3
World Series: It's played in October.

Sent from my Windows 10 Phone, which is obviously a real thing.

Cleveland and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Weekend

Last Wednesday was one of the better days in Cleveland sports. The Cavs limped into Boston and proceeded to put an absolute whupping on them. And the Tribe roared back to cap a sweep against Texas on the back of the great Francisco Lindor.

Remember that? That was pretty fun, wasn't it? We were living high. Whoo boy!

Because since then, it's been ugly as can be. Seven runs in three straight losses for the Indians in Arizona. But more troubling, especially this late in the season, the Cavaliers with three of the ugliest games in four days that you will ever see.

Friday night, Atlanta rolled in with a D-League team, without all five starters they played against the Cavs in early March. And yet the Cleveland defensive woes continued and the Hawks blew out the 9-of-36 3-point shooting Cavs by fourteen points.

Sunday's rematch had the Cavaliers looking much sharper, destroying the Hawks to cruise to a 26 point win fourth quarter lead that they proceeded to choke away. The fact that the officials just blew call after call that made a huge difference in the game does not overshadow the fact that the Cavs were gutted after this one. LeBron's incredibly heavy, and many say short-sighted, workload was just exacerbated with a whopping 47 points on Sunday. I, for one, nearly flipped the game off to concentrate on The Masters, but was stuck watching the game in horror as the lead shrunk and eventually disappeared.

After that game, Coach Lue decided that the #1 seed might be all but gone, so sat Kyrie and LeBron Monday, and against the Heat, another blown lead, this time of 11 points as Miami won in overtime. Despite not one, but two four point plays for the good guys in OT.  Looks like LeBron is going to be shut down for the last game of the season as well.

The bench looks horrible, the team has ridden LeBron way too hard in 2016 (and somehow it hasn't shown up in his still-amazing quality of play), and team defense is a myth. There are these mysterious clues that Tyronn Lue has a magic defensive remedy up his sleeve, and we can only hope that is the case. Iman Shumpert looks to be far from the answer. And Tristan Thompson's thump needs a very quick rehab.

The Indians open today at home, and their season is long. Hopefully some home baseball cooking can make us all forget about the four day weekend we just witnessed.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Royal Rumble 2017 Live Blog!

Image result for royal rumble 2017

Welcome to the 2017 Royal Rumble, with coverage from your friends Kayfabe Kevin and Bodacious Doug. This is what's called a 'live blog' in which we will cover each match AS IT HAPPENS, save the few matches we missed.

Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship:

This is a no DQ contest that we're about 15 minutes into. Back and forth contest with chairs and other hellacious implements of destruction involved. Jericho as advertised as hanging 20 feet above the ring, yelling invective at the former Shield member.

Jericho has thrown down some brass knuckles which will be used for nefarious purposes. Owens clocks Reigns with the knucks but Reigns kicks out. Owens sets up a chair in the ring but Reigns drops him on the chair via samoan drop. Table time for Reigns, in one of the corners. Superman punch gets a near 3-count.

The match has slowed, and there's a pyramid of chairs waiting outside for a terrifying final spot. Reigns reverses a suplex from the turnbuckle and punches Owens into the tower of chairs. Owens may be dead.

Reigns is eyeing the announce table, which is not good for anyone involved. Power bomb through the table, Owens in trouble. Spear set up but here's Braun Strowman to interfere! Power slam through a table set in the corner. Owens drags himself over for the three count!

Owens retains, which is a surprise. Lots of scuttlebutt about Reigns winning to set up a possible Strowman vs. Reigns championship match at Wrestlemania. Looks like we'll still get that, just without the gold on the line.

Pretty solid match between two guys who've had multiple matches over the last months. Keeping the belt on Owens through Wrestlemania could set up a 'best friends' battle between the champ and Jericho. The build up would need to start now, what with Jericho reportedly leaving post-Mania to tour with his band. I've listened to Fozzy and trust me when I say Jericho would be better off staying on the show.


A Royal Rumble video package treats viewers to highlights from the last 30 years. I recently watched the '95 Rumble, which took place in that dark time post-Hulkamania and before the Monday Night Wars. The match contained such luminaries as Kwang (aka Savio Vega), the Mantaur and the Blue Brothers, and I ain't talking about Dan Akroyd and John Belushi.

Back to live-ish action, another video package in the run-up to the Cruiserweight championship match between newly heeled Neville and Rich Swann. The division is coming along decently enough after a slow start. They're actually building characters, though the crowd reaction to the matches has been tepid at best. It will take some time to build interest, and new WWE isn't great about letting characters build at a moderate pace that allows fans to, you know, care about them.

Neville vs. Rich Swann for the Cruiserweight Championship:

Neville is rocked up, and if I were a betting man I'd bet he comes out of this the winner. He's been built as a monster heel of the cruiser division and a championship chase with Swann or someone new (I'd pick Jack Gallagher, who's very entertaining) would set things up for WM.

Domination by the challenger thus far, though the crowd is more or less non-reactive. Rest hold rear chinlock on Swann, and a few experimental pin attempts by Neville on Swann. Crowd is quiet. Though just don't feel these CW matches.

Rally by Swann, superkick, standing frankensteiner and twisting 450 splash has stunned Neville. Another spin kick by Swann, complete with a resounding smack. My colleague Kayfabe Kevin is convinced the move is real. Neville superplex transitition into some form of crossface, and Swann taps out to make the heel the literal King of the Cruiserweights, as he's styled himself since his debut in the division.

Kind of odd to end a cruiserweight match with a submission move. Neville is not a traditional cruiserweight, but traditionally these matches are fast-paced and spot heavy. Anything to differentiate itself from the rest of the show, where many of the matches play out the same. Give me Jack Gallagher as the new challenger to Neville. He's unique in presentation and move-set, and funny in his fussy English guy way.

Another video package hyping Cena vs. Styles. With Owens retaining, one of the big belts has to switch, meaning a good chance Cena take the duke. Further meaning that Undertaker wins the Rumble to set up that battle at WM. My colleague Kayfabe Kevin is dubious, as his "sources" claim that Taker vs. Cena is off. No reason give other than Vince McMahon changed his mind. Taker's health could play a part as well, as Mr. Calloway has hip issues that need addressed. We shall see, WWE Universe.

John Cena vs AJ Styles for the WWE World Championship:

Styles and Cena make their entrance, Cena wearing Florida Gators colors and getting his usual mixed reception. Being a loser smark I'd like Styles to walk away the winner, but Vince wants that big ticket for Wrestlemania.

Hot crowd to start with Styles in control. The smart crowd loves him, and it does make me miss the days when fans actually booed the bad guys. Think Piper, think Iron Sheik, think Andy Kaufman. Cena seizing the momentum, setting up a superplex which Styles reverses into an "Argentina backbreaker," not to be confused with Chilean backbreaker.

Attitude Adjustment gets a two, and let me take this moment to say I don't like guys kicking out of finishers. Regardless, Styles is stunned. Cena misses a cloethesline, and the champ hits pele kick in the deltoid. I just report what I see, folks. Two count for Styles on a Phenomenal Forearm, and we're probably heading toward end game here. War of attrition between the two Superstars as they trade punches.

Calf crusher on Cena which the challenger reverses into an STFU! Figure 4 by Cena, an unusual move for Mr. Thuggenomics. Cena then powers out of an armbreaker to drop Style on the small of his back. Cena dives off the top ropes but Styles blocks him. Styles Clash hit, but Cena kicks out to the surprise of exactly nobody. PPVs are finisher kick-out city.

Another near fall, and this War of Nutrition continues. AA off the top rope and by God Styles kicked out. That one fooled both myself and my colleague Kayfabe Kevin.  Another Styles Clash but Styles to shaken up to make the pin. Styles springs off the ropes, Cena catches him and delivers yet another AA, then rolls Styles up to deliver a deadly AA coupe de grace. 1, 2, 3 and Cena has tied Ric Flair in championship wins.

Not unexpected, but a pretty neato finish. I'm standing by my Taker Rumble win for the big headline match at Mania. I don't love it, but that's how McMahon thinks.

Royal Rumble is next! Long video package sharing the history of the match. Last Rumble I saw was two years ago when Roman Reigns came out the winner, to the anger and disappointment of fans. Good Rumbles bring surprise and Reigns winning certainly was not that. But that's the past, man.

Here we go, with Cass and Jericho kicking things off. The Fozzy lead singer is taking his sweet time getting out there. Kalisto in at #3, going at it against Cass. #5 is Jack Gallagher, who low blows Jericho with his umbrella. As one does.

No eliminations yet, though that may change with the arrival of Mark Henry at #6. Gallagher, umbrella in hand, is tossed by the World's Strongest Man. Next is Strowman, who promptly dumps three guys with the quickness. Strowman and Henry face off, and Henry is a goner. Sami Zayn comes in to face his nemesis and the two trade blows as Jericho hides out. Big Show, who's in stupendous shape, comes in to face the Mountain Among Men. Show is bigger than Strowman, which makes for an odd visual cuz Strowman's a beast.

Fifth elimination by Braun is Big Show. Perfect 10 Tye Dillinger of NXT is #10, which I'm sure is on purpose. Ellsworth is next and won't come in to face Braun. Dean Ambrose arrives, and the remaining Superstars are doing their best to team up on Strowman. Not working, and Dillinger is tossed like a sack of rocks. But Baron Corbin enters the fray rids the world of Strowman.

The action continues with the Miz, from Parma, who was eliminated in a past Royal Rumble match by a midget named Hornswaggle.  Things slowing down here as more Superstars enter. Kayfabe Kevin are waiting on some surprises, though those may be few and far between at this point. Samoa Joe? Angle? One can only hope.

Instead, it's Caesero, giant swinging everyone that moves. #20 is Xavier Woods, putting all 3 members of New Day in at once. No eliminations for some time now as Bray Wyatt enters. But Caesaro and Shaemus get rid of New Day, and Jericho sneaks in to knock out the  the former tag champs.  Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton are up next, with Orton RKOing a few guys to hell. #25 is the third member of the Wyatt clan, Luke Harper, who turns on his family members Bray and Orton. I believe this is called interstitial storytelling, but it's late.

Things perk up a bit with Brock Lesnar, who promptly cleans house, eliminating Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. Kayfabe Kevin is getting impatient for surprises but we're running out of road here with only a few entrants left. Put a pin in that negative Nelly thought cuz here comes Goldberg! Spear, clothesline and goodbye Brock. Upon his elimination a fan holds up a 'Warriors blew a 3-1 lead' sign, so you know that was legit.

Taker #29, appearing as is from nowhere. Goldberg is eliminated, and the surprise entrant is no's Reigns. Dammit! Jericho out and it's Reigns vs. the Wyatt family. Wyatt gone, and Reigns and Orton are your final two. Reigns readies a spear and Orton hits an RKO out of nowhere. Clothesline on Regins and Orton is your Royal Rumble winner.

Yeah, not ideal. No surprise entrants and a lackluster finish. Kayfabe Kevin and I are disappointed by this outcome. The Rumble is supposed to be unpredictable, Orton winning is the absolute symbol of a predictable winner, though Reigns woulda been worse.

Let that sink in, wrestling universe. We will meet again.