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.