All In All, Tito Is Definitely An Asset For Tribe.

There was a recent debate on social media about the Indians’ success since 2013 (three American League Central Division titles, four post-season berths in total) and what factors are the biggest reason for it.

We know there are critics out there, but there should be no denying the front office structure the Tribe has is top notch, and Chris Antonetti has done an outstanding job running the baseball operations.

Have they been perfect?  Of course not, no one is.

On the other hand, the Cleveland organization has not had to go through a period where they had to bottom out, lose 100 games, and trade their best players for prospects to speed up that process, like the Cubs, Astros, and currently, the Tigers, Orioles, and Pirates.

Another factor for this success is Terry Francona.

Yes, Francona’s kind of an old school manager.  Does he bunt too much?  Yes.  Does he cling to veterans at times?  He does have that tendency.

And if you have performed for him in the past, he has a fierce loyalty to you.

He’s still one of the best managers in the game, and likely will be inducted in Cooperstown some day because of his managing, and he will likely deflect praise for that honor, because that’s what Tito does.

Francona ranks 18th all time in career wins by a manager, and only Dusty Baker has won more among active managers.  And of the 17 skippers with more wins than Francona, 12 of them are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and our guess is Bruce Bochy will make that number 13 sooner or later.

In a normal season, he had a real good chance of passing Lou Boudreau as the Indians’ all time winningest manager too.  With 91 more victories, he accomplishes that.

His winning percentage is behind only Hall of Famer Al Lopez and Oscar Vitt among Tribe skippers.

And while many may take umbrage with his in-game strategy at times (and we confess, it drives us nuts sometimes too), he sets a tone in the clubhouse for what is expected from the players.

In this unique 60 game season, we believe one edge the Indians have is the consistency Tito shows to his players.  His mindset right from the get go has been there are only 60 games, and the Indians will look at it as when the first game is played on July 24th, as if they are tied for first place and heading into the homestretch.

Many teams have gone to hiring younger men to relate to today’s players, like Rocco Baldelli in Minnesota, Aaron Boone in New York, and Tito’s old foil in Cleveland, Kevin Cash in Tampa.  But even though he’s 61 years old, Francona still relates to Frankie Lindor and Jose Ramirez.

Lindor’s prank on the skipper early this week exemplifies the relationship between the star shortstop and the manager.

Yes, Francona does get irritated with certain players, most notably Trevor Bauer a year ago, but those players also know their boss has their backs.  We’ve heard people complain that he should get on players for making mistakes or for not hustling.

He does, but he does it privately, not in the media.  That earn respect, and the players return it to him by playing hard.  You don’t see players dog it that often in Cleveland.

We aren’t saying the Indians aren’t the only Major League team who will come into the season with the “no excuses” mantra, but we will bet there will be teams who won’t treat it as seriously as others because it’s not a “real season”.

Yesterday, he said he wants his players to be ready to “be prepared to kick somebody’s ass”.

Francona doesn’t allow for excuses, for himself and his players.  He understands there won’t be a feeling out process in 2020.  However, that doesn’t mean he will have the same level of patience as the typical fan.

All in all, fans of the Indians should feel grateful that Terry Francona is guiding this team.  Long time supporters of the club should remember a list of people who weren’t even close to him.

MW

Njoku Wants Out, Browns Unlikely to Comply.

The news hit the other day that Browns’ TE and former first round draft pick David Njoku had hired a new agent and asked the team to trade him.

We expressed the opinion that just because the player made the request, the GM Andrew Berry is under no obligation to move Njoku, and we heard some comments very typical of most fan bases.

If he doesn’t want to be here, then move him as soon as possible.  One former NFL player currently in the media expressed the opinion that the Browns can’t have that kind of distraction in the locker room.

We say the best thing to do is to step back and not make an emotional decision, which we feel is what Berry will do.

Cleveland just exercised the fifth year option on the tight end’s contract, meaning he is under his rookie deal for two more seasons.  That’s probably the reason for hiring a new agent, and also requesting the deal.

More likely than not, Njoku and his new representative, super agent Drew Rosenhaus, want the same thing the Browns are doing with Myles Garrett, who also had his fifth year option picked up.

The Browns are working on an extension for Garrett, likely one that will make him one of the highest paid, if not the highest paid defensive player in the NFL.

The former Miami (FL) standout isn’t on the same par as Garrett, but it would seem as if Njoku would like to be paid sooner than later.

However, here is the problem.  Njoku hardly played a year ago.  He broke his wrist in the second game of the year against the Jets, and then, for whatever reason, feel into Freddie Kitchens’ doghouse.

The result was a season where he played in only four games, started just one of those, and caught only five passes for 41 yards, and one touchdown.

That pales in comparison to his first two years in the league, grabbing 32 passes as a rookie, getting into the end zone four times, and in his second year, he caught 56 throw and again scored four TD’s.

People have speculated that perhaps Njoku is upset by the free agent signing of Austin Hooper, a Pro Bowl TE for Atlanta.  But Kevin Stefanski’s offense is based on a lot of two tight end sets, so there will still be plenty of playing time for Njoku.

Quite frankly, he will probably thrive in the offense if indeed he plays in Cleveland this season.

From the Browns’ standpoint, they used a first round pick on the player, and he is contractually here for two more seasons.

What do you think they would receive in return with Njoku coming off an injury plagued season, a year in which when he was healthy, his coaches basically ignored him?

They would get nothing near what the spent on him.  We have seen speculation of a fourth or fifth round pick.

As for being a distraction in the locker room, our guess is Rosenhaus told him not to be one, because it doesn’t help his value either.  We think Njoku will show up to camp, work hard, and make himself desirable to other teams.

However, if he does that, he will also be an asset to the Browns.

And we also think he will have a very good year if he improves his hands, and works within the Stefanski system.  And if he does, the Browns will be willing to pay him.

Berry is going to do what is best for the Cleveland Browns, and we believe that means keeping Njoku.  That is, unless he finds someone better.

MW

Shortened Draft, Less Minor League Teams Plays Into Helping Big Markets

The Major League Amateur Draft started in 1965.  Coincidentally, the New York Yankees’ dominance of the American League ended the same year.

We say coincidentally because the Bronx Bombers of that era were showing some age.  Stars like Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were showing some age, as was former MVP Elston Howard.  Yogi Berra recently retired and managed the team in ’64.

From 1936-1964, New York won 22 AL pennants, and the only time they went consecutive seasons without a berth in the World Series was during World War II (1944-46).

When baseball had its only era without any free agency of any sort, from 1965 to the McNally/Messersmith decision at the end of 1975, the Yankees won no pennants.  Their best finish was a pair of 2nd place finishes in 1970 and 1974.

To be fair, not being able to outspend everyone was not the only reason for the Yanks lack of titles, but it is interesting they weren’t successful.  The Yanks didn’t make the post-season from 1982-1995 and they could spend freely in those years.

But the reason we bring this up is baseball’s willingness to eliminate farm teams and shorten the amateur draft.

Developing players is the equalizer for smaller market teams that cannot afford to pay big bucks for star players.  The Indians have stayed competitive over the past seven years because of their success in developing players such as Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez, and a cadre of pitchers, particularly starters like Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, and others.

We didn’t count Frankie Lindor here because he was a first round pick, but none of the others we mentioned were.

If we were a mid market franchise, we would invest heavily in the farm system, bringing in as many players as we could.  The more you work with, the better chance one of them becomes a big leaguer.

Remember how the St. Louis Cardinals became a power in the 1930’s.  Branch Rickey’s extensive farm system produced players that kept the franchise contending during the 30’s and 40’s.

We heard former Marlins’ executive David Samson say he had a problem with investing money in the player development system knowing only a few could make an impact at the big league level.

That’s horrible thinking in our opinion.  We look at it differently.

What value would you put on Ramirez’ production with the Tribe?  He’s had two top three MVP finishes as an international free agent.  Those two seasons alone would at worst be valued at $60 million on the open market.

Cleveland paid next to nothing.

We also feel the shortened draft plays into the hands of the teams with a more national fan base.

According to Baseball America’s Top 500 Prospects coming into this year’s draft, of the players not drafted, the teams signing the most players in this ranking were the Yankees, Phillies, Cubs, as well as the Padres and Royals.

Overall, the Red Sox and Reds signed the most players regarding of ranking.

The Royals got a lot of good press in saying they would pay their minor leaguers for the remainder of the season.  For the record, the Indians signed one, C Joe Donovan.

There was a cap on the bonus amount for these players this year, but what happens when there isn’t?  Do you think the big market teams aren’t going the volume route and will sign as many of these free agents as they can?

Besides the talent acquisition aspect, eliminating minor league teams hurts the sport at the grass roots level.  Why would you want to expose less people to your sport?  Isn’t that the antithesis to growing the game of baseball?

What’s one positive thing about these two moves from the commissioner’s office?  Frankly, we can’t think of one.  Seems like the people who run the game wanted to do something for the sake of doing something, and only thought about one thing–saving money.

Here’s hoping logic prevails, but based on the last couple of months, we doubt that’s possible.

 

 

Cavs Making Moves, Hopefully More To Come.

The Cleveland Cavaliers made a couple of roster moves in the past couple of days, converting Dean Wade’s two way contract to a multi-year deal and adding free agent Jordan Bell on a two year deal.

Both players have some size, Wade is 6’9″ and Bell 6’8″, so that’s a good thing, and they didn’t have to give anything else to sign him, and that’s another good thing.

It was also announced Ante Zizic will play in Europe next season, and that’s a loss of a big body.

Really, none of these moves are significant.

It’s hard to get excited by Wade, who is really a stretch four, but at 24 next season, maybe he’s a player who gets better and finds his niche in the NBA later in his career, but it’s tough to see him having a significant role for the wine and gold in the 2020-21 season.

Bell has been with three teams in four years, and was regarded as a hot commodity when Golden State purchased his draft rights from the Bulls.  He did play 14 minutes a night in his rookie year, which is his high water mark.

Our thought is he is a victim of the idea that everything the Warriors touched turned to gold a couple of years ago, so if they wanted him, he must really be good.  He played in 29 games this past season, averaging 3.2 points and 2.8 rebounds in nine minutes.

Can he develop his game and become a solid player?  Of course, but for now, we can’t think too much of this move.

As for Zizic, while we would have liked him to get more of an opportunity we understand the move.  He averaged 7.8 points and 5.4 boards a game when he got regular playing time in ’18-’19, getting 18 minutes per game (59 games).

However, here’s our thought on most NBA players.  They can all score if given touches, but what determines playing time is how you play defense, and if you can’t guard someone, then you sit.

Again, he’s just 23, and he wouldn’t be the first big man to go overseas, gain some experience, and come back to the NBA a better player.  Perhaps he can learn to make up for a seeming lack of lateral quickness with anticipation and positioning.

There have been multiple rumors of the Cavs looking for young, athletic wings in free agency, and two names that have been reported are Derrick Jones Jr., currently with Miami and Josh Jackson, with Memphis.

Jones is just 23 years old, and is averaging 8.9 points and 4.2 caroms for the Heat, the best marks of his career.  And he comes from a good culture, playing for Erik Spoelstra in Miami.

Jackson, also 23, is the former 4th overall pick in the draft in 2018, but was traded to Memphis at the draft last summer, and played most of this year in the G-League.  He did score 10.4 points in 18 games with the Grizzlies.

While we definitely see a need for wings, here’s hoping the organization doesn’t ignore big folks either.  Losing Zizic and perhaps Tristan Thompson will leave a hole in this area too.

We were encouraged to hear of interest in Harry Giles, a 6’11” player out of Duke that has battled injuries since leaving high school.  In 96 NBA games with Sacramento, 17 of them starts, Giles has scored seven points with four rebounds per game.

In the 10 games after the All Star Game, he upped those figures to 10.8 and 6.2.  Hopefully, the rumors are true about Cleveland’s interest in Giles, he could wind up being a very good option here if the Kings do not pick up his option.

So, while the most recent moves don’t really get us excited, the young, athletic wings make us intrigued.  Unfortunately, we will have to wait until the playoffs are over for real moves to be made.

 

Tribe Probably Looking For A New Closer…For 2021

It has been a long time since Terry Francona has needed to groom a closer, but other than winning baseball games, that might be his most important secondary chore in the 2020 season.

When Francona took over as Tribe skipper in 2013, Chris Perez was the closer, coming off a 39 save season in 2012, and although he had some injury issues during the campaign, he saved 25 for Cleveland in ’13.

When Perez was out, Francona used Vinnie Pestano and Bryan Shaw to close, but he was using a young 24-year-old right-hander drafted just two years prior as a set up man.

That pitcher was Cody Allen, and he took over the closer role the following season and saved a club record 156 games for the Tribe over the next five years, including seven in post-season play in 2016 and 2017.

With Allen on the roster and pitching effectively, Tito didn’t have to worry about who was pitching the ninth inning, he simply handed the ball to Allen, and the reliever was always ready to get four outs if need be.

Allen was such a good fit and a team player, that when the Indians traded for Andrew Miller in ’16, Francona used the southpaw as a “super reliever” bringing him in whenever the fire was the hottest.

He could do that because of the confidence he had in Allen.

In 2018, when both Allen and Miller started to leak some oil, perhaps because the extra work in the ’16 run to the World Series, president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff traded for San Diego closer Brad Hand, who saved eight games that season, and 34 a year ago.

Hand is signed through this season, but has a club option for $10 million for the 2021 season, and even without the uncertainty of baseball finances next year due to the coronavirus, we would doubt Cleveland wants to pay a closer that kind of cash.

At the initial spring training, people were looking forward to seeing the combination of youngsters Emmanuel Clase, 21, who came over in the Corey Kluber trade, and rookie James Karinchak, 23, who debuted last September, setting up the veteran Hand.

A righty, Clase has a 100 MPH cutter that Frankie Lindor said was the nastiest pitch he’s ever seen, and appeared in 21 games for Texas, going 2-3 with one save and a 2.31 ERA in 23.1 innings with 21 strikeouts.

Karinchak is famous, at least here, for his gaudy strikeout rates coming through the Indians’ farm system.

However, Clase has been suspended for the ’20 season due to PED usage, so the manager will not get to see him under fire this season.

So, it would seem that if Karinchak can throw strikes, which has been an issue in his minor league career, he could give Francona enough confidence to use him as the closer in 2021, and in turn, allow the front office to either pick up Hand’s option and trade him or not pick up the option at all.

On the other hand, as former Tribe GM John Hart used to say, closers fall out of trees, so as the 2020 season plays out, it may be someone else who earns the skipper’s confidence.

Perhaps a veteran like James Hoyt or Phil Maton, or maybe injury plagued prospect Triston McKenzie gets used as a bullpen arm.  Or it could be someone like Cam Hill or Kyle Nelson.

Remember, it’s not just the arm that makes a solid closer, it’s dealing with the pressure of pitching with the game on the line.  The closer has to be someone who can shake off a bad performance and go out and do the job the next night.  Kind of an “everyday” pitcher.

We know the Indians want to win ballgames this season, but finding a successor to Hand might be the most important secondary thing to come out of the 2020 season.

MW

Questions For Tribe Heading Into Training Camp.

Next week, the Cleveland Indians as well as other Major League Baseball teams will gather for training for 2020 abbreviated season.  We can’t call it “spring” training now, because, well, it’s no longer spring.

The Tribe will carry 60 players throughout the season, but only 30 will be active on the new Opening Day, and eventually, that number will be reduced to 26.

However, much like any other season, there are questions going into camp and Terry Francona and his coaching staff can hopefully find some answers.  And they will have to do so via a bunch of intrasquad games.

Can Franmil Reyes take a regular turn in the OF?  If he can, then it opens up at bats for newcomer Domingo Santana, adding another power bat (and strikeouts) to the batting order.

If he cannot, Santana may have a problem making the team.  And it would also mean the brass would have to find another outfielder who can swing the bat.  The current pool doesn’t have anyone proven, it’s made up of Jake Bauers, rookie Daniel Johnson, Bradley Zimmer, and Greg Allen.

Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff made the moves this winter based on Reyes being able to play outfield acceptably.  So, it’s a pretty big deal.

The development of Oscar Mercado.  No doubt, Mercado had a solid rookie season a year ago, hitting .269 with 15 homers, 15 steals, and a 761 OPS.

However, there is a term called the sophomore slump for a reason.

The statistic that worries us is the strikeout to walk ratio, and Mercado accepted just 28 free passes vs. 84 whiffs.  His on base percentage was just .318.

He started out very good in May and June, hitting over .300 in both months, but his on base average declined from May until it went up a bit in September, and you know what they say about April and September stats.

If Mercado doesn’t perform like he did a year ago, that leaves Delino DeShields, not a good offensive player, and again players like Allen and Zimmer competing for time.

Handling the Starting Pitching.  There has been speculation on how teams will handle starters, who won’t be stretched out enough when the season begins.

Some think skippers will use tandem starters, such as Shane Bieber will go 3-4 innings, and then say, Adam Plutko will go three more to get the game to the actual bullpen.

We think Francona and pitching coach Carl Willis could do that while the roster is at 30 players, but we also believe they know what the strength of the team is, and they will try to get Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale, and Zach Plesac stretched out as quickly as possible.

So, you might see it the first five games, but not much beyond that.

Players Not On The Big League Roster.   We’ve already mentioned some of these players, like Allen, Zimmer, Johnson, etc. and it will be important to keep them ready should injuries occur.

The Indians are reported to be carrying several top prospects, including last year’s first round pick Daniel Espino, and 19-year-old George Valera, as well as Nolan Jones and Tyler Freeman on the 60 player pool.

Their development is super important to the organization going forward, beyond the 2020 season.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, because certainly Jones was thought to be ready for the majors as early as 2021, and maybe late this season.

There have been rumors of an expanded Arizona Fall League this year, so more prospects can get some playing time against players from other organizations.

That would be ideal if it can be done with the virus perhaps still looming.

No doubt, this training camp will be different, and it will also be interesting to see how it is covered and when the intrasquad games will commence.

The good news is…baseball is back!

 

All Kinds Of Ways To Win In The NBA, You Don’t Have To Play Small

Doing things differently is what separates the good from the great, particularly when it comes to sports.

The NBA is no different, many teams copy the system that works, instead of looking at their roster, their talent, and doing what is best with the players at hand.

In 2013-14, the Golden State Warriors finished 51-31 under Mark Jackson, an improvement from the prior season (47-35), and a huge improvement from Jackson’s first year as coach, when they had a 23-43 mark in a shortened season.

That Warriors team was 4th in the league in three point shooting percentage (38%) and was sixth in pace.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were the stars of the team, and Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green were already in place.

Jackson was let go, and Steve Kerr took over, and quickened the pace of play, as Golden State ranked first in that category.  They also led the league in three point shooting, and won the NBA title.

The pace slowed a bit the next season, and even more when Kevin Durant joined the team, and even though the Warriors had plenty of big men on the roster, the “small ball” movement was in full swing, and many teams followed.

Including the Cleveland Cavaliers.

When the Cavs won the title in 2016, they won the last three games by slowing the pace, playing their speed.  After winning, it seemed to us they felt like playing at the Warriors’ pace, which we felt was the wrong move, because that was Golden State’s game, and they were better at it than Cleveland.

There is no rule that says every team in the NBA has to play like Golden State, and here’s hoping GM Koby Altman understands this.

Perhaps the wine and gold’s two best players are big men, Kevin Love and Andre Drummond.  If you adapt to your talent, and we think J.B. Bickerstaff is a smart coach, it would seem playing smaller, like many NBA teams are, would not be the way to go.

You can’t win that way, you say?

The Milwaukee Bucks have the sport’s best record at 53-12, and they usual starting lineup featured a 7 foot center, forwards that were 6’11” and 6’7″, and guards that were 6’1″ and 6’4″.

The Lakers have the best record in the west, and their lineup consists of a 7 foot center, a pair of forwards measuring 6’10” and 6’9″, and a backcourt of 6’3″ and 6’6″.

Toronto has a smallish set of guards (6’1″ and 6′), but their starting frontcourt measures 6’11”, 6’9″, and 6’7″.

The Clippers?  7 foot center, forwards and 6’7″ and 6’8″, and guards at 6’1″ and 6’4″.

Our point is there are a number of ways to win in today’s NBA despite the talking heads telling everyone teams have to play like Golden State and Houston to do so, and the Cavaliers should be paying attention to that.

This year, the team tried to win with a very small squad, statistically the smallest in the league, and it didn’t work for a variety of reasons, inexperience being one of them.

However, it didn’t help that rookie Darius Garland and his 40.1% shooting was taking the third most shots on the team, because the coaching staff gave him the green light.  He was taking one less shot per game than Love, and that can’t happen.

It’s about maximizing the talent you have and adapting a style in which they can thrive.

That’s what Kerr did, and that’s what Bickerstaff is charged with in the upcoming season.

It’s the definition of coaching.

A Look At The Tribe At 60 Games Under Tito

It is looking more and more like the 2020 Major League Baseball season will be limited to 60 games, so it will be a sprint rather than a marathon, at least this year.

Although we believe five teams in each league is a good number for the sport to make the post-season, especially after playing 162 regular season games, we agree that this season, there is no problem with having eight teams in both the American and National Leagues making the playoffs.

With this 60 game plan, we decided to take a look at how the Tribe has done in the first 60 contests in the Terry Francona era.

2019:  The Indians 5-2 victory over Minnesota raised their record to 30-30, but they trailed the Twins by 10.5 games, as the northerners were setting a blistering pace at 40-19.

Shane Bieber won his 5th game and Brad Hand saved his 17th, as Francona leaned on him early in the season as the offense struggled.

Remember the Tribe played the first month of the season without Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez was hitting just .202 with a 610 OPS.  Lindor did have 10 HR and 23 RBI despite missing the time, and Carlos Santana had a 907 OPS at this point.

Leonys Martin was getting the bulk of the playing time in centerfield, and was batting .214 with 646 OPS.

2018:  Cleveland’s 3-1 win over Milwaukee gave them a 32-28 mark and they led the AL Central by 4.5 over the Tigers and 5 over Minnesota.

Carlos Carrasco won his 7th (7-4) with Cody Allen picking up his 11th save.

The triumvirate of Ramirez, who was slugging at a .632 clip with 43 ribbies and a 1.028 OPS, Michael Brantley (.325, 916 OPS), and Lindor (917 OPS) were pacing the offense, but Jason Kipnis was hitting just .205 (591 OPS) and Lonnie Chisenhall was struggling as well at a 571 OPS.

Rajai Davis was the centerfielder vs. southpaws, and not really hitting at .232.  He was being platooned with Greg Allen, but the lack of production led to the trade for Martin, who fell ill shortly after arriving in Cleveland.

2017:  A 4-2 win over the White Sox gave the Tribe a 31-29 record, good for second place, a game and a half behind the surprising Twins.

Carrasco raised his record to 6-3, with the bullpen trio of Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Allen getting the last 11 outs.

Daniel Robertson started in RF that night, while Bradley Zimmer and Austin Jackson were platooning in center.

Santana was struggling at .218 (712 OPS), but Lindor, Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion all had OPS over 800 after 60 games.

2016:  The future AL Champs won 6-2 over the Angels, making them 34-26 and they had a 3.5 game lead on Chicago, and four over Detroit and Kansas City.

Corey Kluber’s complete game gave him a 6-6 record for the season.

Ramirez played LF that night, as his 811 OPS made Tito look for ways to get him in the lineup.  Jose Uribe (593 OPS) played the hot corner.

And in a portent of things to come, the starting rightfielder that night?   Michael Martinez.

2015:  The Indians dropped to 28-32 with a 4-0 loss to Detroit, and sat in last place in the Central, seven games behind Kansas City.

Danny Salazar took the loss dropping his record to 6-2.

Kipnis was having a very good year, hitting .332 (914 OPS), and the lineup featured Brantley in CF, Mike Aviles at SS, Brandon Moss in RF, Ryan Raburn in LF, and Gio Urshela at third.

Santana was hitting just .221 and the DH that night was Nick Swisher, batting .198 with an OPS under 600.

2014:  Cleveland was at the break even mark, at 30-30 after a 7-4 extra inning win over Boston.  Kluber was the starter, but Carrasco got the win with two frames of scoreless relief, striking out four.

Asdrubal Cabrera was the SS and won the game with a homer off former Indian, Eduard Mujica.

Brantley was hitting .308, and Chisenhall was sizzling at .361, playing first base in the game, while Michael Bourn was the leadoff hitter, batting .295.

David Murphy was in RF and Aviles was at third.

2013:  Francona’s first Indians team was in the midst of an 8 game losing streak, dropping a 7-5 decision to the Tigers, dropping 3.5 behind Detroit.

Justin Verlander defeated Ubaldo Jimenez, who went just three innings allowing five runs.  Of course, Jimenez was arguably the best pitcher in the game down the stretch for the Tribe, who rode a red hot September (21-6) to a wild card spot.

It is interesting that Rich Hill pitched in relief during that game, and Mark Reynolds played third base for Cleveland.

This research reminds us that the Indians are very much a second half team under Francona, but they will not have the luxury if indeed, there is a 60 game slate in 2020.

However, if there are extra post-season teams this year, the Indians should be able to qualify even if it takes them awhile to find their way.

MW

 

 

Browns’ Front Office/Coaches Keeping It Low Key. That’s Good.

The Cleveland Browns are taking a different approach this off-season.  They are flying under the radar.

No bold off-season moves, no bringing in big name players, no talk of post-season play.

Just very business like, and at the same time very logical.

It helps that the national media isn’t jumping on the bandwagon, like last year when the Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr. and every talking head in the county was proclaiming a playoff appearance for Cleveland.

That’s not to say, the playoffs isn’t a goal for the 2020 Browns, we are sure that behind the scenes, GM Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski know that if things fall into place, they can win 10 or more games and get to the post-season.  However, they aren’t putting that goal out there in public the way former GM John Dorsey did.

It happens every year in the NFL.  The San Francisco 49ers were 4-12 in 2018, and last year went to the Super Bowl with a 13-3 record.

The previous year, it was the Chicago Bears making the leap from 5-11 to 12-4 and an NFC North championship.

And in 2017, Jacksonville went from 3-13 to 10-6 and a playoff spot as a result of winning the AFC South.

So, we know it can be done, but there’s no reason to proclaim it to everyone who will listen.

And we know the Browns’ players didn’t publicly talk about it, is was driven by the national talking heads because of the rookie play of Baker Mayfield and the acquisition of Beckham, but we still feel the talk got to the coaching staff and front office, and the Browns got away from doing the things that made them successful in the second half of 2018.

Look, the Browns have talent, especially on the offensive side of the football.  You could make a claim they have the best set of skill position players in the NFL, not counting quarterback.

They have the man who finished second in the league in rushing a year ago in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing in 2017 and had 824 yards in 11 games the following year.

At wide receiver, they have Beckham Jr. of course, and Jarvis Landry, a five time Pro Bowler (in six seasons), coming off a career high 1174 receiving yards.

They signed Austin Hooper, a tight end who has made two Pro Bowls and is coming off a career high 75 receptions with Atlanta last season, and former first round pick David Njoku, who missed most of last year with injuries, but caught 56 passes in ’18.

So, offensive talent is there, assuming the offensive line gels.

The defensive side of the football is still where the questions are, but when you start with Myles Garrett at defensive end, that’s a good thing.  And you have Denzel Ward at cornerback, who still had excellent grades from Pro Football Focus on his cover skills, although many people thought he had kind of a down year.

With this talent, why should the brass be conservative?  Because this group of players doesn’t know how to win just yet.  They haven’t done it, and without a doubt it’s a learned skill.

That’s the biggest challenge the coaching staff has this upcoming season, teaching the way to win.  And the biggest thing that will help is getting some wins early in the season.

There is no doubt in our minds that had the Browns had an easier schedule early in the year, it would have made a difference.  Look at Buffalo’s season in 2019–they opened with the Jets, Giants, and Bengals, going 3-0, before losing a close one to New England, 16-10.

They started to believe in themselves, went 10-6 and made the playoffs.

That’s why despite the talent, the front office and head coach aren’t making any bold proclamations about this season.  Learning to win is the first lesson the Browns need to grasp.

MW

Tribe Killing It In Simulated Seasons

With baseball still on the shelf, the only way you can get the feeling of following a team day by day is by checking out the various simulations of the 2020 season out there.

In April, we checked out a couple such games, the Out Of The Park simulation being conducted on BaseballReference.com and the other being played out on StratOMatic.com.

According to both of these sites, baseball fans in northeast Ohio and missing one helluva season.

BaseballReference.com:  The Tribe leads the AL Central with a 48-27 record and holds a seven game bulge on the second place Minnesota Twins.  That mark is the best in the American League, and third best in baseball, behind the Dodgers and Cardinals.

Offensively, the Indians are being paced by Carlos Santana (.315, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 932 OPS), Francisco Lindor (.288, 16 HR, 57 RBI, 887 OPS), and Jose Ramirez (.274, 16 HR, 46 RBI, 867 OPS).

Franmil Reyes has belted 20 long balls, and Tyler Naquin returned to the active roster in May and is hitting .323.  Jordan Luplow is getting steady playing time and has 10 homers to go along with a .283 batting average.

Newcomers Cesar Hernandez (.301, 6 HR, 34 RBI, .370 OBP) and Domingo Santana (.256, 10 HR) and fit in quite well to the lineup.

As we noted in April, this game has been playing Greg Allen at the everyday CF, and he’s done well, batting .280 with a .347 on base percentage.

Pitching wise, Shane Bieber has fit the profile as a staff ace with an 11-4 mark and a 2.98 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 114 innings.  Aaron Civale is 7-3 with a 3.75 ERA, and though Carlos Carrasco (4-4, 4.30) and Mike Clevinger (3-3, 5.37) have struggled a bit, rookie lefty Scott Moss has picked up the slack, going 7-1 with a 4.48 ERA.

Brad Hand has 17 saves, and James Karinchak has a 1.98 ERA in 13 innings, but has fanned 24 hitters in that span.

The game had the Tribe picking up veteran relievers John Axford, Jim Johnson, and Daniel Stumpf as well.

One bone to pick–they had Cleveland dealing Tyler Freeman, Brayan Rocchio, and Juan Carlos Mejia to Texas for catcher Robinson Chirinos, a deal the Indians’ front office would never make.

StratOMatic.com:  This simulation also has the Tribe sitting with a 48-27 record and an 8 game lead over the Twins in the Central.  Cleveland has the second best mark in the AL (behind Houston) and third in MLB overall (Dodgers).

Reyes is the offensive machine for the Indians, batting .334 with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs, Lindor leads the team in ribbies with 55, along with 19 bombs and a .271 batting average.

Ramirez checks in at .259 with 14 homers and 45 runs knocked in.

They also have Luplow getting more playing time, and he’s responded with 7 HR, 26 RBI, and a .290 batting average.

Hernandez has had a fine season to date here as well, batting .295 with 8 dingers.  And Carlos Santana is batting .300 and is third in the AL in walks with 50.  His power is down so far with just 6 homers.

They have used Delino DeShields as the primary CF, hitting .258 although Bradley Zimmer has just been recalled.  Oscar Mercado is on the team, but batting just .232.

Clevinger has been the best pitcher, going 5-1 with a 2.32 ERA and 74 punchouts in 73 innings, while Bieber has been solid, with an 8-5 mark, 3.59 ERA and 114 whiffs in 100 frames.

Zach Plesac is 7-4 with a 3.57 ERA.

Brad Hand has struggled.  He has 21 saves, but a 5.73 ERA, but the relievers have been buoyed by strong performances from Phil Maton (1.44 ERA), James Hoyt (1.26 ERA in just 14 innings).

Karinchak has a 3.20 ERA in 25.1 innings with 32 strikeouts, and he has been joined by rookies Cam Hill and Kyle Nelson.

If these games are even close to realism, we are missing a great season to date by the Indians.  Guess that should make everyone even more sad about what is going on in The National Pastime.