Defense Keys Game 5 Win For Cavs

Our first thought at the beginning of last night’s game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals was why can’t the Cleveland Cavaliers play defense like this all the time?

It was that stifling approach on that end of the floor that led to a 116-78 blowout victory by the wine and gold at Quicken Loans Arena, and gives Cleveland an opportunity to earn a trip to the NBA Finals Friday night in Toronto.

Tyronn Lue did some different things defensively, mainly having his guards come over screens instead of behind them, and blitzing the pick and roll more often.  The latter strategy was used in the comeback that fell short in game four.

Obviously, the success then showed the coaching staff it would work.

And while many are attributing the victory to Kevin Love’s aggressiveness on the offensive end of the floor, make no mistake, it was the defensive effort by the Cavs that put them one game away from a second consecutive appearance in The Finals.

Lue will have to have the team prepared to counter the adjustments Dwayne Casey will make to free up his all-star backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, because he knows if they aren’t scoring, the Raptors don’t have much of a chance.

Part of the defensive improvement was the activity of Tristan Thompson, who looked like he was tired of being chewed up by Bismack Biyombo.  Thompson had two offensive rebounds in the first couple of minutes, and Cleveland scored both times off the extra possession.

Offensively, Love’s effectiveness was a big help, and it was interesting to note that he started his night making a post move to score his first hoop, and worked his way out.  That’s his preferred mode of getting going with his shot.

LeBron James played facilitator last night, setting up all of his teammates for easy looks.

Everyone is looking for that game when James takes total control in terms of the scoring, and tomorrow night could be the night.  We can see him coming out and taking the ball to the basket early and often, and coming up with a 35 point night to take pressure off his teammates.

Toronto is going to be playing with desperation, if they lose, their season is over.  But James is preaching the same thing all post-season for the Cavaliers.  He has stated over and over that nine wins, ten wins, etc. isn’t the goal.  It’s 16 wins, and they aren’t there yet.

So, don’t expect another blowout win and don’t be surprised if both teams are back here Sunday night for a seventh and deciding game.

Still, it would be better for the blood pressure of the entire wine and gold fandom if the Cavaliers finished the series in six games.

As well as Cleveland has played at “The Q”, when you play one game for all the marbles, anything can happen.  Something like D’Marre Carroll getting hot from behind the three point line or Biyombo making 15 foot jump shots.

Let’s not forget what a huge win it was last night, though.  It was really the first time in this post-season that Lue’s crew faced a must win situation.

They passed the test with flying colors.



Cavs’ Warts Showing Up Again

How short is the memory of Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans?

Have they forgotten that the Toronto Raptors won one less game in the regular season than the wine and gold?

This is the Eastern Conference Finals.  It’s not supposed to be easy.  And the Cavs and Raptors were the two best teams in the East for the entire season.

Thinking Cleveland was going to cakewalk to The Finals is shortsighted and is probably the reason for the angst that fans have this morning after the 105-99 loss to Canada’s darlings.

A few of the things we were concerned about before the series started have reared their ugly heads in the contests played up north.

That doesn’t mean these things can’t be corrected, and quite frankly, until the Cavs lose the home court advantage or there is a seventh game of the series, we will not go into panic mode.

In the first two games, the Raptors were concerned about the three point shooting of the Cavs, so they extended their defense, and Tyronn Lue’s club made a parade to the basket, including an array of dunks.

Toronto closed off the paint at home, and Cleveland hasn’t been as proficient from distance as they were against Detroit and Atlanta.

Lue has to come up with a counter, and maybe he did by playing Channing Frye at center in the fourth quarter, which drew Bismack Biyombo away from the hoop.

It’s simple, if the long range shots aren’t falling, you have to try something else, and you need to attack the basket.  And we aren’t talking about driving one on four like Kyrie Irving has time and again over the past two games.

The bigger issue in the last two games has been the defense, particularly on the Raptors’ all-star backcourt combination of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

The Cavs seem to be going behind the screen on Lowry, allowing him open looks on three point shots, while DeRozan’s mid-range game has JR Smith and LeBron James on their heels consistently.

Perhaps blitzing the pick and roll more often, like Cleveland did early in the fourth quarter, should be the plan.  Let the offensive burden be more on DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, etc.

Also, Tristan Thompson has not been effective keeping Biyombo off the boards.

The media narrative is that Kevin Love is killing the Cavs defensively, because he is always the reason the wine and gold lose, right?  We don’t see any evidence that Luis Scola and/or Patrick Patterson doing damage offensively.

Think about last night’s fourth quarter.  Cleveland scored on 11 straight possessions, but the reason the Cavs could get no more than a three point lead was the inability to stop the Raptors on the defensive end.

A few stops at that time, and we are talking about a 3-1 series lead.

The Cavaliers simply have to do a better job slowing down Lowry and DeRozan, and then limiting the Raptors to one shot.

It sounds simple, but the defense must get better, and the offense can’t settle for the long range shot.  Attack the basket and get to the foul line.

One more thing that was striking about last night’s comeback attempt in the fourth quarter.  The offense was running through James and Matthew Dellavedova.

This isn’t to say Delly is better than Kyrie Irving, but the latter seems to be in his “try to do everything himself” mode at times.

A victory tomorrow night will ease the panic and put Toronto in a position to be eliminated.

It is true that the Cavs haven’t been able to win in Canada, but the same is true about the Raptors at The Q.



One Loss Shouldn’t Cause Concern

You really didn’t think the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to go 16-0 in the playoffs, did you?

That is why the Cavs’ 99-84 loss to Toronto last night doesn’t have us wringing our hands with despair.

After all, Cleveland still has a 2-1 series edge, and they didn’t do anything as damaging as losing the home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The wine and gold shot 35.4% from the field in game three, and we believe most teams that shoot as poorly from the floor as Tyronn Lue’s squad did, would come to the same fate.

It is well documented that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shot a combined 4 for 28 from the floor last night, and we would bet that won’t happen again during the rest of the playoffs, let alone this series.

The Raptors were playing their first conference finals game in the history of the franchise, and they were up to the challenge, and their fans were rightfully excited for the team’s premier foray to the NBA’s final four.

There was a lot of emotion in the building and the Cavaliers didn’t diffuse it early in the game.

Love missed some shots early and seemed hesitant to be more active offensively, and Irving missed some contested drives to the hoop in the first quarter as well, but he seemed to take the Raptors’ bait, and continued to try to get to the basket by going through four Toronto players instead of moving the ball and letting someone else have open looks.

“Bad” Kyrie made his first appearance of the playoffs.

However, we will write this off as one bad game, and after the dominance the Cavs have displayed for most of the post-season, they are entitled to a off night.

Now, it’s Tyronn Lue who has to make some adjustments instead of trying to come up with counters to what he thinks the opponent will come up with.

We would guess Lue will try to get Irving and Love some easy looks early, so they can get the taste of game three out of their mouths as early as possible.  No doubt, LeBron James will help provide them with those looks.

Defensively, the wine and gold need to slow down DeMar DeRozan early.  He had his mid-range game going in the first half, although JR Smith was in good position defensively for many of those attempts.

As for Bismack Biyombo, who had the game of his life Saturday night with 26 rebounds, Lue said it best.  The Cavs’ coach said the Raptor big man had a lot of boards because Cleveland missed a lot of shots.

However, they need to continue to make open shots difficult for Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross, because if either can get their three point shot down, it could make game four a difficult proposition.

To be blunt, the Raptors played perhaps their best game of the playoffs and the Cavaliers played their worst, and the outcome was still in doubt halfway through the fourth quarter.

And even if Toronto can hold serve and win Monday night, two of the next three games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

Relax, it’s the playoffs.  It’s not supposed to as easy as it has been thus far.

LeBron James and his crew will play better in game four.  And Irving and Love will not shoot 14% for the entire game.



Is The Tribe Bullpen A Liability?

Before the season started, and we predicted an AL Central Division title for the Cleveland Indians, one of our reservations was the bullpen.

Was it good enough to put the Tribe over the top.

Watching the games unfold, the relief corps has sprung its share of leaks.

Early in the year, Bryan Shaw was knocked around like a pinata, and you had to wonder if the heavy workload he has had over the past three seasons had caught up to him.

Cody Allen gave up two walkoff wins in one week, a seven day span that saw Cleveland lose five contests in a six game span by a single tally.

Now, Shaw and Allen seem to have returned to their norm and Zack McAllister, the other reliever Terry Francona has entrusted in the late innings is scuffling.

Our thought was the Cleveland bullpen walks too many hitters and gives up too many home runs.

Looking at statistics, that really isn’t the case.

The Tribe ‘pen has allowed 13 dingers to date, but that ranks 18th in the major leagues.  As we have seen, the Cincinnati Reds lead in this dubious stat, giving up an unbelievable 33 circuit clouts to date.

Cleveland’s total is less than the vaunted Yankee bullpen, but the relief corps allowing the least bombs are the Mets and White Sox (each seven), while the Giants, Nationals, Orioles, Royals, Dodgers, and Red Sox have allowed nine.

A year ago, Tribe relievers allowed the fewest homers in the American League.

In terms of walks, the Indians’ relievers have allowed the 14th most walks (48).  Again, Cincinnati’s gang of gas cans have walked a whopping 85 hitters thus far.

The five bullpens allowing the fewest free passes are Houston, the Yankees, Washington, Toronto, and Detroit.

The Indians were tied for 5th in all of baseball last season in allowing walks.

The Tribe’s bullpen is also 14th in ERA and 20th in strikeouts.

So, although there are far worse bullpens in the big leagues, there is also no doubt Cleveland’s relievers are not performing up to the standards of last season.  There has been a regression.

Francona’s plan in close games in to use McAllister in the 7th, Shaw in the 8th, and Allen in the 9th.  Do you know how many times he has used them that way and all three gave him a scoreless inning?

Once, on April 6th, the second game of the season and the Tribe’s first win.  It hasn’t happened since.

McAllister has allowed 14 hits and struck out 16 batters in 14-2/3 innings, but he’s walked six hitters.

Shaw has given up 15 hits and fanned 19 batters in his 17 frames, but he has walked seven and allowed four homers.

Allen has allowed a scant 12 hits in 18-2/3 innings striking out 20, but he’s given 11 free passes and served up three bombs.

And Jeff Manship seems to be regressing to his career norm (5.20 ERA), giving up 14 hits and six bases on balls in 11-2/3 innings.

Perhaps it is time to give Joba Chamberlain (0.66 ERA), Tommy Hunter, and Dan Otero, who saved last night’s win some chances in higher leverage situations.

The margin for error in the American League is very slim because there aren’t any dominant teams, nor are there any bad squads.

Getting the bullpen back to the level of the last couple of years could be what puts the Indians ahead of the pack in the Central Division.



A Look At Cavs-Raptors Matchup

And then there were four…

The NBA playoffs started what seems to be eons ago with 16 teams in the tournament, and now we are down to just a quartet, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are one of those teams.

Tonight, the Cavs and Raptors open the Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena.

The two teams met three times in the regular season with the Raptors winning two of them, although Cleveland’s starting point guard in one of the losses was Jared Cunningham, because both Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova were out nursing injuries.

Remember that the Raptors finished one game behind Cleveland for the best record in the East, and they also have an all star backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto is one of the league’s best shooting teams from three point range, with the 5th best percentage in the league at 37%.

The also take a ton of free throws, ranking third in the NBA in that department.  LeBron James alluded to their shooters making a lot of pump fakes and that Cleveland defenders must stand their ground.

Despite those numbers, the Raptors rank 13th in the league in scoring (the Cavs are 8th), so Toronto doesn’t play as fast as the wine and gold, something Tyronn Lue’s club will try to take advantage of, pushing the tempo.

Defensively, the Raptors rank one spot above the Cavs in points allowed per game, giving up a tenth of a point per contest less than the Cavaliers.

They do rank 5th in field goal percentage against, but they are second worst in the league in defending the three point shot.

So, if the Cavs want to get to the basket they will need to do so in transition because Toronto is going to do what the Hawks did, pack the paint, and allow their opponents to beat them from outside.

Of course, that didn’t work for Atlanta.

The Raptors are a little more physically imposing as the Hawks are, especially if Jonas Valanciunas can play in the series.  If we can, they have three solid inside defenders in Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, and Luis Scola.

They also have DeMarre Carroll, who has given LeBron James more trouble than most defenders.

The Cavs can counter these inside presences by using Channing Frye to draw the big men away from the hoop, and you may see some Timofey Mozgov to bother the Raptors’ bigs defensively.

Remember that until he was hurt, Valanciunas was probably Toronto’s best player in the Miami series, so he can be a force.

As has been a constant during these playoffs, a big key for Cleveland defensively will be stopping penetration, particularly by Lowry.  This means once again all eyes are on Irving, who has been much better in the post-season on the defensive end.

Two other factors could come into play in this series. One would be fatigue.  The Raptors have played 14 games since the regular season ended, while Cleveland has played eight.  With the extra intensity involved in playoff games, you have to wonder if the Cavs’ fresher legs give them an advantage.

The other thing is the satisfaction level of Toronto.  Are they happy with getting to the conference finals for the first time in their history?  Sometimes your goal isn’t what you think it is.

If the Cavs continue to play like they did in the first two rounds, they will be Eastern Conference champions again.  There isn’t any reason why that level of play cannot continue.



Does Tribe Need To Exercise More Patience With Injuries?

We were hoping against hope that Michael Brantley’s shoulder was fine when he was activated from the disabled list at the end of April.

Unfortunately, history was not on our side.

When Brantley came back, manager Terry Francona said the outfielder would play two days in a row, then get a day off.  This course of action was followed until the Detroit series last week, when the skipper wrote Brantley’s name in the lineup four straight days and in five of the six games on the homestand.

It was after the plan was altered that soreness we appeared in Dr. Smooth’s shoulder, which resulted in putting him back on the disabled list yesterday.

Again, we were hoping that Brantley recovered sufficiently from his surgery to allow him to have a normal season, but recent history should have taught us something different.

In 2014, Jason Kipnis pulled an oblique muscle on April 29th.  He was coming off his first All-Star Game appearance in 2013, and although his batting average wasn’t great at that time (.239) he had an OPS of 763, thanks to a .360 on base percentage.

The second baseman made it back to the lineup on May 28th, and struggled for the most part the rest of the season.

The highest his batting average hit the rest of the year was .261 (his career mark is .272) and he wound up hitting just .240, with 6 HR and 41 RBI.  He knocked in his last run of the season on August 29th.

And yes, he did play regularly in September.

Yan Gomes was coming off a year where he won a Silver Slugger Award as the best hitting catcher in the American League when he injured his knee on April 11th.

Gomes was struggling at the plate to that point in the season, but the campaign was only five games old.

The catcher returned to the lineup on May 24th, didn’t hit a home run until his 10th game back, and wound up hitting just .231 for the season with 12 HR, a drop from 21 the year prior.

His numbers prior to the All Star Game were 234/327/560, while after the break, they were closer to his career norms at 289/435/725.

Were both players rushed back too soon?

First, we are sure both players said they were ready.  We do not think the Indians’ front office and training staff pressured either Kipnis, Gomes, or Brantley to get back in the lineup.

All three are the team’s leaders, and probably feel obligated as leaders to get back on the field.

Since those players are keys to the Indians’ offense, having them out there at less than 100%, or let’s say 80% doesn’t allow them to hit like they normally do, and that creates even a bigger burden on the ballclub.

Wouldn’t it be better to have them take an extra two weeks to get even more rehab and more healthy before putting them right back in the starting lineup?

Let’s say the Tribe waited an extra couple of weeks with Brantley, had him get more at bats in minor league games and activated him on May 15th (today).  Could he play the rest of the year like Michael Brantley?  And wouldn’t the Indians be better off if he could?

We will never know, but it behooves the organization to get the leftfielder back to 100% when he does return, because his bat is so important to the team.

They say those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.  The Indians aren’t learning from the mistakes of the past.



Analyzing The Tribe’s Veteran Signings

During the hot stove season, the Cleveland Indians decided to try to improve their team by signing some veterans to one year contracts.

Over the years, we have not been thrilled by this strategy for several reasons, mostly that it shows the organization doesn’t trust their young players.

And we also feel that part of the reason for the sluggish starts by the club over the past few seasons is they spend the first 40 games seeing if these veterans have anything in the tank, and a lot of times, bringing up the young players gives the Tribe a spark.

This season doesn’t seem to be any different.

While Mike Napoli has been productive despite striking out a lot, he has a .504 slugging percentage and leads the team in home runs and RBIs, the other vets are struggling.

Rajai Davis, 35-years-old,  has an on base percentage of .265 and an OPS of 620.  You would have to think a player like Tyler Naquin could do at least that well.

We realize Naquin’s numbers may not hold up with more at bats, but our biggest concern with the rookie offensively was that he wasn’t drawing walks.  Guess what?  Neither does Davis, who has walked just five times on the year.

Making the Davis issue worse is Terry Francona continues to hit him in the leadoff spot, despite a career .315 on base average.

Juan Uribe (age 37) was brought in because the management didn’t feel comfortable using Giovanny Urshela at 3B to start the season.

However, Uribe thus far has demonstrated no pop in his bat, with a slugging percentage of .306 and an OPS of 619.  Uribe started the year playing pretty much everyday at the hot corner, but is starting to lose playing time to Jose Ramirez at that position.

For the record, Urshela had a 608 OPS last season while battling injuries, and figured to improve with experience.

Thirty eight year old Marlon Byrd is the other veteran signed by the Indians, he inked his deal during spring training.  Byrd has been decent, with a 684 OPS and hasn’t been the hammer vs. left handed pitching he was purported to be.

We wouldn’t have a problem seeing him a couple of days per week as long as he is still contributing.  He seems to get one big hit per week.

We understand that the season is just 31 games old, and we recognize this constitutes a small sample size.

We also know the American League playoff race will probably be very close all year long and one game here or there could make a big difference.

The Cleveland Indians feel they are a contending team, which is probably the reason they made the moves to sign these players, but being a contender also means there is a short leash for players who aren’t getting it done.

With Michael Brantley’s availability up in the air right now, Terry Francona can’t use his considerable patience hoping that Davis and Uribe will get it together soon.  If they aren’t hitting, the lineup is full of holes.

Our fear when the Tribe signs this type of player is what will happen if they aren’t swinging the bat well.  Tito gives veterans the benefit of the doubt, so his inclination is to keep giving them at bats with the hope they will snap out of their slumps.

He can’t wait much longer.

And as for a possible release of either player, remember they are on one year deals, so there is no long term investment in Davis or Uribe.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on both players through the end of May to see what the front office may do.

The bigger question here is why not give the young players the first shot at the job, and bring the veterans in if they don’t work out?




Are The Cavs A Three Point Team?

After the barrage of three point shots the Cleveland Cavaliers made in their Eastern Conference semi-finals sweep of the Atlanta Hawks, people have been asking if Tyronn Lue’s squad has decided that it is better to live and die with the outside shot.

Certainly, the game has changed greatly since the advent of the three point line in the late 70’s when the NBA took it from the ABA.

At the beginning it was used more as a means to catch up in a game, to give you a chance to tie a game up when you were losing by three late in a contest.

Now, pretty much every team in that plays the sport embraces the long distance shot.

We saw the change coming in the late 80’s/early 90’s at the high school and AAU levels, when we saw players pulling up for threes off of fast break opportunities.  Until then, you were taught to get the easy basket, to get the ball as close as possible to score.

When you think back in Cavaliers’ history, the “Miracle of Richfield” teams were based on the perimeter scoring of guys like Campy Russell, Bingo Smith, Dick Snyder, and Austin Carr.

They may not have been shooting from a three point line distance, but their ability to make jump shots consistently was a key to their success.

So, have the current Cavs developed into a team that lives and dies by the three?  We would say no.

One of the biggest reasons for all of the open threes converting by Cleveland in the Atlanta series was that the Hawks were determined not to get beat in the paint.  They blitzed Kyrie Irving to force the ball out of his hands so he couldn’t drive, and there was certainly a huge amount of traffic when LeBron James tried to get the ball to the basket.

On the other hand, Lue’s crew shot 138 threes in the four game sweep of the Pistons, compared to the 152 they hoisted against the Hawks.  Those numbers are pretty comparable.

In the Warriors first round series vs. Houston, they attempted 144 shots from behind the arc, an average of almost 29 per game.  The Cavaliers averaged 34.5 per contest in their four game sweep.

Golden State is averaging 31 threes per game in the second round series against Portland, compared to Cleveland’s 38.5 in the whitewashing of Atlanta.

That would seem to make the wine and gold being more of a long distance shooting team than the squad who seemingly invented the style, the defending champions.

It would probably surprise you to know the Warriors only had two players who averaged more than four three point shots per game:  Stephen Curry (a whopping 11.2/game) and Klay Thompson.

The Cavaliers have four players who shoot from behind the line more that four times a game on average:  JR Smith (6.6), Kevin Love (5.7), Kyrie Irving (4.9), and Channing Frye (4.4).  James is close at 3.7 per game during the regular season.

The Cavs are following the “analytics” that show a three point shot is more efficient than a long two point attempt.

So, the answer is yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers are most definitely a team relying on the three point shot.

Our fear is that when the long distance shot isn’t falling, which hasn’t happened in the playoffs yet, they will forget to attack the hoop.

Of course, if you have four or five players who shoot it from out there regularly, what are the chance all of them will be cold.

That’s what Tyronn Lue and the Cavs are banking on.



Tribe Positives and Concerns Over First 27 Games.

The Cleveland Indians hit the 1/6th mark of the season with a 14-13 record.  They didn’t have the great April they needed to get casual fans revved up about them, but they didn’t bury themselves either.

And that can be done during the season’s first month, just ask the Minnesota Twins.

The biggest problem for the Tribe is the Chicago White Sox, who have ridden excellent pitching to take a five game lead in the AL Central.

Of course, they is a long way to go to make up that deficit.

Anyway, here is what we see as positives over the first 27 games, and also, things were are concerned about.


Nobody doubts the talent of Francisco Lindor, but right now, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of a sophomore slump.

The 22-year-old is hitting .324 (814 OPS) thus far and is making a defensive gem on a nightly basis.

If you had Josh Tomlin as the staff leader in wins before the season started, you were in the minority.  But the right hander sits at 5-0 with a 3.72 ERA and is showing remarkable control as usual with a 19 to 2 strikeout to walk ratio.

It seems like over the last few seasons, one starting pitcher makes a step toward elite status, and this year it is Danny Salazar following in the footsteps of Corey Kluber (2014) and Carlos Carrasco (2015).

Salazar has allowed just 18 hits in 37-2/3 innings, while striking out 43 batters.  Yes, his walks are high (16), but for the most part, he has been dominating each time he takes the mound.

The Indians have been searching for a right handed power bat for years and years, and they may now have one in Mike Napoli.  Yes, he strikes out a lot, on pace for close to 200 whiffs on a 500 at bat season, but he also has six homers and 20 RBI.

His history says the strikeouts will taper a bit, and he does see a lot of pitches, but he has a chance to belt more than 25 bombs this season.


The bullpen still scares us and we know that Bryan Shaw has pitched better lately.  Terry Francona likes to use Zack McAllister in the 7th, Shaw in the 8th, and Cody Allen in the 9th if the starting pitcher can only give him six innings.

You can probably count the game where each has provided a clean inning in the same game on one hand.

McAllister started great, but has struggled his last few outings.  Shaw was a mess early on, and Allen still seems to go through periods where he can’t throw strikes.

Maybe Tommy Hunter can provide a lift here.

Yan Gomes is also having a hard time at the plate, hitting just .176 (541 OPS).  Gomes has walked just four times, compared to 22 punch outs.

He never has walked a lot, and you have to wonder if many the word is out that you don’t have to throw him a strike to get him out.

He also needs to start taking the outside pitch to right centerfield.

Jason Kipnis’ diminishing contact is also troubling.  He has almost struck out as much as Napoli.  His career high was 143 in ’13, but right now, he is on pace to fan over 160 times.

Our last concern is the usual veteran problem.  How long of a rope does Francona give some of these guys.

Juan Uribe has an OPS of 652.  Rajai Davis’ is 690, and Lonnie Chisenhall’s is 626.  Under 700 isn’t very good.  The team already sent out Tyler Naquin who had a 753 OPS (.315 batting average) to the minors.

When you are a contending team, which the Indians are, you can’t wait too long to replace players who aren’t producing.

Francona needs to use Jose Ramirez more, because he has been productive (783 OPS), and he needs to leave Carlos Santana in the leadoff spot. We know it is a small sample size, but Cleveland is 8-1 when Santana leads off.

He walks a lot, and has already led off two games with home runs.

Overall, the offense has made a big improvement, ranking 4th in the AL in runs scored per game, and the pitching is starting to pick it up, ranking 7th in ERA.

Again, our biggest concern is the bullpen.  With some improvement over the first 27 games in that department, the Indians could have been 17-10 instead of 14-13.


Game 3 Won’t Be Easy For Cavs

After last night’s blowout victory at Quicken Loans Arena by the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Atlanta Hawks, fans seem to be not only regarding the Hawks as a speed bump on the way to a title.

Not to be a wet blanket, but we believe Friday night’s game could be the sternest test the wine and gold have faced in the playoffs thus far.

Mike Budenholzer’s team was thoroughly embarrassed yesterday.  He pulled his starters toward the end of the third quarter.

Despite the lopsided win yesterday, and the nine straight victories by Cleveland over the last two seasons, the Hawks aren’t the Philadelphia 76ers.  They won 60 games last season and won 48 this year.

And if they have any pride at all, and we believe they do, they have some pro’s pros over there in Paul Millsap and Al Hoford, they will come out Friday night and fight on their home floor to get back into the series.

TNT’s Charles Barkley hammered the attitude of the Hawks as well, basically saying that Atlanta’s players lost their fight after halftime, when they needed to set a tone for game three.

Our guess is the series will take a physical tone too, especially from the home team, because they will be playing angry.  They have to be sick and tired of the Cavs beating them, particularly in the playoffs.

This doesn’t mean the Cavaliers won’t win, because at this point, Cleveland has to be in the heads of the Hawks.  They have to wonder what they have to do to defeat the number one seed in the East.

All we are seeing is that last night’s game was probably an anomaly, the Cavs aren’t winning by more than 20 points again in the series.

Since we don’t take anything for granted, fans shouldn’t think for a minute that if Cleveland advances to the conference finals, that will not be a cakewalk either.

The fans need to slow their roll a tad.

The guys wearing the wine and gold uniforms are saying the correct things and the supporters of the squad should listen.

JR Smith said it right after the game.  All the Cavs did was hold the home court, and now they have to go on the road for the first time in the series and win in Atlanta.  They weren’t sending the NBA a “message”, they were just doing what they were supposed to do.

It is understandable that the fans are getting excited.  The Cavs are the only team that hasn’t lost a playoff game, and through six post-season games, their outside shooting is on point.

Last night’s 25 three point makes is proof of that.

But remember that for the most part, NBA players have pride and they don’t like to be embarrassed.  That’s why we think it won’t be easy on Friday night, that’s all.

Now, if the Cavs can overcome the Hawks’ emotion in game three and come out with a victory, this series won’t come back to Cleveland.

Atlanta likely will not have anything left.

Remember, every playoff game is different.  Friday night will be no exception.