Why Don’t People Understand Browns’ Plan?

It happens every fall.  The national media and some of the local media reach for the lowest of the low hanging fruit in regards to the National Football League.

They take turns hitting the speed bag that is the Cleveland Browns.

Look, the Browns deserve it.  Since they returned to the NFL in 1999, they have been a joke of a franchise.  Two winning seasons, one playoff appearance.  The teams slogan should be “At least 10 losses every year”.

They’ve changed coaches like people change underwear.  They’ve gone through multiple front office executives, general managers, and directors of football operations.

In essence, they deserve exactly what they get.

So, now the Cleveland Browns are trying something else.  They blew up their roster, getting rid of most of the veterans on last year’s team and we trying to build a winning team by getting a whole bunch of young players and letting them develop together.

That actually sound logical.

Will it work?  Well, that remains to be seen, but nothing else they’ve tried has worked in the last 17 years, so really, why not try it?

Of course, many people in the media don’t know what to make of it, so they fall back on what has worked for them in the past, and that is, hammering what goes on in Berea.

In a way, it’s lazy reporting.

For example, based on Carson Wentz’ two very good starts (against the mediocre Browns and Chicago Bears), people are questioning the organization’s decision to go with Robert Griffin III at quarterback.

It’s not that complicated.  They weren’t convinced that Wentz was a top tier starter and Griffin was an experienced alternative to playing the 37-year-old Josh McCown.

A national writer wondered why the Browns would bother to start the former Heisman Trophy winner when McCown is clearly better?

Really?  You can’t figure that out? Griffin is 26-years-old.  Maybe you can salvage something out of his career, maybe not.  The Browns know McCown doesn’t have much left.  If you know you aren’t contending for a playoff spot, why not see what a guy who is younger can do?

A local station is running through the statistics and reporting on what the players who the Browns have unloaded in recent years are doing.  Did we miss something and the Browns were actually a playoff team the last four or five years?

You will never be able to convince us that getting rid of aging players from a 3-13 team is a bad idea.  Players over 30 generally aren’t going to get better as they age.  So, why Karlos Dansby can still play, he’s not a good fit for what the Browns are doing.

The point is many people still have the mistaken notion that the Browns want to go 6-10 this year and they should have kept and played veterans to achieve that record.

However, that’s kind of like being the 8th seed in the NBA playoffs.  You aren’t going to get a high lottery pick, and you don’t have a chance at a title.

Again, whether it works or not, the Cleveland Browns are trying to build around a lot of young, drafted players who will grow together.  They will draft their franchise QB at some point, perhaps next year, a player who they love.

In the meantime, the media shouldn’t look at this football team the same as they normally do.  They can’t acknowledge trying something new.

JD

 

Are Tribe’s Post-Season Chances Done?

After Carlos Carrasco left Saturday’s game with the Detroit Tigers with a broken bone in his hand, The Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes wrote that the Cleveland Indians’ playoff chances ended before the post-season even began.

We aren’t going to get into whether or not the column was appropriate, nor are we going to discuss the reactions to the piece in the Tribe clubhouse.

We did want to analyze whether or not the Indians’ really do not have a chance once the post-season begins the first week in October.

Perhaps as little as five years ago, losing two starting pitchers from a team that leads the American League in ERA could have been a death blow to that squad’s World Series hopes.

But baseball has changed over the past few seasons, and in the playoffs, the bullpen is becoming more and more important as managers bring in one flamethrower after another to work one inning in October.

Certainly, the Tribe will need its ace, Corey Kluber, to give them a lot of innings in the games he starts, much like Madison Bumgarner does for the Giants.  Terry Francona will need Kluber to go deep in games, because he will lean on his bullpen heavily in the games he doesn’t start.

From there on out, Francona will be happy with at least five innings from his starting pitchers and then he will turn the game over to his bullpen where he can pull a page out of Joe Torre’s book and ask his three best relief pitchers, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, and Andrew Miller, to give him four outs each instead of the three he usually asks for in the regular season.

Trevor Bauer would probably be the game two starter, and if he is throwing strikes, could be another guy who can soak up some innings.  For all of Bauer’s inconsistency, especially after the all star break, when he is on, he can be dominant.

Our guess is if the other two starters, Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger, can give Tito four solid innings, the skipper will be satisfied.

That’s because the post-season roster will have either eight or nine bullpen options, depending on what Francona feels comfortable with.

It’s also why Tito has been conducting some tryouts over the last month to see who will be part of his playoff relief corps.

Obviously, Dan Otero will be one of those members, as will Zack McAllister, who has been much more effective over the last six weeks.

We also believe Kyle Crockett will give the Indians an extra left-hander in the ‘pen in the post-season.

The last two spots are up for grabs, and the frontrunners are probably veteran Jeff Manship and rookie Perci Garner, who the manager has gone to in some very high leverage situations lately.

His strikeout of Victor Martinez on Saturday, with a man on third in a scoreless game, may have clinched the spot for him.

Without a doubt, it would be easier for the Indians with four starters who can give the team at least six innings throughout the post-season, but that ship has sailed.

However, we can definitely see a scenario where the pitching burden is put more on the bullpen in October, and that gives the Cleveland Indians just as good of a chance for success as they would have if the starting rotation was intact.

MW

 

Did Browns Improve From Week One? Yes

After last week, we told everyone you cannot evaluate the Cleveland Browns are wins and losses, but rather on how the team progresses throughout the season.

Based on that, we would give Hue Jackson and his team a passing grade for week 2, despite a 25-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at First Energy Stadium.

The Browns jumped out to a 20-0 first quarter lead, and the Josh McCown mafia was probably busy telling everyone who would listen, “I told you so”.  But after that quarter, the brown and orange looked a lot like last week’s squad.

They couldn’t put up any more points, and continually shot themselves in the foot on both sides of the ball.

Positives.  The running game improved, getting 145 yards, but 85 of those were on one play, Isaiah Crowell’s touchdown scamper in the first quarter.

The Ravens ran the ball more often (26-23) despite trailing for most of the game.

Corey Coleman played like a first round pick, scoring two touchdowns and making five catches for 104 yards.

Duke Johnson continues to show he needs the football more often, with four receptions for 44 yards.  However, he carried just three times from scrimmage.

Defensively, Derrick Kindred continues to impress, and ILB Chris Kirksey played well too.  He’s one of the guys we felt was minimized by the previous coaching staff.

Danny Shelton continued to show he is not a bust with two tackles and six assists.  He’s a big reason why the defense once again held the opponents to under four yards per carry.  Baltimore averaged just 3.1 per attempt.

And Joe Haden improved from a week ago with two interceptions.  Haden still had plays where improvement is needed, but perhaps he is shaking some rust off.

Also, kudos to the front office.  They traded Andy Lee for a fourth round pick, and then picked up a solid punter on the waiver wire.  Britton Colquitt averaged 40.8 yards per punt, and put two inside the 20.

Negatives.  McCown’s interception at the end of the first half is a reminder as to why he is a below average NFL quarterback despite the Cleveland media’s love for him.

It gave the Ravens three points they shouldn’t have scored.  You cannot, repeat CANNOT turn the ball over in that spot.

We keep hearing about special teams’ coach Chris Tabor being one of the best in the league.  Why?

A blocked extra point and a long return on first kickoff say maybe the Browns can do better.

Cleveland has had a lot of kicks blocked in the second half of last season and another one today.  And it cost the team three points, meaning a field goal could’ve won it at the end.

Lastly (and it won’t be the last time this year we say this), the NFL officiating is horrific.  The taunting penalty against Terrelle Pryor in the last minute, negating a play that would have put the Browns in a first and goal situation, ranks as one of the worst calls we’ve ever seen.

Pryor was simply flipping the ball to the official.  He didn’t jam it into the defender’s face, he was giving it to the official, and Ladarius Webb just got in the way.

The NFL officials are THE WORST in professional sports.  They make ridiculously bad calls every week.

Next week, it’s on to Miami to take on the Dolphins.  Will McCown, who was banged up, be able to play?

Will the run defense continue to do its job?  Will more special teams’ gaffes occur?

Stay tuned for how the Browns’ progress turned out next week.

JD

Fans, Media Need New Way To Evaluate Browns

Not even the most optimistic fan of the Cleveland Browns is predicting a successful season.

Before the first game last Sunday, we think the highest win total we heard for the brown and orange was eight, and those folks must wake up every morning thinking today’s the day the pot of gold will appear at their doorstep.

If Hue Jackson’s crew went 3-13 or 4-12 in 2016, it wouldn’t be shocking.

That’s why we were surprised at the vitriol which followed the 29-10 loss on the road to the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener.

What exactly were fans and the media expecting?

On Monday, we actually heard people putting Jackson’s job in jeopardy and calling the Robert Griffin III experiment a failure.  AFTER ONE GAME!

Perhaps it is the frustration of all the losing this franchise has endured since 1999, or maybe it was optimism that the Browns could win game one because they were facing a rookie quarterback, but it is difficult to see why fans and media alike were extremely hot and bothered by Cleveland losing its opener once again.

We wrote this before the season started and we certainly aren’t changing our mind after one regular season game.

We understand the Browns aren’t going to be very good this year, in fact, we would guess they aren’t going to win more than three games this season.

The difference is they will be doing it with a whole bunch of young players who figure to get better every week with the experience they gain during every contest.

If that’s not happening, then everybody needs to worry about Hue Jackson and his coaching staff.

The goal should be for this group of players to be better on January 1st against the Steelers than they were last Sunday.

It’s not that difficult to understand.

The Browns have a few players from the previous regime that they need to decide on, guys like Danny Shelton, Cam Erving, Nate Orchard, Xavier Cooper, and Ibraheim Campbell come to mind.

If they can get six solid starters, one or two being Pro Bowl players, out of this year’s draft class, then the 2016 can be considered a success.  The best bets among those draftees are Corey Coleman, Carl Nassib, Emmanuel Ogbah, Derrick Kindred, and Joe Schobert.

Then since you have 14 picks in the 2017 draft, you get more six more solid starters at least.  That would give you 12 starters, young starters, that you can build a foundation on.

And we are being conservative.  You might wind up with 15 or 16 players with a solid future ahead of them.

Maybe it doesn’t work, but the Browns haven’t gone down this road before, and you cannot hold the sins of past regimes on Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta, and Hue Jackson.

The great dynasties of the NFL were built through the draft.  This isn’t to say every team who tries to build through the draft develops into a consistent Super Bowl threat, but the Steelers of the 70’s, the Cowboys of the 90’s came about by smart drafting.

Time will tell if Brown and Jackson have drafted the right people.  However, we can tell you that one week isn’t enough time to make the decision that they didn’t.

In the meantime, the new management should be judged on how the young players progress throughout the season.  Forget the wins and losses.  We understand that is different from how we have all been trained, but if you don’t adopt this philosophy, you will have a very unhappy football season.

Also, stop putting Carson Wentz in Canton based on one game against a totally rebuilding team.

That is all.

JD

 

 

Sign Lindor Long Term, He’ll Be Best Ever For Tribe

It should be fairly obvious by now that the Cleveland Indians have a very special player in shortstop Francisco Lindor.

He’s already the best player on a team that will likely make the post-season, and he’s just 22-years-old, not turning 23 until well after the season is over.

Since getting called up on June 14th a year ago, the switch-hitter has batted .316 with a 825 OPS, and this year, he has an outside shot at a 200 hit season.

We have been advocating since last year (yes, we know that sounds crazy), to sign Lindor to a long term deal to make sure he stays in a Cleveland uniform for a long, long time.

And we mean not just a deal to cover his arbitration seasons and maybe delay his free agency by a year or two.  No, we would sign him to a ten year deal, keeping with the franchise through the prime of his career and beyond.

That’s how good we believe this kid is.

Throughout his minor league career, we thought that Lindor could be to the Indians what Derek Jeter was to the New York Yankees, and we’ve seen nothing that has made us change our mind.

Besides his playing ability, and remember, a baseball player’s prime is usually between ages 27 to 29, so he is five years away from that, Lindor’s joy for the game is always evident.  His smile and zest for baseball should be marketed not only in Cleveland, but by Major League Baseball.

We also believe that if Lindor would stay for ten more years, he would become the best position player in the history of the Cleveland Indians.

We understand the names that came before, Hall of Fame players who spent the majority of their careers with the Tribe.  Names like Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Lou Boudreau, Earl Averill, and those players of recent ilk like Jim Thome, who will be inducted into Cooperstown soon.

Look at the Tribe’s list of all time leaders, and tell me Lindor wouldn’t top all of these lists if he remained healthy and played a total of 12 years here–

Games played:  Terry Turner  1619.  Lindor played in 241 after last night, and if he played 140 per season, which is probably conservative, he would be at 1641.

Runs:  Averill  1154.  Lindor has 142 to date with 92 this season.

Hits:  Lajoie  2052.  Frankie’s next hit is #300, with 170 hits per season, again conservative, the shortstop will be at 2000.

Doubles:  Speaker 486.  Lindor has 49 right now, and as he gets older and stronger, we can see 40 per year as a norm.  Besides, it’s no disgrace to be behind “The Gray Eagle”, who is the all time leader in this category.

RBI’s:  Averill  1084.  Lindor has 121 for his career, and again as he gets stronger, should be able to start knocking in 80-90 per season.

By the time he would have completed that decade with the Tribe, the only major stats he would likely not be on top of would be home runs (although he would be in the top ten), and stolen bases, because that aspect of the game has been de-emphasized.

We don’t go crazy with superlatives either.  Part of the reason Lindor could be the best Tribe player ever would be that the franchise has never really been able to keep great players for an extended period.

Even throughout the golden age of the 1990’s, none of the great players who played at Jacobs Field ever played their entire career in Cleveland.

The front office needs to make a long term deal with Lindor this winter.  He is simply worth it, and it would show fans that this ownership is anxious to keep a player like this here for the long haul.

We are seeing the beginning of greatness with Francisco Lindor.  Let’s hope we continue to watch for a long time.

MW

 

 

 

Browns Lose, But What Will They Learn?

We have been saying all along not to expect too much from the Cleveland Browns in 2016.  They shed most of the veterans from a squad that went 3-13 a year ago, so this is a year to lay a foundation for future success.

Therefore, we are not going to judge today’s 29-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that harshly.  The best chance Cleveland had for a win today was poor play by the home team’s rookie quarterback, but Carson Wentz made enough plays to bring home a winner.

That doesn’t mean the Browns blew it by passing on Wentz either.  A year ago, the Titan’s Marcus Mariota was fantastic in the season opener, and in week two, the Browns, yes the team that won only three games, handed the rookie his lunch.

Our point is that it is way too early to judge Wentz.

Here are some of our observations for Game 1:

Positives.  Many of the rookies looked good, particularly Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib.  The latter seemed to be in the Eagles’ backfield a lot, batted down two passes and had a sack.

Derrick Kindred was another rookie who stood out, with five tackles.

Corey Coleman caught two passes for 69 yards, including a 58-yard play.  Coleman was also open on Robert Griffin III’s interception, but the ball was way behind him.  If the throw was on target, it would have been a big game.

The run defense was solid, allowing the Eagles just 3.9 yards per carry.  Not great, but much better than we saw in the pre-season.

Last year’s first round picks, Cam Erving and Danny Shelton, looked better than a year ago, except for…

Negatives.  …the Browns ran 50 offensive plays today and Erving had 49 good snaps.  However, the one bad snap kind of changed the momentum of the game, as it resulted in a safety.

Griffin missed a lot of plays with inaccuracy, one that resulted in his only interception.  He also missed an open Andrew Hawkins for a touchdown, and an open Terrelle Pryor on a sideline pass.  You can’t leave plays on the field consistently.

Joe Haden showed a lot of rust after missing a lot of time last season, giving up a long TD pass to Nelson Agholor, and Jordan Matthews had over 100 yards receiving.

The third down woes reared its ugly head again, as the Browns were just 2 for 10.  The inability to stay on the field led to the Eagles having the ball twice as much as the Browns.

Also, the running game struggled early.  Running the ball helps keep the defense on the sideline and also will help the passing game.  Cleveland simply has to get better running the football.  Perhaps Duke Johnson should carry the ball more.

We know Hue Jackson is trying to set a tone with his football team, but it seemed like he gambled a lot today and none of his gambles paid off.  Going for it on 4th and 5 in your own territory in the first half is a tad reckless, and the last Eagles’ touchdown was because he went for it with less than three minutes to go.

None of the negatives should be picked apart until they see them raise up on a weekly basis.  If the Browns learn from what they did wrong, that’s great.  That’s really the purpose of this season.

Same with the things that went well, unless you can do these things every week, it’s can’t be considered a building block.

Those critical of today’s performance are missing the point.  This isn’t a good football team.  If they are a lot better by the end of the season, then Jackson and his staff are doing a good job.  That’s what they should be judged on.

JD

Browns Not Tanking, Just Using Common Sense

Last week, we started hearing it, the dreaded “T” word.

Tanking.  Mostly, you hear about it in the NBA, when the prize for getting the first pick in the draft is a player like LeBron James or someone like that.

In basketball, having a superstar is a huge advantage because there are only five players on the court.

Both the local and national media alike are claiming that the Cleveland Browns are tanking, trying to lose purposefully to gain the first overall pick in next spring’s draft.

Our question is if the Browns are tanking this year, what have they been doing for most of the last 16 seasons since they returned to the NFL?

Face it, the Browns aren’t tanking.

What they have been doing to getting rid of veteran players who have no upside and played for a team that went 3-13 a  year ago.  And that just seems like common sense.

Have we fallen asleep and not realized Cleveland unloaded Tom Brady, J.J. Watt, and Jim Brown in the off-season?

No.  They pared the roster of a lot of players over 30 years old who were on the downside of their careers, or rid themselves of players who didn’t produce much in the time they were here.

You could make a better case that Ray Farmer was tanking when he let Jabaal Sheard and T.J. Ward flee the team in free agency.

We have said it time and again, the only thing worse than being a bad team is being a bad, old team.  Why not start playing a bunch of younger players, who may get better with experience, and see where the chips fall?

If you are tanking, the coaching staff tends to not play the best players.  We don’t see any indication of that, unless you are a member of the media, and you still have a love affair with Josh McCown.

The Browns have tried a lot of different ways to improve their fortunes, but they haven’t tried going with a bunch of young players and let them develop, so why not give that a shot?

What’s the worst that can happen?  In three years, they are still putting together 5-11 seasons?  If that’s happening, then once again, Jimmy Haslam will be looking for a new coach and a new general manager.

The coaching staff and the players will want to win, and hopefully the young players will improve as the season progresses, and finally the Browns will have a foundation on which to build something.

If they were tanking, then Jackson would announce that Cody Kessler is the starting quarterback and they would have traded players like Joe Haden, and maybe even Joe Thomas.

Now, once the season starts and you are let’s say 2-10, you may not go out of your way to play veterans, so you can get an extensive look at more young players, the ones who haven’t been in there all year.

On the other hand, with all of the young players on the field, you hope to see improvement as the season goes on, and hopefully the Browns can be in a position to win those late season games.

The tanking issue is ridiculous.  This was a bad football team a year ago, and they weren’t tanking then.

The Browns are trying to build something that will grow over the next few years, and doing it with young players is the way to do it.

When you really think about it, it’s just common sense.

JD

 

Tribe Stuff: 5th Starter, Bullpen, and Tyler Naquin

Last night, Terry Francona used what he called a “bullpen game” thus bypassing struggling Josh Tomlin in the starting rotation.

The Tribe lost the game, but that wasn’t the reason.  The Indians went into the seventh inning down just 3-2 before some subpar defense allowed the Astros to score three runs to basically ice the game.

This spot in the rotation will come up again this Saturday in Minnesota and we don’t want to see another “bullpen game”.  It’s time to make a decision on what the team is going to do with their fifth starter.

Tomlin did come on and pitch a clean inning last night, but hopefully Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway don’t think the right-hander’s problems are cured and put him back out there to start.

Either bring up Ryan Merritt or Shawn Morimando to start, or start stretching Mike Clevinger out again and try to get four inning out of him this weekend.

We know that the fifth starter is not going to be used in that role once the post-season starts, but since Cleveland is in a pennant race, they shouldn’t be basing any games on a bunch of guys Tito wouldn’t use in a game he was winning either.

The Indians haven’t clinched anything yet, so they need to keep winning and can’t have a starter pitch less than two innings.

Bullpen.  We know that when the Tribe has a lead late, Francona is going to use a combination of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen to finish games.  And all in all, he’s done a great job of using the trio in the best situations.

Beyond those three, Dan Otero has been incredible this year with a 1.37 ERA and the ability to get ground balls at any time.  Zack McAllister seems to have recovered from his slump in the middle of the year, and since August 5th has pitched 11-2/3 innings and allowed just one run.

Jeff Manship is struggling again, so we would like to see more of Perci Garner heading into the playoffs.  The Dover, Ohio native throws hard and has good sink on his pitches.  Garner could be of more help in October than a guy like Manship, who has given up seven homers in 36 innings.

Tyler Naquin.  A lot has been made on social media about Naquin’s freakish lack of success against fastballs this season.  The numbers don’t lie, but we can’t believe a player can reach the big leagues without being able to hit gas.

We’ve been studying the rookie’s at bats, and we believe the problem comes from chasing fastballs out of the strike zone.  Last night, he swung at a 1-0 pitch that was outside, so instead of a great hitter’s count, it was back to even.

That has happened a lot lately.

We also think that Naquin has gotten a little home run happy after his June and July where he belted 12 home runs after not hitting one to that point in the season.

He needs to get back to his line drive approach he had early in the season, and the home runs will come.  Remember, his first big league dinger was on a pitch he took over the leftfield wall at Progressive Field.  It wasn’t pulled.

The Tribe has a little over a week to put a clamp on the division because starting a week from Friday, they have a steady diet of the Tigers and Royals, their closest pursuers.  If they play well until then, the magic number should be in single digits by then.

MW

 

Browns’ Final Roster Not Shocking

No one should be surprised that all 14 of the draft choices made by the Browns’ new front office made the initial 53 man roster yesterday.

How many of them are still there after Sashi Brown, Hue Jackson, and the personnel staff scour the waiver wire is a good question, but our guess is that most of the 14 will still be wearing orange and brown.

Let’s face it, it’s a new front office staff, and the team they inherited went 3-13 a year ago.  The question should be why didn’t they just replace most of the players who were on the team a year ago.

After the 2015 season ended, the roster had too many players over 30 for a team that had the second overall pick in the draft.

Now, there are just seven, and only three (Joe Thomas, John Greco, and Gary Barnidge) are starters, and it would not be a shock if two more, Andrew Hawkins and Tramon Williams, are released after the organization reviews the players cut by other teams yesterday.

There are now only three players, Thomas, Williams, and back up QB Josh McCown who have been in the NFL for ten years or more.

Perhaps the biggest surprise yesterday was the trade of former 1st round selection Justin Gilbert to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a sixth round pick in 2018.

We understand Gilbert was a polarizing figure here in his two plus seasons, but we thought he was buried by the old coaching staff, and when he did play, he wasn’t burned consistently by wide receivers.

His reputation was that he didn’t take well to coaching, and we get that.

On the other hand, it is interesting that both Gilbert and another first rounder, Barkevious Mingo, were both acquired by teams with a history of winning football in Pittsburgh and New England.

If either become contributors with their new squads it will say volumes about the talent evaluation of the Cleveland organization, both past and present.

Our opinion of Mingo, in particular, is that he is an athletic freak.  His interception of Peyton Manning against Denver last year may have been the most amazing play made by a Browns’ defender all season.  Why any coordinator here couldn’t find a place or scheme in which to use him is a fail by Cleveland.

The current roster has 18 rookies or first year players, and 10 second year guys.  That’s 28 of the current 53, which even a non-math expert knows is more than half.

That’s how you build a football team.

You also have to make a commitment to the coaching staff, so they don’t have to worry about accumulating wins while playing young players.

That was the weakness of previous regimes here.  They wanted to get younger, but they also wanted the coach to win.  That’s why the Randy Starks, Donte Whitners, and Karlos Dansbys of the NFL were brought in.

We trust that Brown and Jimmy Haslam have told Jackson not to be concerned with the Browns record in 2016.

How should we judge the coach this season?  Focus on the progression of the team.  If the Browns are a better, more competitive football team when they take the field on January 1st against the Steelers than they are next Sunday, then Jackson has done his job.

In the meantime, the next few days should be interesting to see who will dress a week from today, and who won’t be a part of phase one of the building process.

JD

Tribe Set For Post-Season Race

The Cleveland Indians enter the last month of the regular season with a 4-1/2 game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central Division.

The magic number is 26.

All in all, the Tribe is in pretty good shape.

They fortified the roster by making a waiver deal to bring Coco Crisp back to the wigwam, and considering the trades that were made in August, that has to be considered a solid move.

After all, the Orioles just traded for former Indian Michael Bourn.  Who would you rather have?

Crisp is the probable roster replacement for Abraham Almonte who is ineligible for the post-season due to his suspension for PEDs earlier this season.

The veteran switch-hitter did have a 778 OPS away from the pitcher friendly, dank Oakland ballpark this season, so he can still contribute with the bat and is more than adequate in the field as long as that field is leftfield.

The bullpen is also much improved from the end of July, partially because of Andrew Miller’s dominance, and also because some of the pitchers who were struggling seem to have righted themselves.

Zack McAllister looks like the guy who was a late inning dude during the first half of last season.  He got a huge out Monday night with the bases loaded and two out in the 10th inning, and over the last two weeks has been real good.

And Jeff Manship is also getting hitters out giving Terry Francona an early option if he needs to go to his ‘pen.  Mike Clevinger has also contributed, although it looks as though he may be getting stretched out as a starter again next week.

The starting rotation also seems to be out of the funk it was in since the All Star break.  Corey Kluber has established himself as a contender for a second Cy Young Award, and it was a good sign that Danny Salazar pitched well last weekend in Texas.

Saturday is a big start for him to see if he is back on track.  Trevor Bauer has put together back-to-back solid efforts, and Carlos Carrasco has been the best starter outside of Kluber since the break.

Josh Tomlin looks like he is out of the rotation at this point after he was cuffed around again against the Twins.  Our guess is Clevinger will take his turn on Tuesday night, going as long as he can before the bullpen takes over.

We also think that the Indians will bring up either Ryan Merritt or Shawn Morimando to back up Clevinger at least early on.  The way Tomlin has pitched, he should be relegated to mop up duties at this point.

This team still needs to win games to make the last two weeks of the schedule as meaningless as they can.

Remember, 13 of Cleveland’s last 16 games are against the Tigers and the Royals, and even though the Tribe has handled both team well this year, if the Indians keep winning, those teams will be desperate.

On the other hand, if Francona’s group can have let’s say a six or seven game lead going into those last 16 contests, it puts KC and Detroit into a position where they would have to sweep.

We have always maintained a five game lead on Labor Day is pretty safe, and the Indians can accomplish that with a good weekend against the Marlins, because the Tigers and Royals square off at the same time.

The front office has fortified the roster, now it’s up to the players.  And if the starting pitching is back on track, the Tribe will be pouring some champagne in their clubhouse this month.

MW