Support For LeBron Better, Cavs Even It Up.

After the loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, we tried to calm people by saying the Cleveland Cavaliers just needed to win their two home games, so there was no reason to panic.

The Cavs still need to win one game on the Celtics home court, just like they did going into the series after a 111-102 victory at Quicken Loans Arena.

So, tonight was not LeBron James’ last game in a Cavalier uniform because he will be here Friday night for Game 6.

And of course, James was incredible again last night, scoring 44 points on 28 shots, and he added in five rebounds and three assists.  Can The King play better?  The seven turnovers he had say yes he can.

The “supporting cast” also played very well too.  Tristan Thompson had 13 points and 12 boards, and continued to give Al Horford trouble defensively.

George Hill has been a completely different player at home, scoring 13 points in each game, making 50% of his 20 shot attempts in the two games.  And he does a good job on the defensive end as well.

What more can you see about Kyle Korver.  The 37-year-old scored 14 points, had four rebounds and incredibly, three blocked shots.  Korver isn’t a great one-on-one defender, and never really was, and Brad Stevens tries to take advantage of that when Korver is matched up on Jalen Brown, but he is seemingly always in the right spot, and can always be counted on to dive on the loose ball.

We are sure the Kevin Love critics will be out in full force today, because he didn’t shoot well, but he still had 9 points and 11 rebounds, despite foul trouble.  And his tip in basket in the fourth quarter came at a critical time.

As for the people who think Tyronn Lue shouldn’t be second guessed if the wine and gold win, we need to ask what is his obsession with Jeff Green.  Green is a solid defender, that’s true, but the combination of he and Thompson on the court at the same time needs to be junked.

The Cavs play horribly with that duo on the court together.

If Cleveland is to get the road win they need tomorrow night, they have to take care of the ball better.  19 turnovers (seven by James, six more by Love) is way too many.

The Cavaliers also need to continue the defensive effort they received at home too.  Boston shot 40% in the two games at The Q, and if they can get those kind of results in Beantown, that will bode well for the team.

Yes, Boston was in the same position in their first round series against Milwaukee, and the Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, a superstar, but the Greek Freak isn’t the best player in the sport, and the Bucks don’t have the experience which permeates the Cleveland roster.

What that means if perhaps the Celtics will be feeling some pressure understanding that a loss on Wednesday night means going back to Cleveland, where they haven’t played well, for a must win contest.

Right now, momentum is with the Cavs.  They need to smell blood after two straight wins and jump on Boston early.

One other advantage for Cleveland.  They have LeBron James.  And that’s a big edge.

JK

 

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Tribe Has More Wrong Than Just The Bullpen Right Now

As the Cleveland Indians hover around the .500 mark this season, there are other reasons besides the bullpen for the inconsistent start.

Four of the five starters have been outstanding, with only Josh Tomlin struggling, but Terry Francona has, because of injuries and manipulating off days, limited Tomlin to just six starts, showing that the organization has lost a little faith in The Little Cowboy.

The offense ranks 6th in the American League in runs scored, but that is a tad misleading.  Cleveland has scored three runs or less in 16 of their 44 contests to date, which is 36.4%.  The Tribe is 5-11 in those games, which again is a tribute to the starting pitchers.

What it means is the hitting has been inconsistent, and it has been carried by three remarkable performances.

The trio of Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, and Francisco Lindor might just be the best one-third of a lineup in baseball right now.  And if only one of the three is hitting in a specified game, the Indians have problems scoring.

The switch-hitting Ramirez, still just 25 years old, can now be considered one of baseball’s elite players.  We remember the talk in 2016, saying he was having a career year, which almost no one has at 23.

Ramirez is 5th in the league in OPS (1.007) and also ranks in the top five in home runs and doubles.  He is also third in the AL in WAR, behind Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.

Lindor, another switch-hitter and just 24 years old, is 8th in OPS (953), is tied with Ramirez for 5th in doubles and is in the top ten in HRs.  And he leads the junior circuit in defensive WAR too.

Brantley, 31, is the wily veteran of this threesome, but he appears to be recovered from the physical problems of the past two seasons, hitting .333 (4th in the league) and his OPS of 942 ranks 9th.

And in this age of the swing and miss, Brantley has struck out just 11 times, and has the second lowest whiff rate (behind Andrelton Simmons and just ahead of Ramirez) in the AL.

The problem with the offense is everyone else, save for Yan Gomes, who has to date had a real good year (.264, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 807 OPS).

While many have pointed to Jason Kipnis’ disappointing season (.174 batting average, 522 OPS), we would put Yonder Alonso in that category as well.

The veteran has a 708 OPS, and worse just a .280 on base percentage.  The offense misses the walks provided by Carlos Santana (.363 OBP) greatly.  He has also hit just .163 vs. lefties, which means the team should, and has, started playing Erik Gonzalez at first against southpaws.

Francona is not getting much out of his bench/platoon guys either, save for Gonzalez (978 OPS in 36 at bats).

Brandon Guyer is hitting only .150 total, just .229 vs. lefties, who he has hit .278 lifetime, and is just 1 for 32 vs. right-handers.

Rajai Davis is batting just .213 with a 514 OPS, and it appears his only offensive value is as a pinch-runner.

Roberto Perez is batting just .132 (484 OPS), so when he is in there, and he is still a very good pitch framer and defensive catcher, he’s a liability at the plate.

And Greg Allen, who has been pressed into service with the injuries to Lonnie Chisenhall, and then Tyler Naquin, has a .200 batting average, and hasn’t walked to date, with 12 strikeouts in 30 plate appearances.

Perhaps veteran Melky Cabrera can help when he is brought up, but he’s a defensive liability. He did have a 746 OPS last year with the White Sox and Royals.  And maybe Yandy Diaz can help too.

Otherwise, there isn’t much Francona can do.  These guys do have track records, but it is tough for the offense to generate runs with just three big bats.  A team needs production up and down the order.

If that doesn’t happen, Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff may have to get a bat as well as some bullpen arms before the July 31st trading deadline.

MW

Tribe Sequel: Bullpen From Hell, Part Deux

Many baseball people believe you really can’t evaluate a baseball team until 40 games have been played, a quarter of the baseball season.

If that is true of the Indians’ front office, they would see a team that has a lot of potholes that need to be filled and the quicker, the better.

Chief among the holes is the bullpen, which according to ERA, is the worst in baseball.  It says something about the volatility of relief pitching that just two years ago, in 2016, the Tribe bully carried the team to the World Series.

To date, of the 185 runs given up by Cleveland pitching this season, 76 have scored in the 7th inning or later.  In Tuesday night’s debacle against the Tigers, five more were added to the total, all scoring in a disastrous seventh inning.

Really, no one is pitching well in relief, other than Cody Allen, and even he melted down in New York less than two weeks ago.

Andrew Miller just returned from the disabled list and still isn’t sharp, giving up the lead in two of this last three appearances.

Miller’s injury caused a major upheaval in the ‘pen, and it appears because of it, Terry Francona started handling his relievers like it was the post-season.

He started extending the starters, with several throwing more pitches than the normally threw in a game.

For example, last season, Carlos Carrasco threw more than 110 pitches in a game just three times.  In 2018, he has already done it four times.  It’s only May.

Mike Clevinger never reached the 110 pitch threshold in 2017, but to date this season, he’s done it three times.

How will this affect the starting pitchers as the season goes on?  It’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

The front office didn’t fill the holes created by the departures of Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith in the off-season, and that has caused a tremendous void.

The skipper tried Zach McAllister in Shaw’s seventh inning role to start the season, but the veteran has put up a 7.47 ERA and has allowed five home runs in just 15-2/3 innings.  Somehow, he remains on the roster despite never being trusted to pitch in high leverage situations.

Dan Otero, a reliable reliever over the last two seasons (ERAs of 1.53 and 2.85), has the same ERA as McAllister in the same number of innings.

Another holdover from a year ago, Nick Goody, is on the disabled list, but before he went out, he allowed four dingers in 11-2/3 innings, and had a 6.94 ERA.

Right now, the most recent good outings by relievers not named Allen, were by Oliver Drake, who just came over from Milwaukee in a trade, and Neil Ramirez, a veteran signed in the off-season on a minor league free agent, and just brought up from Columbus.

It is such a dire situation, that we would call on either of them if the Indians have a lead this weekend in Houston.  Guys like Otero, McAllister, and southpaw Tyler Olson would have regain trust by having a series of good outings.

The good news is bullpen arms should be plentiful at the trade deadline.  Unfortunately, the Tribe will have to give up assets that could have been used elsewhere to acquire them.

Right now, it’s a wet blanket on the entire squad.

MW

 

What Needs To Change In Game 2 For Cavs?

Fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers should know better by now.  You cannot and should not overreact to a single game in the NBA playoffs.

If we would have told you before Sunday’s game one that Cleveland would shoot 36% from the floor, and go 4 of 26 from three point range, while the Celtics make 51% of their shots, we both would have predicted a 25 point loss in Beantown.

Then you add in Boston shooting 64.1% on contested shots, while the wine and gold made just 30% of wide open shots, and you can see why the Cavs weren’t really in game one.

Basketball is a funny game, we say this all the time.  A team can execute a play perfectly and the player who ends up with the ball misses the shot.  Conversely, you can be totally discombobulated offensively, and then a great player makes a contested shot.

That’s just the nature of the game.

What coaches and players do is try to even out the odds.  Normally, the percentages even out, and team make open shots and miss ones that are defended.

When it doesn’t work out that way, it is awfully frustrating to watch or play.

Could it happen again in game two?  Of course.  And if it does, all the Celtics have done is hold serve on their home court, and the Cavaliers can even it up and make it a best of three series by winning games three and four at Quicken Loans Arena.

We would doubt that Marcus Morris or Al Horford can play better tonight than they did in the first game, and we would also be surprised if LeBron James was as inefficient as he was on Sunday.

And quite frankly, we’d be more shocked if the wine and gold made just four three point shots.

This doesn’t mean that’s all it comes down to in tonight’s contest.  The Cavs have to show more fight, and they have to do a better job on Horford, who the Celtics use to facilitate the offense.

It appears Tristan Thompson will start in place of either JR Smith or Kyle Korver, to add some size to the lineup, and Thompson has done a good job of defending Horford in the past.

We would like to see more of Jordan Clarkson attacking the basket, not settling for mid-range jump shots.  And while Rodney Hood got credit for being okay in Game 1, we weren’t impressed.  Yes, he scored 11 points, but needed 12 shots to do so.

We also think it sends the wrong message, even in the playoffs, to put him out there after he refused to play in the series clincher vs. Toronto.

Cleveland needs to rebound better too, as they were outrebounded 48-40 on Sunday.  Jeff Green had one board, and Hood had none.  Both must do better.

There has to be better ball movement too.  The Cavs only had 18 assists, half of them by James.  Now, some of that is you can’t award an assist unless someone makes a shot, but the next highest assist total was by Kevin Love with three.

Game one was just a bad game for the Cavs.  If tonight’s game is similar, then there is reason for concern.  Even if that happens, it only means the wine and gold must win the next two at home.

JK

 

 

Previewing Cavs/Celtics

For the fourth consecutive season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, and for the second straight campaign, their opponent is the Boston Celtics.

There are similarities as to each team’s path to this point in the playoffs, as both the wine and gold and the Celts had first round series that went the full seven games, but it took Boston five games to win the second round series against Philadelphia, while the Cavs swept the top seeded Toronto Raptors.

Boston is missing their top two players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, who missed the entire season after breaking his leg Opening Night in Cleveland.

The Celtics have been led in the post season by rookie Jayson Tatum, averaging 18.8 points per game, and third year pro Terry Rozier at 18.2.  And, of course, they have veteran big man Al Horford, who has been eliminated by the Cavs the past three season in the playoffs.

Boston has only played six players in every post-season game, but they do have Marcus Smart back after he missed the first four playoff contests.

Brad Stevens is considered the best coach in the NBA or at least in the top two (with Gregg Popovich) and his team was the best defensive team in the NBA during the regular season.

In the playoffs though, the Celts rank 11th out of the 16 playoff teams in defensive field goal percentage, and in terms allowing points, the Cavs have actually allowed fewer points per game than Boston.

The problem for Boston in last year’s series, won by the Cavs, four games to one, is the same problem much of the NBA has, they can’t stop LeBron James, who averaged 29.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists last year.

The big three of James, Irving, and Kevin Love all averaged more than 20 points per game.  Boston’s leading scorers were Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, neither of whom are still with the team.

Remember, the Cavs won the four games last season by the following point totals:  13, 44, 13, and 33.

Stevens’ team is more athletic this season with Tatum, Rozier, and Jalen Brown, but they are less experienced, at least in terms of playing James in the playoffs.

In our opinion, Boston will probably try to be physical like Indiana had some success with in the first round.

But the wild card might just be George Hill for Cleveland.  Hill missed three and a half games in that series, and the Cavs are 6-2 this season in the playoffs when Hill plays.

The other problem Boston poses is they are versatile offensively.  Cavs’ coach Tyronn Lue likes to blitz certain players, much like they did against Victor Oladipo in the Pacers’ series, and DeMar DeRozan vs. Toronto.

Who does Lue do that to with Boston?  Will be make Tatum the focus of the defensive scheme or will it be Rozier or Horford?

Will that offset the issue the C’s have in slowing down James?  As it has been said, the problem with guarding James is if you are big enough, you aren’t quick enough, and if you are quick enough, you aren’t big enough.

So, Stevens will probably use Marcus Morris in the Lance Stephenson role, that as an irritant to James, trying to frustrate him.

And as usual, the outside shooters for the Cavs will have to come through.  At least one of the shooters (Love, Kyle Korver, JR Smith) have to be hitting from outside to allow James room to operate in the paint.

Quite frankly, we were surprised with the ease in which the Cavaliers dispatched the Raptors, but we don’t feel that way with the Celtics.  In our opinion, Boston isn’t ready to win four games out of seven against Cleveland.

That would mean an 8th straight trip to the Finals for James, and a fourth consecutive trip for the Cavs.

JK

 

Browns Should Be Patient With Baker

Philosopher George Santayana is credited with saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This couldn’t be more apt for the Cleveland Browns right now.  Once the team drafted Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, fans and media alike have been wondering when the rookie from Oklahoma will become the starting quarterback.

We continue to hope the Browns’ coaching staff and front office will resist the temptation to put Mayfield in there, at least until perhaps the last four games of the season.

We understand that other quarterbacks have moved right into the starting lineup for their teams over the past few years, guys like Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota, but there was unique circumstances here.

First, none of the teams those QBs played on did not win a game the year prior, nor did any of them win just one game over the past two seasons.

GM John Dorsey brought in Taylor because he’s a professional, putting up a 22-20 record as a starter over three seasons in Buffalo.  He should start the season, and if he is putting up some wins, why wouldn’t Hue Jackson stay with him?

It’s not like all quarterbacks drafted high start as rookies, either.  Sure, the quartet we mentioned did, but from last year’s class, Patrick Mahomes didn’t start until the last week of the season.

From the 2016 class, Jared Goff didn’t start until a little over the halfway point in the season.

And last season’s rookies that did start weren’t really replacing quarterbacks as good as Taylor.  Mitch Trubisky took over after Mike Glennon started the first four games and put up more than 20 points just once.

Deshaun Watson took over in the first half of the first game for Tom Savage after he was awful in a 29-7 loss to Jacksonville in the season lidlifter.  Savage was 6 for 13 for 62 yards and was sacked six times when he was benched.

Look, we understand that Taylor isn’t Tom Brady or a player who would ever be ranked in the top ten of QB’s around the league.  However, he’s got a much better track record than Glennon or Savage.

With a very young team, the Browns need a veteran presence at quarterback to start the season off.

And even if Mayfield plays lights out during the exhibition, fans and media alike will have to remember he will probably be playing against a bunch of players who will likely not be on NFL rosters come week one.

This is not to doubt the ability of Mayfield, who we liked coming out of college, and we have no reason to not trust Dorsey’s selection as the future franchise quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

Another argument used to rush the first overall pick into action is his age.  Heck, he’s 23, you’ve got to get him in there.  Mayfield is 23, not 33.  Even if he doesn’t play at all in 2018, good QBs are playing into their late 30’s these days.  It’s conceivable he could still play for 15 years.

The Browns have had a history of starting signal callers too early.  DeShone Kizer was clearly not ready.  Neither was Cody Kessler, Johnny Manziel, or Brandon Weeden.

Why not try something different and have the rookie watch and learn a bit before putting him on the field.  We also understand that Mayfield is a competitive guy and wants to play as soon as possible.

That doesn’t mean the Browns should go ahead and put him in there before he is ready.  The best plan is for him to sit and watch for awhile.  There is no reason to rush the process.

JD

 

 

Tribe Offense Needs A Boost Too.

With a recent surge last week, the Cleveland Indians moved up greatly in the offensive statistics for the American League.

After scoring more than 10 runs in three consecutive contests last week, they moved from near the bottom of the AL in scoring per game to 7th, where they are right now.

Still, it seems like the offense has sputtered more often than not.  The Tribe has scored three runs or less in 13 of their 34 games, which is slightly over 38% of the time.

When the Indians do score, they tally more frequently in the 8th inning (12 games) and next would be the 1st and the 4th innings (11 times), when the top of the order would most frequently hit.

One of the problems with the Tribe offense is right now it is filled with players who aren’t near the league average in OPS.

We consider above offensive players in baseball to be able to have an on base percentage of over .350 and a slugging percentage of over .450, which would be an OPS of 800 or more.

Outside of seldom used Erik Gonzalez (983 OPS in just 29 at bats), Terry Francona can only write three names in his lineup that meet that criteria:  Jose Ramirez (376/562/937), Michael Brantley (350/521/871), and Francisco Lindor (350/517/867).

The only other Cleveland player with significant at bats and an on base average over .350 is Tyler Naquin at .356, and that is more the result of a .316 batting average.  He has only walked three times in 73 plate appearances.

As for slugging over .450?  The only Tribesman doing that other than the previously mentioned trio is Yan Gomes at .451.

Those five players are the only Indians having OPS better than the league average of 732.

This means most rallies usually end because guys having below average offensive seasons thus far come up and make outs.

Edwin Encarnacion has a strikeout to walk ratio of 4:1 (40 Ks/10 BB).  Yonder Alonso has a career walk rate of 9.5%, this season, he is at 7.7%, meaning he is making outs more frequently.

The former should improve those numbers as the weather gets warmer, and the latter should correct itself as the season goes as well.

A growing problem is continuing to use Jason Kipnis in the #2 hole, breaking up the team’s three hottest hitters at leadoff (Lindor), #3 (Ramirez), and in the cleanup spot (Brantley).

Kipnis has hit is some tough luck, but he has an on base percentage of .252 and has just a .272 slugging percentage.

The other problem spot is CF.  Bradley Zimmer has played very good defense, but his OPS is just 645, and since he’s only getting on base at a 29.4% rate, he can’t use his great speed.

Neither can the other option, Rajai Davis, who has an OBP (.262), greater than his slugging percentage of .250.

It is going to difficult to continue to justify Davis’ roster spot with that kind of production. And remember, Melky Cabrera could be up here soon.

And we said earlier this year that we would not be surprised if Zimmer was sent back to AAA to get more seasoning at some point.

If the offense is going to get going, they are going to need more than three to five players contributing to the attack.

However, until then, a change in the batting order is needed.  Why not try Ramirez at the top, followed by Brantley and Lindor, then Encarnacion and Alonso?

Drop Kipnis down until he gets it going.

Really though, players just have to start hitting.  It may be just that simple.

MW

Bullpen Dragging Down The Tribe

It has been said that nothing can make a good baseball team look bad than a bad bullpen, and the Cleveland Indians are experiencing that right now.

Since April 24th, a span of a dozen games, Tribe pitchers have allowed 10 runs or more in 1/3rd of those contests.  Conversely, they have held opposing teams to four runs or less just three times, and in two of those three, the other team scored four.

Yes, Carlos Carrasco has had two hiccups his last two times out and Josh Tomlin is giving up home runs at an incredible rate, but Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger have been solid, but the relief pitching has been dragging down the team.

Since Andrew Miller went down with his leg injury, the Indians have already made four moves in the ‘pen, and one of those, lefty Jeff Beliveau, was called up, got a save against Texas, and has already been designated for assignment.

Look at these performances, but you might want to shield your eyes–

April 28th vs. Seattle:  Yes, Carrasco didn’t have a good day, allowing five runs in three innings, but it was 5-1 in the 4th before Zack McAllister allowed a five spot in the 4th.  Game over.

April 30th vs. Texas:  Trevor Bauer allowed a game tying homer in the 7th (he threw 122 pitches).  That tied the game at 2-2!  Tyler Olson and Cody Allen allowed three over the next two innings, but luckily the Cleveland bats were working in a 7-5 victory.

May 1st vs. Texas:  Clevinger entered the 7th trailing 2-0 in what turned out to be an 8-6 loss in 11 innings.  Beliveau gave up a two run shot in the 7th, and then Nick Goody allowed two more bombs in the 11th.

May 3rd vs. Toronto (game 1):  Carrasco didn’t pitch well, allowing six runs in 5-1/3 innings, but the relief corps gave up seven more in the 11 inning loss.  Olson allowed the game winning grand slam after having two outs and nobody on to start the inning.

Certainly, losing Bryan Shaw was a huge loss, as he was frequently the bridge between the starters and the duo of Miller and Allen at the end of games.

Goody is now on the disabled list with an elbow issue, and he has struggled since spring training, perhaps because of the injury.

McAllister has proven once again he can’t be trusted in high leverage situations.  And it’s not just long balls anymore, he has allowed 18 hits (four of them HRs) in 12 innings.

Using Olson in a more expanded role isn’t working either.  Left handed hitters are 2 for 23 against him, but righties are hitting .381 (8 for 21).  Hence, the valuableness of Miller.

And today, the Tribe added Oliver Drake in a cash transaction with the Brewers.  Drake is a swing and miss guy (115 strikeouts in 102-1/3 innings), and his numbers are skewed this year by a game against the Reds in which he allowed six runs in an inning.

Early in the year, when it was cold and the starters were going seven innings, it was easy for Terry Francona, just use Miller and Allen and the game is over.

Now it is time for others to step up, and it is up to the front office to find people who can get outs consistently.  Because not only is the bullpen hurting the team, it is also putting too great of a burden on the starters, which could be a problem as the season goes on.

Yes, the AL Central Division is weak, but this situation needs to be fixed, and the sooner, the better.

MW

Cavs Still Need Some Players To Step Up

Basketball is a funny game.  We have always said that you can execute a play or a plan perfectly, but a player still has to make a shot.

Conversely, you can do everything wrong and somebody like JR Smith hits a seemingly impossible shot, and the team likes good.

In the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first round series against the Indiana Pacers, which went the full seven games, the wine and gold shot 43% from the floor, and 32.2% from three point range.

In the first two games of the conference semi-finals against Toronto, the Cavs have shot 48% from the floor, and 36.2% from behind the arc.  Is it just that simple?

Maybe.

Certainly, Indiana was much more physical with Cleveland, and until game seven, coach Tyronn Lue seemed hesitant to match that physicality by playing Tristan Thompson, who is one of only three truly big bodies on the roster.

Thompson started the ultimate game in the series, scoring 15 points and 10 rebounds, and the Cavs have looked like a different team.

He has averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds in 21 minutes in the series vs. the Raptors.

Of course, it also helps to have the best player in the world, one Mr. LeBron James.

All he has done in nine post-season games this season is average 34.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 9 assists, and dominated the three games (Game #2, Game #4, and Game #7) where his teams’ back was to the wall.

Oh yeah, he’s also playing 42 minutes per game at age 33.

In the first round series, save for Kyle Korver, James had little help against the Pacers.  Kevin Love was the only other player to average double figures (11.4), but that was more than six points less than his regular season average.  Love also shot just 33% from the floor compared to 45.8% during the 2017-18 campaign.

Even though it is just two games, Cleveland has five players scoring ten or more points against the Raptors.  Besides James (34.5), the Cavs also have big offensive contributions from Love (19.0), Smith (17.5), Jeff Green (15.0), and Korver (12.0).

And we didn’t mention another player having a big impact in George Hill.  Hill missed three games against Indiana in round one, and didn’t play in Game 7 until the second half because of back spasms.

Hill provides solid defense and another ball handler to initiate the offense for Lue.

Certainly, Smith shooting 58% from the field and going 7 of 9 from three, and Green making three quarters of his shots from the floor and knocking down 5 of 7 from beyond the arc probably isn’t sustainable.

But if Love continues to play (read: make shots) like yesterday, that duo’s likely cool down won’t hurt as badly.

Still, at some point, Lue will need Jordan Clarkson or Rodney Hood to make some shots.

Clarkson has made just 17 of 52 shots (32.7%) and has hit just 4 of 20 threes.  And if take out his Game 4 performance vs. the Pacers, his only really good game in the post season, those numbers drop to 12 of 43 (28%) and 2 of 17 from three.  One of those threes was in garbage time last night.

Clarkson is capable of turning a game around with his scoring, and something tells me he will be needed to do just that in the next two games at Quicken Loans Arena.

Hood shot just 26% from three last year in the playoffs compared to 37% in the regular season, and has made just 2 of 14 this season.  He needs to step up offensively too.

If the Cavs just hold serve at home, they will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth straight season.  However, we doubt in will be easy.  Toronto is a quality team.

However, the Raptors are faced with having to win four of the next five games, with three of those being in Cleveland.

We don’t think the Cavs will rest on their accomplishments in the first two games.

JK

Tribe Winning, But Holes Are Springing Up.

The Cleveland Indians completed 1/6th of their season last night with a 15-12 record, putting them on a pace for 90 wins.  However, since they reside in the American League Central Division, they still have a three game lead over the Detroit Tigers.

Terry Francona’s team hasn’t had very smooth sailing thus far.  The offense, which ranked second in the AL in runs scored a year ago, is third from the bottom this season, ahead of just Baltimore and Kansas City.

What is crazy is the Tribe is 5th in the league in home runs, but because they are dead last in on base percentage, they have had issues putting together big innings, and have pretty much been a feast or famine, home run or nothing, attack.

Right now, only two batters, Michael Brantley and Jose Ramirez, are having very good offensive seasons.  We aren’t worried about players like Francisco Lindor and to a lesser extent, Edwin Encarnacion, whose only worry is his age.

We know Jason Kipnis has had some hard hit outs, but his 473 OPS is worrisome because of his off year in 2017.  Yonder Alonso looks like his new approach at the plate (launch angle) continues to work (8 HR, 21 RBI already), but Bradley Zimmer, Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer and Roberto Perez have really struggled with a bat in their hands.

The biggest concern here is Davis, because he is 37 years old, and with just two seasons since 2009 with an OPS over 700, isn’t a real good offensive player anyway.  The Indians have to get better production against southpaws.

The other growing problem is the bullpen, even when Andrew Miller is healthy.

Here is how we breakdown the relief corps–

Totally reliable:  Cody Allen, Miller
Comfortable with them in the game:  Dan Otero, Tyler Olson
Nervous as hell:  Nick Goody, Zack McAllister, Matt Belisle

We know Francona has a pecking order for his ‘pen, using Allen and Miller usually only with the lead, and it appears Olson has worked his way into that situation too.

Otero has kind of been the long man, if the team has one, but he’s got the best track record of the non-totally reliable guys, so we wouldn’t be surprised if he starts gettinsome 7th inning work with the lead.

Clearly, the front office needs to fortify this area of the team, and soon, because it is affecting Tito’s managing.

He’s staying with starters longer, letting pitch counts climb and it’s just May 1st. He also brought Allen into a game he was trailing last night.

Josh Tomlin is another concern.  As phenomenal as the top four starters have been, Tomlin has been that bad, giving up a whopping 10 homers in just 18-2/3 innings.

In three of his four starts, he hasn’t really given the Indians a chance to win, giving up a big inning early in games.

Right now, there aren’t any real alternatives, but if Adam Plutko pitches well in Thursday’s doubleheader against Toronto, Tomlin could have a problem staying in the rotation.

Francona and the front office may have to patch things together with the fifth starter and the bullpen until the trade deadline at the end of July.  But they can’t overuse the rotation, as good as they have been.

It’s still relatively early, but not early enough that you can’t observe some trends.  Having two pitchers who are relatively unusable isn’t good.

On the other hand, it gives the front office something to work on.

MW