Did Wedge Phone It In?

After Sunday’s game against the Twins, Tribe Manager Eric Wedge talked about how unhappy with the effort of his team.  The defense was lacking with four errors, all made by rookies who were mid-season recalls.  The skipper said it would be a long last two weeks of the season if that was the kind of effort he was going to see for the rest of the year.
Last night, I’ll bet Cliff Lee was upset with his manager’s effort.
Lee pitched fairly well last night, but ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth.  With one out and a 2-1 lead, he walked Frank Thomas and gave up a single to Jay Payton.  Lee induced Eric Chavez to fly out to right, but on a 3-2 pitch, Nick Swisher allowed his elbow to wander over the plate to take one for the team.  The lefty was obviously upset at home plate umpire Bruce Froemming (who should retire) for not seeing what Swisher had done to get aboard.  Whether Lee’s pitch was in the strike zone or not, I’m not sure, but Rick Manning, doing the game for SportsTime Ohio thought it was.  However, Eric Wedge never made a move to protest the call.
I don’t want Wedge to be a raving lunatic like Billy Martin or Larry Bowa, guys who screamed at umpires, his own players, media people, fans, etc.  However, I do want the skipper to stand up for his players.  Bobby Cox is usually among the major league leaders in ejections, yet his players talk about how he never panics, never yells at his people.  Cox just doesn’t tolerate umpires who take advantage of his team by having an inconsistant strike zone, not hustling, or not knowing the rules. 
Wedge should have asked Froemming to ask for help on the call.  I’m sure the second base umpire had a great view of Swisher sticking his elbow in the way of the ball.  Even if the decision wasn’t reversed, it would have showed Lee that his manager had his back, and it would have allowed the pitcher a little time to get composed, since the lefty gave up a grand slam to Bobby Kielty on the very next pitch.  The 2-1 lead turned into a 5-2 deficit in the blink of an eye.  The manager did not come out of the dugout until he removed Lee one hitter later. 
If Eric Wedge demands his players play hard until the last inning of Game 162 this season, the players should expect the same from him.  I bet Cliff Lee feels a little let down today.  His skipper didn’t have his back.

More of the Same in Cincinnati

Another Sunday and another disappointing performance from the Cleveland Browns.  Yesterday, they were throttled by the Bengals, 34-17 in a game not as close as the score would indicate.  Cincinnati did anything they wanted to on offense, indicating that it is the defense that is the biggest problem for the 2006 edition of the brown and orange.
For the second straight week, the opposition converted more than half of their third downs into first downs.  An inability to get off the field is killing the unit.  I understand there are injuries in the secondary, but the Bengals ran for 160 yards at an average of 5 yards a pop.  I hate to give Bill Belicheck more credit, but it looks like he knew what he was doing in letting Ted Washington and Willie McGinest go.  Mc Ginest has hardly played since putting on a Browns’ jersey, and Washington may as well not have played. 
On offense, the team could not run the ball (continuing theme), and the receivers continued not only to drop passes, but to deflect them into the hands of defenders.  I must agree with everyone else that it is crazy not to have Kellen Winslow on the field in third down situations.  Winslow has already established that he is one of the best offensive players on the team, and to take him off the gridiron when you have a chance to keep the ball away from the other team is stupid.  It is the same as Pete Carroll keeping Reggie Bush off the field on the fourth down play against Texas last year, it’s over coaching, trying to demonstrate you’re smarter than the other guy.
With the Ravens coming in next week, the Browns are staring 0-3 right in the face.  Look for Romeo Crennel to start making changes because the guys who are playing aren’t getting it done for the most part.  This team is getting killed at the line of scrimmage, that’s where the changes should start.
I wonder what all the media people who spent all summer bashing the Indians think now?  Maybe they’ll start counting down until the Cavaliers start training camp.  Because as it looks right now, this football season is no different than any other Cleveland fans have experienced since 1999.  One thing is for sure though, 80,000 lemmings will show up this Sunday to support this franchise. 

Looking Ahead at Who Won't Be There

It’s obvious that the Tribe offense really misses Travis Hafner as they had problems scoring runs against the Royals earlier this week.  They are limping home toward the finish line, the chance at a .500 season getting slimmer every day.  As I watch these games, I’m thinking about who will be key components of the 2007 Tribe, and who is playing their final games wearing the Chief Wahoo logo.  Here’s a look at who won’t (or shouldn’t) be back next season.
Of course, there are the no brainer choices like Aaron Boone, who will have to hook on with another team as a utility man if he wants to play in the majors in ’07.  After his last two seasons, I doubt any team will sign him as a regular.  Among the everyday players, Hector Luna must show more if he is to be on the roster at the start of spring training.  He has been very disappointing since coming over from the Cardinals with decent numbers.  I’m also not sold on Joe Inglett as the utility man.  Inglett can’t play SS, and has big problems turning the double play at 2B. 
The pitching staff, in particular the bullpen, is a different matter.  It’s pretty clear that Jeremy Guthrie has no future in this organization.  Eric Wedge has indicated that Brian Slocum will get a start before the campaign ends, not Guthrie.  Considering that Guthrie had a good year as a starter in Buffalo, this should mean he is gone.  He has no options left and can’t be sent to the minors.  Another hurler in that situation who won’t be back is Jason Davis. 
Davis is a teaser.  He shows enough at times to make you think he could be a really good pitcher, but then he has games like last night when he collapsed after the Tribe tied the score at 4.  The big righty will probably be traded since he’s a guy who can throw in the mid-90’s, and there is always a market for that.  Brian Sikorski was worth taking a flyer on because he throws hard, but he also throws straight and gives up too many long balls. 
Another reliever who has been here awhile, but won’t be in 2007 is Rafael Betancourt.  Again, Betancourt has been too inconsistent for managements’ taste.  At times, he is dominant, at other times, he’s been a gas can.  He’s allowed 7 HR in 51 innings this season, too many for a guy coming out of the bullpen.  The worst thing a reliever can do is give up the long ball.
Although the starters have been solid for the most part, changes could be made there as well.  The most vulnerable would be Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook.  Byrd has been okay after a slow April, but has to be perfect to get guys out.  Westbrook continues to have the annoying habit of allowing runs after the offense scores for him.  Either could be moved if Mark Shapiro can sign another starter in free agency.  With Adam Miller on the horizon, the Tribe may trade a starter to get a big right handed bat. 
The 40 man rosters will have to be set after the season ends and many of the prospects the Indians have must be protected in the rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings.  Players will have to be released to make room for guys like Miller, Chuck Lofgren and others.  Watching over the next two weeks could give you a good idea of who those departing will be.

In Praise of Grady and Why Not Kouz?

As the 2006 season comes to a close, I started going through the stats and saw what a historic season Indians’ CF Grady Sizemore is having this season.  Sizemore leads the AL in runs scored and extra base hits which is great, but in terms of the Cleveland franchise, the 24 year old CF is having one of best years in club history. 
Sizemore has 50 doubles on the season, the most since Albert Belle belted 52 two baggers in 1995.  The club record is 64 by George Burns back in the late 1920’s, so that appears out of reach, but Grady could wind up with 55 doubles which would put him in the top five totals for a single season with the Tribe all time.  In addition, the lefty hitter has 84 extra base hits, putting him in the top 10 on the all time Tribe list for the most in a single season.  The club record is again held by Belle in 1995, when he added 50 HR’s and a triple to his 52 doubles mentionned earlier for a grand total of 103. 
Sizemore could wind up with more than 90 extra base hits, which again would put him in the top five totals for one season in club history.  In addition, he is trying to become the first Indian to reach 200 hits since Carlos Baerga in 1993.  The scary thing for the American League is that he’s only 24 years old. 
The centerfielder still has things to improve on, and based on his early career, there’s no doubt he will get better in these areas.  Sizemore is only hitting .210 against left handers and still strikes out too much.  Look at how Travis Hafner has gotten better against southpaws since his first year with the Indians.  The same type of improvement from Sizemore makes him a superstar. 
Let’s face it, if the Indians were in contention this year, both Hafner and Sizemore would be MVP candidates.  Baseball Prospectus rates the Tribe CF as one of the best players in baseball this year.  If Mark Shapiro can find a lead off hitter down the road, Sizemore will drop to the #2 or #3 spot in the order.  His RBI total will increase in that spot.  If he avoids injury and his career path continues down the same path as it is now, we will be talking about one of the greatest players in Indians’ history.  
Now, about Kevin Kouzmanoff.  DiaTribe pointed out that Kouzmanoff is not being used as the DH with Hafner sidelined for the rest of the season.  Why?  This guy should get as many at bats as he can get this month to find out what he can or cannot do.  I don’t think the lack of action is for trade reasons as they speculated, it because Eric Wedge wants to continue to play Casey Blake and Jason Michaels.  Blake has not hit since coming back from his second stint on the DL, and Michaels is a platoon player.  Kouzmanoff has a chance to be a special hitter, and he should be getting at bats. 
This is the kind of stuff that is going to cause problems in the "partnership" between Mark Shapiro and Wedge.  I’m sure Shapiro knows what he has in Blake and Michaels.  He needs to see what the young 3B/1B/DH can do.  Fans would rather see Kouz as well.  Again, I’m not saying the Indians shouldn’t try to win, but they may have a better chance to do that with Kouzmanoff.  I just think Wedge has a blind spot when it comes to Blake and others. 

The Song Remains the Same

The Cleveland Browns started the 2006 season much like they have started every season since they returned to the NFL in 1999, they were dominated on both the offensive and defensive lines.  Charlie Frye was running for his life all day, the Saints ran 17 more plays from scrimmage than the Browns, and the brown and orange lost again at home, 19-14.
The offensive line has been a problem for seven years and it shows no sign of turning around after yesterday’s game.  The Browns could not run the ball and they could not stop the run.  It has been this way since 1999.  Until this changes, the Browns will remain a team that struggles to finish with a .500 record.  Of course, it doesn’t help that the play calling doesn’t help hide the weaknesses.
Cleveland’s leading rusher in the opener was Frye, the QB.  Reuben Droughns carried the ball just 11 times, and coordinator Maurice Carthon strangely ran fullback Lawrence Vickers wide twice on short yardage plays on third down.  Carthon’s job is to get the ball to his play makers in these situations.  Vickers is not one of those guys.  WR Braylon Edwards caught two passes in the game, although a touchdown pass to him was called back on the first place of the game.  Of course, one of the offensive linemen, newcomer Kevin Shaffer, was called for a hold on the play. 
Why not throw short passes to Kellen Winslow Jr., who caught 8 balls, and Edwards on first and second down to put the team in 2 and 4 type situations.  It would take pressure off of the line, and then pound the ball with Droughns.  If you do not have dominant personnel, play calling should amount to throwing when they think you’re going to pass and running when they think you’re going to throw.  Despite what football coaches want to tell you, it’s not that complicated.
On defense, the Saints ran the ball way too easily.  Deuce McAllister picked up 90 yards and Reggie Bush added 61 more.  They converted half of their third down conversions which gave the Saints a 17 play advantage over Cleveland.  The front office was concerned about being whipped at the line of scrimmage over the off season, so nose tackle Ted Washington was brought in.  The early return on that move was not realized.  If you can’t stop the run, your defense is in big, big trouble.
With Cincinnati and Baltimore coming up on the schedule, Coach Romeo Crennel’s team is staring at an 0-3 start, especially if they don’t show any improvement.  This team has to improve at the point of attack in order to be competitive.  It’s only one game to be sure, but the way the Browns lost was most troubling.  A performance like that next week at Cincy will result in an embarassing loss.  Crennel knows that and will be preaching that message all week.
And you thought the Indians had troubles…

It's Football Time in Ohio

Fall is approaching and the cracking of pads and banging of helmets can be heard all over the Buckeye state.  This is a big weekend for football in Ohio, as the #1 ranked Buckeyes take on #2 Texas, and the NFL season opens with the Browns taking on the New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns Stadium.  I’m saying we will be smiling on Monday night, basking in the glow of two victories.
The difference in Austin tomorrow night will be the same as last year’s game in Columbus, that is the play of the quarterbacks.  Last year, OSU’s Troy Smith was coming off a one game suspension and Justin Zwick shared time with him.  Zwick displayed once again that he was not very good, and Texas’ Vince Young made the big plays in the fourth quarter to make the difference in the game.
Young is now with the Tennessee Titans, and the Longhorns’ QB is now Colt McCoy.  Troy Smith is firmly entrenched as the Buckeye starter, and OSU has the Heisman Trophy candidate signal caller.  That will make the difference is this year’s game between the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the country.  The Buckeyes will do what Texas did last season and will score the road win in a high scoring game and maintain it’s place on the top of the polls.
On Sunday, it will be the opposite type of game, a low scoring affair with the Browns emerging with a home victory.  The Saints have a new QB in Drew Brees, and some inexperienced offensive linemen, which should allow the brown and orange to apply some pressure.  This will help a banged up secondary. 
Offensively, Cleveland will run the ball and ask Charlie Frye not to make mistakes.  When they throw, it will be short ball control tosses to Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius.  Reuben Droughns will grind out the tough yards, and rookie third down back Jerome Harrison will make a impact as well.
If the Browns don’t get this one, it could be a loooong season. 

Let the Buyer Beware on Soriano

In looking at potential free agents in the off season in baseball, the names of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee jump out.  They are clearing the best offensive players available this winter.  Indian fans and talk show hosts have fantasized about getting the Nationals’ left fielder, moving him back to 2B, his position up to this year, and batting him fourth in the lineup behind Travis Hafner.  I say signing Soriano would be a mistake for several reasons.
First, Soriano is clearly having the best season of his career.  He is also 30 years old.  It is very likely he will never have a season like this again.  However, teams will line up to pay him based on this season.  My guess is Soriano will get around $15 million per year for 5 years.  That’s too much money for a player of his type.
Which brings up to point #2.  What kind of player is the former Yankee and Ranger?  He’s a fantasy players dream, a guy who can belt 30 HR’s and steal 30 bases.  However, he’s better on paper than on the field and not a good fit for the Tribe.  Why?  He’s not a very good defender, especially at second.  It’s no coincidence that the Indians started to play better when Shin-Soo Choo and Andy Marte, better defensive players than the guys they replaced, were put into the lineup.  And for all the Ronnie Belliard fans, yes, Belliard could turn the double play, but he is a below average defender.  The Indians don’t need the defense regressing in 2007.
Reason #3 is Soriano’s inability to make contact.  The Tribe already leads the American League in striking out, and Soriano fans an average of 140 times per year.  Stat guys don’t mind whiffs, but situational hitting depends on making contact, and the Indians already have several guys who struggle to make contact (Peralta, Sizemore, and Hafner will all whiff over 100 times in ’06).  This is the reason Soriano has never been a big run producer.  Despite four seasons of over 30 HR, his career high in RBI’s is only 104.  This season, he has only 88 ribbies with 44 dingers.  That means he is really only knocking in himself. 
There is no question the Indians could use a right handed "professional" hitter for 2007 to back Hafner.  The ballclub probably has some interest in Carlos Lee, and there is no question he is a better fit.  Lee’s a lifetime .285 hitter who has never struck out 100 times in a season.  He’s hit 30 HR’s the last four years, and knocked in 100 three of those years (99 in the other).  He plays LF, the least important defensive spot.  The problem with him is the same as any other marquee free agent, getting him to come to Cleveland.  Not to spend Larry Dolan’s cash, but a 3 year, $40 million deal seems appropriate.  That should be followed by inking Hafner for the same time period, at a little more moolah. 

What's the Deal with Casey Blake

I don’t have anything against Casey Blake.  He’s a solid major league player.  He persevered in the minors for a long time before finally getting a chance with the Indians, and he took advantage of that opportunity.  However, he’s not one of the "core players" for the Tribe in 2007.  The problem is that Eric Wedge keeps treating him like he is.
I understand that managers have favorites, and Blake is that for Wedge.  But, this season has turned into finding out who can help this team next season, and I was dismayed on Saturday night to see the veteran in RF instead of Shin-Soo Choo with the Rangers starting a young right hander in Volquez.  I was further irritated when Blake dropped a fly ball down the right field line in the 2nd inning, a ball Choo with his speed would have easily handled.  Blake has done a solid job in RF, but the Tribe’s outfield defense is better with Choo in right and Blake in LF. 
Choo has hammered right handed pitching since being traded to the Indians, and he should have been in there.  If Wedge wants to give Casey Blake playing time, he should do it at the expense of Jason Michaels, not Choo.  Blake could still have a role with this team next season as a guy who can fill in at 1B, 3B, LF, and RF.  He could get 300 at bats doing this and he would still be a productive player for the Indians.  But I worry that if he still is here, he will get 500 at bats and cut into the time of younger and possibly more productive players.  Blake is a good fall back guy if Ryan Garko is the first baseman and he slumps, or if Andy Marte struggles.  That should be his role for the rest of this season as well.
With Travis Hafner out of the lineup due to a hand injury, isn’t this a great opportunity to move Grady Sizemore into the #3 hole?  The skipper could use Joe Inglett, Choo, or Michaels in the top spot and drop Sizemore in the order.  Wouldn’t this be preferable to moving Michaels into the third spot like Wedge did in Sunday’s game?  After all, Sizemore could be driving in some runs with his league leading total of extra base hits.  With Hafner in there, leading off the All Star makes sense, but without Pronk in there, Grady Sizemore should be batting third.
The Indians called up reinforcements from Buffalo, mostly to help out in the bullpen.  However, what difference does it make when the only guys the manager will use with a lead are Rafael Betancourt, Fernando Cabrera, and Tom Mastny.  Again, with the season being all about next year, it is important to use guys like Edward Mujica and Jason Davis to see if they can handle the pressure.  It is important for the players currently on the team to win, but Wedge paints himself into corners by limiting his relief corps in this manner.  Last year, it was Cabrera, Howry, and Wickman in late game situations, and I think Howry showed a little weariness in the last week of the season.  I would like to see the skipper have four or five dependable late game guys to keep everyone fresh. 

Browns Still Have Building to Do

The Browns concluded the "pre-season" portion of their schedule with a lackluster 20-7 loss to da Bears last night at Browns’ Stadium.  I’m not one to put a lot of stock in these games, because you don’t really know the agenda of the coaching staff.  Is the staff trying to find out what works and what doesn’t work?  Are they trying to avoid showing early opponents trends in down and distance situations?  I don’t have any better idea of what will happen against New Orleans on September 10th than I did before these games were played.  Here are some observations on the 2006 edition of the Cleveland Browns.
1).  The offensive line is still iffy.  Losing LeCharles Bentley was a huge blow, and Ryan Tucker has missed most of training camp, but as a whole the line has not looked good.  Charlie Frye is constantly getting out of the pocket to bide time.  I know Frye throws on the run well, so some of that is by design, but last night the QB was under pressure the entire time he was out there.   Getting Tucker back will help, but this area of the team has been a weakness since returning to the NFL, so I still need to see improvement before I believe it.
2).  The secondary will be fine.  Even though it has looked shaky thus far, the reason for that is the team has used guys who will be special teamers or will be cut opposite Leigh Bodden.  Getting Gary Baxter and Daylon McCutcheon back will solidify the unit.  Bodden may be turning into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.  The safety position is solid with Brodney Pool, Sean Jones, and Brian Russell.  The unit will be okay assuming everyone stays healthy.
3).  Savage’s drafts.  Last year’s draft, Savage’s first as GM, is looking a little iffy.  Only Edwards and maybe Pool are starters, and most of the others (Nick Speegle, David McMillan, etc.) barely show up on the depth chart.  However, Kamerion Wimbley looks like the real deal at OLB, and D’Qwell Jackson should start at ILB.  Jerome Harrison will make an impact as a third down/change of pace back.  He’s making William Green and Lee Suggs expendable.  LB Leon Williams and WR Travis Wilson look to have solid futures as well.
4).  The next few days.  It will be interesting to see if Savage can recoup some draft choices before the final cutdown.  Green and Suggs should have some value.  Chaun Thompson might be moved.  You have to know that Savage hated to part with picks to get centers Ross Tucker and Lenny Friedman.  The GM will also be searching for a back up quarterback on the waiver wire. 
Keep in mind that none of this will matter once the regular season starts a week from Sunday.  Coach Romeo Crennel is still going to be conservative with the offense, have them "manage" the game, and don’t allow it to create problems for the defense.  Get ready for a lot of 16-13 and 14-10 type games.  That will be the norm at CBS this season.

What Did You Want the Tribe to do?

With the Indians’ recent August surge, winning 15 out of their last 20 games, maybe talk show hosts (read:  WKNR) seem to be upset that the ballclub is finally playing well.  I can understand the frustration since this season started with so much optimism, but continuing to be angry about the situation is a little odd.
When a team determines that they are out of the race, they can do two things:  1).  They can continue to play the same people showing their fans they haven’t given up (Baltimore, Chicago Cubs) or 2).  They can start looking at things with an eye toward the next season, like Mark Shapiro did.  I prefer the latter. 
I grew up in the sixties and seventies when the Indians were out of the race by June in most seasons, and they did little to find out about the young players they had during the periods of non-contention.  Instead, they were happy to keep playing the Tom Veryzers and Duane Kuipers of the world, not bothering to find out if younger guys could help the team.  Instead of giving guys like Lou Piniella, Richie Scheinblum, and Jay Bell chances to play on bad teams, the front office let them go.  None of those guys could play for a team usually in the bottom half of the standings?
As for this year’s team, should they try to lose the rest of their games?  They brought in some young guys who appear to have some talent and can help this club in 2007 and beyond.  That’s what the Indians should do.  Find out about the Joe Ingletts and Ryan Garkos and Kelly Shoppachs.  This knowledge will help them in the off season as to what their needs are. 
I always laugh at people who complain about winning.  If the Tribe continued to lose, they would bitch and moan whether the squad was ever going to turn it around.  These same people are irritated that some of the wins came against the Royals and Devil Rays.  Would they prefer getting swept by those teams? 
What is happening is that the Indians are showing they were not that bad all along.  They aren’t the best team in the American League, but they are clearly better than the two teams just mentionned along with the Mariners and Orioles.  Things are beginning to balance out.  A little too late for a playoff run, but not too late to give hope in 2007.