Cavs Need Tweaks, Not Overhaul

With the NBA Draft occurring this past week and the beginning of the free agent period dawning next weekend, there has been a lot of talk about what the Cleveland Cavaliers should do this off-season.

Most of it comes from the uncertainty surrounding the franchise because LeBron James’ contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 campaign.

In our opinion, whoever the new Cavs’ GM is, probably Chauncey Billups should tweak the roster, making the bench younger and more athletic because that’s where The Finals were lost, when James was off the floor.

Look, most people, especially the national media have painted the Golden State Warriors as this unstoppable team, which we don’t buy into.

They are a great team without a doubt, with two titles in the last three years, and in between a record setting 73 win team in the regular season.

But we can’t help but think what would have happened if Kyle Korver (and we aren’t blaming him) makes the corner three in the last three minutes of the third game of the championship series.

If he does, Cleveland wins that game and is trailing 2-1 with the fourth game at The Q.

We believe even the smug Steve Kerr would admit the wine and gold outplayed his team for the majority of the third and fourth games of the series.

You do not break down and reconstruct the roster for several reasons.

First, as long as you have James, you have a chance to win the title.  That’s how good he is.  So, any talk of trading him (even though he has a no trade clause) is stupid.  You ride it out with him.

Second, remember that the Cavs went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs and one of the East’s best players, Jimmy Butler, went to the West.

Our point is that there is no team in the East challenging Cleveland right now.

Oh, what if Boston signs Gordon Hayward?  Here are the Celtics three best players:  Isaiah Thomas, Hayward, Al Horford.  We rest our case.

The Celts are trying to build to be the best in the East when James finally slows down, retires, or leaves.

In The Finals, we believe we can all agree Tyronn Lue received no help from his bench, outside of Richard Jefferson.  Korver, Iman Shumpert (who played three minutes in the last game), Deron Williams, and Channing Frye were non-factors.

Taking a non-emotional look at the Cavs, the five players mentioned need to be replaced, although we would understand keeping one or two for experience.

We would also look to move Tristan Thompson, who after six seasons still makes you cringe when he is taking a shot from longer than five feet.

Thompson is making a ton of cash ($16.4 million next season), and we believe you could get a similar player AND someone else who can help for that amount of money.

Look around the NBA, there are a lot of players who do what Thompson does.  He’s an very good defender and he’s an energy guy who grabs a lot of rebounds.

We say take emotion out of it because these guys won a title here, the first seen in northeast Ohio in 52 years.  Of course, we love them for that.  But you have to think about the upcoming season.

And whoever is running the Cavaliers has to make the roster better.  And to do it, you don’t move your three best players, all of whom are all-stars, you fix the rest of the team.

Break up the Cavs?  That’s just stupid sports talk conversation.

JK

Lack Of Respect For Love Is Confounding

One of the confounding things about sports fans in this area is what athletes they seem to adore and who they want to make whipping boys when something goes wrong.

With the Indians, for example, Bryan Shaw is a guy who unless he is perfect draws the ire of the ticket buying public.

There are examples the other way too.  Really, because this is a blue collar area, fans love the gritty, hard working player.  Consider the admiration for Matthew Dellavedova during his tenure with the Cavaliers.

That brings us to perhaps the least respected all star athlete to wear a Cleveland uniform in a long, long time, Kevin Love.

When we were growing up, there weren’t many top notch professional players on the northeast Ohio sports scene.  There were no LeBron James or Francisco Lindor.  To have a player like Love would have been tremendous.

Love is a four time all star, a member of the US Olympic team, and was twice second team All-NBA.

He was a key member of the only NBA Championship this city has ever seen, and this year averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds per game, figures only three other NBA players matched in 2016-17.

Those three players?  Try DeMarcus Cousins, Karl Anthony Towns, and Anthony Davis.

He has finished in the top ten in scoring twice and five times has ranked in the top ten in rebounding in the NBA.

Despite all of those accomplishments and accolades, the first player mentioned when talking about improving the Cavaliers going forward is Love, and we just don’t understand it.

One reason is always that Love doesn’t match up well with the team the Cavs faced the last three years in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors.

In the first year of the trilogy, Love was out with a shoulder separation.  Last year, he missed part of game two and all of game three with a concussion.

Healthy in game one last year, Love scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds, and in game five was +18 and in the title clincher, he was a +19 and snared 14 boards.

This past season, he was Cleveland’s best defensive player in the season by the metrics, and put together two 20 point games and three games of more than 10 rebounds, including 21 in the first game.

We still hear some fans saying David Griffin should have never traded Anthony Wiggins for Love, and the wine and gold would be better off with a one dimensional scorer than a player that provides rebounding, three point shooting, very good passing, and perhaps the only low post offensive player on the team.

We just don’t get it.

In our opinion, when basketball fans in this area visualize a power forward, they think of Karl Malone, and since Love doesn’t remind them of Malone, then he’s just not good enough.

We even heard one person question Love by asking when was the last time the former UCLA standout made an All Star team…he made it this year.

We also don’t understand how trading Love for a player such as Paul George or Jimmy Butler makes the Cavs significantly better. The latter two players are the flavor of the month, big scorers.

Remember that Love was a big scorer in Minnesota too, he has sacrificed his scoring when he came to Cleveland.  Can the players people want to trade Kevin Love for do the same?

As several basketball people have told the Cleveland media, be careful what you wish for.

The Cavs do need to improve the roster to win an NBA title in 2018, but dealing Kevin Love probably isn’t the way to do it.

JK

 

Cavs Unsettled At Wrong Time

It was just eight days ago that the Cleveland Cavaliers ended their reign as NBA Champions, losing The Finals to Golden State four games to one.

It was the third straight championship series appearance for the wine and gold, all guided by GM David Griffin.

Last night, word came out that Griffin and the team agreed to part ways mutually.  This means that the now former GM and owner Dan Gilbert couldn’t come to some sort of agreement in regards to either the future of the franchise or how much power Griffin should have in determining what will happen in the future for the Cavs.

It has been reported that the departure of Griffin was concerning to the team’s resident superstar, LeBron James, who already has trust issues with the owner.

The most troubling thing about the change in the front office is no one knows who is making the decisions at Quicken Loans Arena now in a very critical time of the year for an NBA team.

This Thursday is the NBA Draft, and although the Cavaliers do not have a selection, it is also a period where moves that will effect next year’s roster are made.

The beginning of the free agent period is also dawning, and there is no one around to be making these key decisions, especially for a franchise with championship expectations.

It does not mean however, that Gilbert is planning a massive rebuild following next season.  As long as James is here, the Cavs will be a contender.  And although there are rumors from every place concerning where The King will play in 2018, if Cleveland wins another title next June, it is difficult to see James leaving.

And if Kyrie Irving is on the roster, it would be difficult to find another NBA roster that could sign James as a free agent, with as dynamic a player as Irving on the team.

This isn’t to say James will definitely not leave when his contract ends after next season, no one knows that except LeBron himself.  However, if the Larry O’Brien Trophy comes back to the north coast, it would be odd for a player who wants titles to turn his back on a repeat chance.

Griffin did have an ability to take limited assets to turn them into players who could contribute, such as his deals for Kyle Korver and the signing of Deron Williams.

In the end though, the lack of athleticism on the bench cost the wine and gold against the Warriors.

Maybe Griffin wanted more veterans and Gilbert wanted more youth.  Maybe Griffin wanted more offense and Gilbert wanted defense.  Who knows?  All we know is there will be plenty of speculation.

Before bashing ownership, we want to see who is brought in to run the show, and we will give them a chance before hammering, if merited.

Cleveland fans will always have a warm feeling for David Griffin, who was the architect of the first championship team in the city in 52 years.  That doesn’t mean he is the only person with good basketball team building skills.

The new GM could wind up being a genius.

The problem with making the move now is it is difficult to find a good thing in being unsettled right now.  And it looks like Gilbert is meddling again in basketball affairs, which is not a good thing.

The pressure regarding this move falls squarely on the owner.  If things don’t work out, and James leaves after next year because he’s not happy with the direction of the Cavs, Gilbert will be vilified by the media and fans alike.

On the other hand, Gilbert hired David Griffin, and we know how that worked out.

Let’s see who takes over and how it turns out before pressing the panic button.  It’s not the end of this successful run for the Cavaliers…yet.

JK

 

 

Tribe Bats Going Now, Starting Pitching???

After losing the second game of the midweek series against the Los Angeles Dodgers a few days ago, the Cleveland Indians looked nothing like a good baseball team.

They were struggling to score runs and mental mistakes were occurring on a regular basis.  That night, rookie Erik Gonzalez cost the Tribe three runs because he didn’t have his foot on the base in the middle of a sure double play.

It was just another in a recent patch of poor play, and we aren’t talking about physical errors.

Since then, the bats seem to have come alive, mostly because of three hitters who are scolding hot right now, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Ramirez, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

However, there is still one area of the team that has to break through and soon, and that is the starting pitching.

Terry Francona needs to get some length out of the starters.  The result of this not improving?  Either the bullpen, which has performed well for the most part, will be fried by the time August hits, or the Indians will not be able to outscore their opponents consistently.

Overall, Cleveland ranks fourth in the American League in team ERA, but most of that work has been done by the bullpen, one of the best, if not the team in the sport.

Outside of Corey Kluber, who is giving Francona over six innings per start, most Tribe pitchers are having problems getting through six frames when they take the hill.

Carlos Carrasco averages over six innings as well, but recently has been having some issues with a pulled muscle in his chest, and when he loses his stuff recently, he loses it very quickly.

Danny Salazar was supposed to be the #3 starter, but he isn’t on the roster currently, due to soreness in his shoulder, and a total lack of confidence.

Trevor Bauer prides himself on his endurance, but he is averaging just over five innings per start, as his pitch count gets to the 100 mark about then.  He must be more economical with his pitches.

Josh Tomlin has allowed 21 more hits than innings tossed thus far in the season, and more often than not, he has struggled to get hitters out.  You wonder how much patience Francona will have this summer.

In yesterday’s doubleheader sweep over Minnesota, the Indians got just four innings from their starter in each game, although Mike Clevinger’s short start was due to the rain.

The Tribe has played 66 games to date, and workhouse Bryan Shaw (no surprise) has been in half of them.  The concerning thing is Andrew Miller has made 30 appearances, throwing 34-2/3 innings, which is far too many.

Here are the innings pitched by starting pitchers over the last 10 games–4, 4, 6-1/3, 5, 7, 5-2/3, 5-1/3, 2-2/3, 6, 3-1/3.  That’s an average of under five innings per start.

Kluber and Carrasco contributed 24-2/3 frames in their four starts, more than half of the total for the 10 game stretch.

That’s why Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff will probably need to find a starting pitcher for at the trade deadline.  They need another starter who can give the skipper innings.

We saw the bullpen leak some oil in the Dodger series, probably because of the heavy workload they’ve had over the last two weeks.  Even Miller, who is usually unhittable, showed he was human in back-to-back appearances vs. Los Angeles.

The biggest thing about the rotation is that was supposed to be the Indians’ strength coming into the season.  To date, they haven’t performed like expected, which is probably why the Indians don’t have the same record as the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox in the AL.

Improvement is needed from within or via a trade, because the burden on the relievers has to be lessened.

MW

 

Blaming Lue Is Lazy Way Out

With the Cavaliers losing the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, there is, of course a lot of scrutiny on the organization, and what the Cavs will do going forward.

There is the matter of whether or not GM David Griffin will stay on in that capacity, and what changes in the roster will be made for the 2017-18 season.

One of the things the lazy fans and media have talked about is the possibility of a coaching charge, which we find ridiculous.  You cannot point to anything Tyronn Lue did in The Finals to cost the Cavaliers the series.

Is this to say Lue is the greatest coach in the NBA?  No, but we would put him in the upper tier of head coaches in the Association.

He was hamstrung against Golden State because his bench contributed basically nothing, so he was manipulating his reserves in order to get his starters some rest without the game getting out of hand.  That causes him to be in a defensive coaching style.

On the other hand, a criticism of Lue was that he didn’t develop some of the players on the bench during the regular season.  The Cavaliers played very well in February and Derrick Williams was a solid contributor during that month, yet he disappeared in March and throughout the playoffs.

We don’t go to practice, so we don’t know if something happened to cause Williams to fall out of favor, but he is the type of player who it seems could have helped against the Warriors.

Again, just because we think Lue is one of the NBA’s better coaches, doesn’t mean there aren’t things he should do differently next season.

The first is to establish more of a defensive mindset from the start of training camp.  After the calendar switched to 2017, the ability to stop opponents from scoring fell greatly.

Once the playoffs started, the Cavs used some different schemes and the defense improved, that worked, but it shouldn’t come down to that.

And it has been reported that the head coach himself takes more of a role in the defense once the regular season ends.  It starts with the individual, but perhaps there should be more of a mindset on that side of the ball right from the get go.

The second change that needs to be made is monitoring minutes, especially for James, who will turn 33 years old during next season.

In conjunction with this, the coaching staff must come up with a plan to play better when James isn’t in the game.

Even when James is on the bench, Lue still has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the floor, and it shouldn’t be difficult to make sure those two are on the floor when James isn’t.

The ball movement that is present when James is on the floor seems to stop when the best player in the game isn’t on the floor.  The coach has to insist the same style of play occurs no matter who is on the court.

That was also evident in the playoffs when Irving was playing iso ball, and his shot wasn’t going down.  That isn’t pretty basketball, in fact, it is conducive to the other team going on a run.

The point here is Lue was good enough to guide the Cavs to a title a year ago, and this year, some of his moves didn’t work because his bench didn’t help him out.

So save the hot takes to get a new coach.  Tyronn Lue is the man for the job.

JK

Cavs’ Decisions? Keep Emotion Out Of It.

The Cleveland Cavaliers lost the NBA Finals last night, dropping Game 5, 129-120, thus losing the series, four games to one.

Now, comes the silly season for the NBA and their fans.  The draft, which the Cavaliers currently will not be part of, is in two weeks, and then the free agency period starts.

The first thing the Cavs’ front office will do, and we say the front office, because GM David Griffin is currently without a contract, is act without emotion, something fans cannot and will not do.

This particularly pertains to Kevin Love, who is consistently the team’s whipping boy for the fans.  If the wine and gold do not win, it is obviously Love’s fault.

However, Love averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds, and two steals in The Finals, shooting 39% from behind the three point line.  And he had the best defensive rating on the team.

This is not to say Love should not be traded.  Our belief is anyone can be traded if the return in right.

For example, right now, no one would want to deal Kyrie Irving, correct?  But if New Orleans called and offered Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, you’d make the trade.

Kevin Love is a top 25 player in the NBA, if you move him, you have to get somebody who’s a better player.  And that’s not easy to do.

You would have to replace Love’s size (he’s the only other offensively skilled big man on the team besides LeBron James), his three point shooting, his rebounding (he led the Cavs), and his passing.

Good luck with that.

What the Cavaliers need to do is upgrade their bench to contend with the Warriors, because Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, and Deron Williams provided little in The Finals.

Those four contributed just 49 points combined in the five contests.  Compare that to the 97 points supplied by Andre Iguodala, Shawn Livingston, and David West.  You can make a very good argument that this is where the series was lost.

We believe Cleveland needs to get longer and more athletic on the bench.  By longer, we mean players who are in the 6’6″ to 6’9″ range, with quickness and the ability to make an open shot.

Yes, they should be looking for “three and D” players.

Derrick Williams, who was missing against Golden State, would seem to be an ideal player.  It is a little curious that Tyronn Lue didn’t find a role for him in The Finals.

When Cleveland had a great record in February, Williams was a key contributor.

This is not to hammer on Lue, who did a solid job considering he wasn’t getting anything from his non-starters.

We would guess some of the roster changes will come naturally.  James Jones will probably retire, and he may be joined by Richard Jefferson, who hinted at doing so last season.

Will Deron Williams return, and what about Frye and Korver.  The latter two provide shooting, so they would be useful, but they should be in a diminished role.

Also, Tristan Thompson needs to be more of an offensive player.  He must develop a reliable shot from ten feet out so defenses have to pay attention to him.

As we said previously, the front office needs to step away for a few days, while the emotion of losing is still raw, and make decisions to get back to The Finals with a chance to win a title.

It could be an interesting summer at Quicken Loans Arena.

JK

 

Tribe Needs A Shake Up…Maybe Change The Batting Order?

We don’t think it is unfair to say the Cleveland Indians are in a funk.  Whether or not it’s a hangover from last season’s World Series run, it is clear the Tribe needs something to shake them out of this.

Maybe they need a walk off win, or a series of solid outings by their starting pitcher, but they definitely need something to get them going in a winning direction.

We know Terry Francona is a patient manager and part of the reason players love to play for him is they know their role and what they will be doing when they come to the ballpark each day.

On the other hand, the Indians have played 59 games and the same team that ranked 2nd in the American League in runs scored now ranks second from the bottom.

In looking at some of the numbers for the Cleveland hitters, we thought a lineup change might be what the doctor ordered.

For example, Michael Brantley has been the #3 hitter for Francona since 2013 for the most part.  Brantley has been very good after basically missing the 2016 season with a shoulder injury, hitting .294 with a 783 OPS.

However, what hasn’t returned for Brantley is his pop, and that could return as he gets more reps and his timing at the plate returns.

Right now, Brantley has only 16 extra base hits for the season, matching the total of Lonnie Chisenhall, who has almost 100 fewer at bats, and just one more than Jason Kipnis, who missed the first month of the season.

He is getting on base, with a .356 on base percentage, so perhaps he should be hitting in the lead off or #2 hole.

In fact, the two highest on base percentages on the team belong to Brantley and Jose Ramirez (.350), so let’s start with the premise that they should hit at the top of the order.

The highest slugging percentages on the squad belong to Chisenhall (.590) who platoons and Francisco Lindor (.496).  Edwin Encarnacion has been hot lately, with his slugging mark up to .446.

Carlos Santana, who has spent most of the year hitting in the anchor spots of the batting order (1st and 4th) is off to a slow start (319/404/724).  Let’s take some pressure off of him to see if he can get going.

So the top of our order would look like this–

Ramirez                3B
Brantley                LF
Lindor                   SS
Encarnacion        DH

For the 5th spot, we consider Jason Kipnis, who has a 740 OPS since the beginning of May, which would push Santana down to the 6th slot, ahead of Chisenhall, because he is only in the lineup vs. right-handers.

The catcher would bat eighth, except vs. southpaws because that would have Chisenhall out of the lineup, and so as to have the “second leadoff man”, either Bradley Zimmer or Austin Jackson hitting ninth.

So we have this–

Ramirez              3B
Brantley              LF
Lindor                 SS
Encarnacion      DH
Kipnis                 2B
Santana              1B
Chisenhall          RF
Gomes                   C
Zimmer               CF

Too often lately, the Indians start games off with two quick outs and Brantley coming up.  Putting the top two on base percentage guys at the top of the order makes perfect sense, and it also makes the opposing pitcher work harder at the beginning of the game.

With the offense struggling, it’s worth a try.  If it doesn’t work, then try a different combination.  The pieces and parts for a good offense are there, it’s a matter of putting them in the right spots.

MW

 

 

 

 

Time For New Tribe Leaders To Emerge

It was not a good trip for the Cleveland Indians.  They went 1-4 and had only one game where they scored more than three runs, and of course, that was their only win.

Terry Francona is questioning the “fight” in his ballclub, who seem a little full of themselves based on last year’s World Series appearance.

From appearances, it seems like there are a few players who want to make highlight plays, to get on MLB Network’s “Quick Pitch”, than making the right baseball play.

They seem to have guys trying to hit home runs and make spectacular defensive plays (like trying to flip a ball out of a glove), rather than do what is needed to win, which they did a year ago.

Reading between the lines, Francona bemoaned not having guys like Jason Giambi and Mike Napoli in the clubhouse, so what he was really saying is that he needs his veterans to step up and lead this current group of Indians.

Players like Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, and Yan Gomes have been here since Francona arrived prior to the 2013 season, and they were exposed to Giambi and Napoli and how they helped police the locker room.

It’s time for those four or perhaps someone else to take what they learned from those veterans, and start taking charge of this group.

Perhaps it isn’t in their DNA to be vocal, but they may just have to get out of their comfort zone, because the 2017 Cleveland Indians seem to be in some kind of malaise that they can’t escape.

In the 57 games the Tribe has played this season, they have scored three runs or less in 28 of them, virtually half of the games.  There is too much talent on the roster for that to happen every other night.

For example, in Wednesday’s game vs. Colorado, the plate umpire, Jim Wolf seemed to have a tight strike zone.  Trevor Bauer walked five batters in less than four innings.  However, Cleveland hitters didn’t draw one walk through the first six innings.

The patience the Indians had at the plate a year ago is now sporadic.  Some days, they work the count very effectively, on others, they go to the plate like they have an early dinner reservation.

And that’s where the veterans have to stress having the same approach on an everyday basis.  Mickey Callaway often talks about how the starting pitchers copy the work that ace Corey Kluber does on a daily basis.

It has to be every game, not just two out of three.

The front office made a statement in 2015 when they traded Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to Atlanta, and it effect handed the team over to the young veteran core mentioned before.

But if Francona is still referencing Giambi and Napoli, then perhaps they aren’t preaching the grit and fight needed to win consistently.

If they can’t do it, then it may have to fall on the team’s best player, Francisco Lindor, to do it.

The point is, somebody in the locker room needs to step up and set a tone similar to what Napoli did last year.  The Tribe may not get going until somebody does.

MW

 

Cavs Need To Try Something New Now.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have given no indication they can win the NBA Finals based on the first two games.

The Golden State Warriors won both the first two games rather easily, winning by 22 points in game one, and 19 on Sunday night.

This makes Wednesday night’s game three a must win for Tyronn Lue’s squad.  Lose that one, and it looks like a sweep for the Warriors, not only in The Finals, but an unprecedented undefeated run throughout the playoffs.

Can the Cavs win game three and get back into this series?  Of course, no team is unbeatable, but it will be very difficult for the wine and gold if they continue to play at they did in Oakland.

First, we believe they cannot continue to play at the Warriors’ pace.  We understand Lue normally wants the Cavs to play fast, up tempo, but Golden State is better at it than Cleveland, so you must try something else.

That is not to say never run.  When the Warriors miss a three and it develops into a long rebound, grab it and go, and get an easy hoop.

We said in the middle of the regular season that no team’s defense is more dependent on its offense than the Cavaliers.  That is because, by and large, their transition defense is poor, maybe because they have some age on them.

So, if they don’t have a fast break opportunity, slow the game down.  Take as much time as you can on the shot clock and still get a decent shot.  Keep the number of possessions down, and perhaps you can frustrate Golden State with the slow pace, forcing them to take quick, bad shots.

Second, you must take care of the basketball.  You simply can’t turn the ball over, giving the Warriors easy looks.

The wine and gold also need to continue to attack the basket.  Steve Kerr’s team doesn’t really have a rim protector, particularly when they go small, and you have to take advantage of that.

LeBron James and Kevin Love have done a good job around the rim.

By the way, speaking of Love, hasn’t he laid to rest the theory that he can’t play against the Warriors?  He had a 21 rebound game in the first contest, and scored 27 points on Sunday.

They also need Kyrie Irving to play like an all-star.  Irving has shot just 40% in the first two games, and made curious shot choices both nights.  It was odd to see Irving trying to drive on Kevin Durant in game two.

The Cavs have to do better from three point range.  In the regular season, the wine and gold actually shot better than the Warriors from beyond the arc, but have hit just 31.7% from distance thus far in the series.

That seems to be a lot that has to change, but outside of changing the pace, which is difficult and takes discipline, all of the others are possible, because it was done in the playoffs.

This isn’t last year, and there is nothing to indicate the Cavaliers will be able to come back from a 3-1 deficit again this year.  They have to win on Wednesday, or this series will be ending much quicker than anyone in northeast Ohio would like.

They have to take it game by game.  Win game three, and you are back in the series.  Forget about the rest of this series, do whatever needs to be done to win on Wednesday night at The Q.

JK

 

 

Tribe Seems Stuck In Mud Thus Far.

The Cleveland Indians reached the 1/3rd point of the season yesterday, and they continue to be spinning their wheels to this point.

The Tribe went 15-12 during the first 27 games (1/6th of the campaign), and slipped to 13-14 over the last 27.

That isn’t what anyone was thinking when the Indians broke spring training with a road sweep of the Texas Rangers.

You could blame the below .500 record on the absence of Corey Kluber who basically missed the entire month of May with a bad back.  Not having one of the game’s best pitchers doesn’t help any team.

However, Terry Francona’s team just hasn’t been able to put everything together.  The only consistent part of the ballclub is the back of the bullpen, which has been spectacular.

Other than the trio of Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and Bryan Shaw, there isn’t one thing for Tito to hang his hat on a regular basis.

The offense has been up and down more than an elevator in a high rise.  After winding up 2nd in the AL in runs scored last year, Cleveland ranks third from the bottom in 2017.

In 26 of the 54 games played to date, the Indians have scored three runs or less, and they are 7-19 in those games.  When you are scoring three or less in basically half the time you take the field, it is difficult to put together a sustained period of winning.

On the other hand, the Tribe has scored 8+ runs a dozen times.  So, as you can plainly see, it really is feast or famine for the Cleveland bats.

This team also doesn’t have a come from behind victory that fuels a winning streak from time to time.  The only walk-off win this year came in the home opener, way back in early April.

Last year, once the Indians got the first walk off, they followed it with a bunch of them, so there is hope in that regard.

The loss of Kluber hurt because of his reliability and high level of consistency.  Carlos Carrasco has been good, but he had issue with a chest muscle over the last month.

Danny Salazar has been moved to the bullpen for the time being, mostly because he’s has a problem giving Francona at least five innings.

Without Kluber, the most consistent starters have been the two youngest in the rotation–Mike Clevinger and the much maligned Trevor Bauer.

That can’t give Tito and the front office a warm and fuzzy feeling.

On the other hand, perhaps Kluber’s return will steady the rotation, and things will improve greatly over the next 27 contests.

The defense and baserunning also seem to have gone backwards to date.  We talked about improving on the bases last week, but the defense, particularly in the outfield has been a concern.

It has improved since Bradley Zimmer was called up, but one thing to keep an eye on is Michael Brantley’s defense, which seems to have declined greatly over the past three seasons.

Francona spoke about a lack of veteran leadership with this group, that they missed a Jason Giambi or Mike Napoli in the clubhouse.

If true, then it’s time for Jason Kipnis and Brantley to be assertive with this group.  There is too much talent to be just two games over .500 at this time of the year.

It isn’t panic, but it is fine to be a little concerned with the 2017 Cleveland Indians.  It’s time to start establishing that they are the team to beat in the AL Central Division.

MW