With the holiday season staring us in the face here at the North Coast, one can’t help but ponder Black Friday, and what it may bring for the Cleveland sports’ franchises.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have already had their “Christmas in July” spending spree when they signed free agent LeBron James to a new free agent deal, signed Kyrie Irving to a new five-year deal, traded for Kevin Love, and signed a whole slew of bit players to fit around the Cavaliers Christmas tree.
The Cleveland Indians have already started their Black Friday season by extending the contract of Terry Francona, while enjoying a gift-filled week in which Corey Kluber brought home Cy Young gold, and Michael Brantley finished in third place for the AL MVP voting.
The Cleveland Browns have been filling our stockings with victories, as they enter this week with a 6-3 record, in first place in the AFC North, and only one game behind the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos for first place in the AFC conference.
What riches do the next month hold for our sports’ franchises in the coming month? Will the Indians’ surprise their faithful with a move or two in the coming weeks to bolster their chances for a World Series run? Will the Cavs pull the trigger on a move to bring a rim-protector to a lineup that is already fashioning itself into an NBA Championship contender? Will the Cleveland Browns get better once Josh Gordon returns to the lineup next week, along with tight end Jordan Cameron and make a run at a #1 or #2 seed in the AFC, getting them one step closer to their first Super Bowl?
Did I really just mention World Series, NBA Championship and Super Bowl in one paragraph discussing Cleveland sports…and mean it?
We better start our Sunday driving, before my hyperbole become reality, or is it reality become hyperbole?
Am I the only one looking forward to the Brian Hoyer vs. Ryan Mallett match-up on Sunday afternoon? Alright, alright, they aren’t matching up, but it sure will be fun looking at two former Tom Brady back-ups going head-to-head. They are an interesting contrast in ability.
Mallett seems to have more raw ability and athleticism than does Hoyer. Mallett is 6-6 and 240 pounds, has a cannon for an arm, and isn’t afraid to stand in the pocket. He’s in the middle of his fourth season, having spent three years as Brady’s understudy, and is making his first NFL start. In 2011, his rookie season, he was the third string QB in New England, behind Brady and some guy name Hoyer.
Hoyer obviously has more experience, and while Mallett may look the part better than Hoyer, there are clearly intangibles that are a given with the Browns starting quarterback. On top of all that, I like Hoyer in this Kyle Shanahan offense. Hoyer has had his ups-and-downs this season, but the ups far exceed the downs.
While many have called for Johnny Manziel this season, Hoyer has been busy simply winning football games.
While I love Mallett’s future in Bill O’Brien‘s offense, the key phrase there is “future.” Hoyer’s time is now, so look for the Browns’ quarterback to have a solid game.
Did I mention he’s 6-1 career at FirstEnergy Stadium?
Where things could get a little hairy with regards to Hoyer’s start is the offensive line. The Browns’ line is very good, but Nick McDonald has been questionable in his three games as a starter. He’s had two solid games, sandwiched between an abysmal game.
Now he’s battling a calf injury, even though he’s likely to play. This is where the rubber will meet the road for McDonald.
If the Texans can find ways to get the Browns offensive line out of balance, J.J. Watts could really make them pay. I have nightmares of Houston finding many fun ways to line-up Watts somewhere near McDonald, who isn’t 100%.
The good news for the Browns is that other than McDonald, the Browns line is one of the best in the business. There will be a plan in place for a blocking scheme that will focus on Watts I’m sure, but others have had the same vision, and failed miserably.
If Cleveland can keep the pass rush off balance, then this game could be a blow out.
In the end, the Texans’ defense is pretty much garbage outside of Watts. Romeo Crennel just doesn’t have the personnel on defense that past Houston Texans’ teams have had. This unit is at the bottom of the barrel with regards to the NFL. They are pretty good against the run, but one of the worst passing defenses in the league. Hoyer should be able to do some damage, if he has time.
Look for the Browns to use their running backs to set up the passing game. If they can manage to get any one of the trio of Terrance West, Ben Tate or Isaiah Crowell going, this game is going to be over early.
I love the way the defense is playing, especially considering how many injuries the Browns defensive line has been dealing with. Now, Phil Taylor is out for the season, so Mike Pettine will have to find a way to shore things up.
That will likely be depending on the linebackers and defensive secondary. Both units are above average, with the Browns secondary really starting to shine.
Joe Haden is back to being the best corner in football, and I can’t emphasize enough what Donte Whitner brings to this team. He’s a big play safety, but in between, doesn’t make the same types of mistakes that T.J. Ward used to make. Now you add Tashaun Gipson, and incorporate a Buster Skrine that isn’t making multiple mistakes, and you have something that really has the look of being special.
Do I think the Browns are going to be 7-3 at the end of play on Sunday? Count it.
Cleveland 27, Houston 10
Before I move on to the Tribe, I can’t get the Super Bowl out of my head these days. No, I don’t have the cart before the horse with the Cleveland Browns. I know that fishing for a Super Bowl for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002, and haven’t even won a playoff game since 1994, isn’t all that smart.
But I do have visions of Super Bowl sugar plums dancing in my head.
Who are the best AFC teams? I suppose most would say the New England Patriots, after they routed the Denver Broncos last week. Behind the Patriots are probably those same Denver Broncos. Then, it’s likely a toss-up between the Indianapolis Colts, the Kansas City Chiefs, and your very own Cleveland Browns.
The Colts are a really good football team, thanks to their quarterback Andrew Luck and a really good set of receiving options. The Steelers dismantled the Colts three weeks ago though, so it’s not like they are infallible. The Chiefs have a really good football coach in Andy Reid, and have beaten the Patriots. They have won four in a row, and look like they are better than advertised. I still think the Browns can beat them.
When you talk about Denver and New England, things get a bit more complicated, but both teams have showcased dents in their armor. I’ve watched the Patriots fall too often over the past few years to put any real stock into them running away with the AFC, and Denver has holes as well.
What’s my point?
If the Browns can get into the playoffs, this could get really, really fun.
Corey Kluber flat-out deserved the Cy Young, and I’m not going to be any more eloquent in telling you why than MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince.
If that’s not good enough for you, I’ll give you one more reason: head-to-head.
On July 30th, in Kluber’s arguably most dominant and not-so-arguably efficient start of the season, he dismantled the Seattle Mariners and Felix Hernandez in his second complete game in a row. Kluber struck out eight, didn’t walk a batter, and simply out-pitched Hernandez.
No, that’s not a great reason in isolation, but when the year-long numbers are as close as they were, why not.
In 2010, Corey Kluber arrived in Cleveland as a part of a three-team trade. We all know the particulars. Kluber came to the Indians, with the Padres also sending Nick Greenwood to the Cardinals. In return, the Padres received Ryan Ludwick from the Cardinals, with the Cardinals receiving Jake Westbrook from the Tribe.
The deal sounds amazing today, but Kluber didn’t exactly make a major splash within the organization during his first full season in 2011. While he pitched pretty well for Double A Akron and Columbus in seven total appearances to finish the 2010 season, he was pretty horrible in 2011. I saw him pitch twice that season: once in Durham, and once in Buffalo. What do I remember? He threw hard, and was erratic. There was nothing that really stood out beyond that. He went 7-11 that season with a 5.56 ERA, and to make matters worse, the Clippers left him off their playoff roster on the way to winning the Governor’s Cup. In front of him? Zach McAllister, Mitch Talbot, Joe Martinez and Paulo Espino.
Things didn’t get much better for Kluber to start off the 2012 season. He mixed decent outings with really bad ones, and something really had to give or Kluber was destined to become another “minor league lifer.” Up to that point in the season, Kluber had made nine starts, going six innings only three times, and he had walked four batters in three starts as well. He did strike out 58 batters during that nine-game stretch, but also walked 25, with 19 of the walks in the final six starts of that nine start-stretch.
Then something gave.
Kluber had a bullpen session with Columbus Clippers’ pitching coordinator Ruben Niebla and the Indians’ Minor League pitching coordinator (some guy named Mickey Callaway). Kluber had been shellacked by the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, and the Indians’ front office was looking for anything that could make a difference. Kluber was throwing four-seamer after four-seamer too far up in the zone, while peppering a few two seamers into down in the zone, and with good movement in both directions. He was locating. Both Niebla and Callaway suggested he continue to throw it exclusively. Callaway was instrumental in the change, but so was Niebla, who doesn’t get enough credit.
The three decided that in his next start, he wouldn’t throw a four-seamer. What happened? After deciding to throw strictly two-seamers, it changed dramatically. In his next 12 starts, Kluber never pitched in less than six innings. In seven of those 12 starts, he went seven innings or more. In those first seven starts, he had walked 25 batters, while striking out 58. In those next 12 starts, he struck out 70 while only walking 24 batters. He went 8-3 during that 12 game stretch, and little did he know…he’d only make two more appearances in Columbus…ever. The Indians sent him to Cleveland in July to finish the season with the big league club.
Kluber legitimately had four elite pitches now. He has that two-seamer that he can throw anywhere, to go along with his wicked cutter, his slurvey slider, and his change.
The rest of the Kluber-story you know.
The best part of Kluber is that there was a point when the Indians’ organization felt that he was just going to be a guy with really good secondary stuff, but nothing to make him elite. Niebla saw something different. Callaway saw something different, and that two-seamer really changed everything, turning him into a ground ball pitcher, and set up everything else. He locates everything, can throw hard, can work the ball…
…and is special.
Folks, that’s what we call damn good coaching as well.
The Indians absolutely should sign Corey Kluber to a contract-extension this offseason to control their spending throughout his arbitration years. There’s a contingent of writers who fashion themselves “in the know” that will say they shouldn’t touch a Kluber contract because they control him for the next four years, and at age 28, anything could happen.
There’s a lot of folly in that line of thinking, starting with the simple fact that Kluber’s elite. Even if he has plateaued, he’s going to likely see fairly sizable arbitration increases once he qualifies. If he follows up with another similar brilliant season, as Steve Orbanek suggested, or perhaps even better, it could get ridiculous.
Oh, the conservatives among us will opine about cost-effectiveness, and it’s true that the Indians don’t have to do a thing with Kluber going forward. But does that seem the direction that they’re going in?
They extended Carlos Santana, then Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis, and started this season off by extending Terry Francona. It would make some sense to extend a hand to Kluber, and while it may hurt their salary in the short-term, it could protect them through his arbitration eligible years.
It’s not necessary contract-wise, but it really is good business.
One irreverent gripe about Kluber and Hernandez, before I move onto Michael Brantley.
Is there any doubt that Kluber was more valuable to the Indians than Felix was to the Mariners? Somehow, Hernandez finished tenth in MVP voting, while Kluber finished 11th. You could make a case that Michael Brantley took away more of Kluber’s vote than Robinson Cano took of Hernandez, but it still seems a bit idiotic.
Of course, I’m waxing poetically about the tenth and eleventh positions in an award that rewards only the top spot, so perhaps I should move on to the focus of the MVP talk…Michael Brantley.
Brantley finished third in the voting, and that’s likely right where he should have landed. Mike Trout was the best player in the American League, and we can now shut up half the baseball-viewing population who had been Trout-pining for two years.
Trout is just a freak-of-nature, and had he won the past two seasons, I would have been fine with it. He was a deserving unanimous selection this year, and is the favorite to win for the foreseeable future.
Victor Martinez finished second, and while I would love to discuss how in the hell a designated hitter could finish in second, it’s VMart we’re talking about, and he did have a magnificent season.
But boy do I love Michael Brantley.
The best part of Brantley is his ability to use every skill that he has to improve. I could point to several folks that I’ve written with over the past five years that didn’t believe Brantley had this in him. While I think Brantley’s baseball IQ is in the top five percent in all of baseball, I’m not sure I thought he could be the player that he was this year.
What I do know about the Indians’ outfielder is that he absolutely dissects pitchers when he’s standing in the batter’s box. We here at #EHC have documented over the past two years Brantley’s propensity to attack pitchers at their weakest points. While I won’t go so far as to say Brantley isn’t an athletic freak, I would say that nine out of every ten baseball aficionados wouldn’t point to his “athletic-ness” as being his biggest strength, as you would a guy like Mike Trout or Andrew McCutchen.
What Brantley has done since the Indians’ traded for him in 2008 is fashion himself into an MVP candidate.
Who does he remind me at the plate, at least in demeanor?
No, I’m not trying to make a straight-up analysis on numbers here, as many people have to do with every comparison that is made. No, I’m not saying that Michael Brantley is a hall-of-famer either. What I am saying is that both Carew and Brantley had a similar approach, and similar ability to break apart every pitch.
There was a pureness to what Rod Carew did at the plate during his 19-season career, and while I don’t think that Brantley is as good as Carew was, I do think they bring the same intangibles to the plate in their baseball IQ, as well as the simple understanding on what to do with a pitch that’s in the strike zone.
Rod Carew was never a power-hitter, but I do remember an interview in which he said that he could always hit for power if he wanted, but didn’t see the need to. Most of the time a pitch called for something else. Brantley has the same approach. While Carew mostly hit at the top of the order, now that Brantley is a middle-of-the-order guy, you can see that he’s altered his approach.
How many hitters can do that?
Carew could, and so can Brantley.
I wonder what Brantley would have done in Carew’s era. Yes, Carew had to deal with relievers, but not nearly the amount of specialty pitchers that Brantley has to deal with. My guess is that while Brantley is good now, he would have been even better dealing with starting pitchers a third and fourth time. It’s his strength.
My hinting suspicion is that Brantley will win a batting title or two before he’s done.
Yesterday, I wrote a sizable piece on the Cavs, whispering patience for a team that likely has another 30 or 40 games to go before they turn into the team they are to become. You wonder when things will click for the Cavs, when that moment will be when they turn the corner.
Could it happen earlier than expected? Could the real culture shift have happened against the Celtics in that massive 19-point come-from-behind win? Could it have been when Kyrie Irving got in LeBron’s grill and told him to “be more aggressive,” and he listened?
Yes, there will be many more “big moments” in the Cavs’ season, but one has to wonder if the first major on-court moment happened against the Celtics.
With all of that said, expect ups and downs with this team going forward. This team is going to destroy teams, and they are going to lose dumb games for a bit. We’re going to see odd line-ups, and we’re going to see games in which certain players don’t see the court.
The knocks on David Blatt being overmatched in the social media after seven games are absolutely laughable. When Blatt wakes up in the morning and can’t quite open up his eyes, he’s already likely had more thoughts on the day than many of us fans have in a 24-hour period. He speaks four languages, graduated from an Ivy league school, and has been coaching for 20-plus years. He understands rosters, and while the NBA game may be new to him, he’s coached with and against NBA players his entire life.
I think I’d pay to see Blatt in some sort of mental challenge with the general populace of those that are knocking him on Twitter and beyond after less than 1/8th of the games have been played.
Now that would be a fun story to write.
I can’t wait to see what he’s doing with this team in year 2. It’s going to be magnificent.
Is it me, or does Joe Harris look a little bit like Thunder Dan Majerle?
Thunder Dan was a 6’6″ shooting guard/small forward that was a career 35% shooter from three-land, and outhustled everyone around him. Joe Harris may not be as athletic and Majerle, but their games are certainly similar. I may be speaking too soon about that “athletic” comment as well, as Harris has proven himself to be more than meets the eye in this first month of his NBA career.
As Harris starts to figure out how to do some other things other than shoot, one could surmise that he could potentially start. Imagine if he forces his way into the starting lineup? Once Matthew Dellavedova comes back, that would give the Cavs a legit nine-man rotation, and would likely make someone expendable as the Cavs begin their hunt for a big man down the stretch.
Who would be expendable?
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Jim Pete is a founder and Managing Editor at Everybody Hates Cleveland, a former Senior Editor and Columnist at Indians Baseball Insider, and is trying to figure out why he moved from sunny North Carolina to Erie, which already has a foot of snow on the ground. Follow him if you would like to learn how to speak Farsi on twitter@JimPeteEHC, and follow our website twitter @evrybdyhatescle. If you do, we will give you…well…nothing…but we sure will like you a bunch.
- Andrew McCutchen
- Ben Tate
- Brian Hoyer
- Cleveland Browns
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Cleveland Indians
- Corey Kluber
- Houston Texans
- Jason Kipnis
- Joe Haden
- Joe Harris
- Johhny Manziel
- Kyrie Irving
- LeBron James
- Michael Brantley
- Mickey Callaway
- Mike Trout
- Rod Carew
- Ryan Mallett
- Tashaun Gipson
- Terry Francona
- Tom Brady
- Victor Martinez
- Yan Gomes
- Zach McAllister