August 26, 2014

Indians activate Santana, send down Aguilar

Carlos SantanaThe Indians welcomed Carlos Santana back to the active roster this evening following a stay on the 7-day concussion disabled list. Santana was catching when he was struck with a foul ball on Memorial Day against the White Sox that sidelined him. He returns to the lineup batting eighth as the designated hitter with Mike Aviles at third base, Lonnie Chisenhall at first base, and Yan Gomes catching.

Meanwhile, first baseman Jesus Aguilar goes back to Columbus to get everyday at-bats. Jesus was 3-for-16 (.188) in 8 games with 2 RBI while getting first base at-bats against left-handed pitching. Lonnie Chisenhall’s ability to man first base over the past week sealed Jesus’s fate for the time being.

The other noteworthy item here, of course, is that with George Kottaras staying on the roster rather than Aguilar, it’s implied that the Indians will be trying to shelve Santana’s catching gear for at least the short term. Yan Gomes’s bat is needed in the lineup daily, so it’s only a once per week situation plus insurance, but it’s enough of a concern to keep #TheSummerOfGeorge on the 25-man roster.

Santana is having the worst season of his career, hitting .159/.327/.301 with 6 homers and 17 RBI in 50 games (26 at third, 11 catching, 10 DH, 5 at first). His versatility is an asset only if his bat wakes up. Plate discipline only goes so far, and the Indians could really use Carlos to get the lineup running on all cylinders.

Related: Unsolicited Observations: A very much alive Tribe, Grady revisited, Kluber on the cheap, and long innings in relief

(Photo: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

Report: Josh Gordon gets speeding ticket, passenger cited with marijuana

PhotoJosh Gordon just can’t keep his name out of the spotlight for negative reasons. This time, Gordon was cited for speeding in Strongsville over Memorial Day weekend. Meanwhile, his passenger was cited for possession of marijuana, according to WKYC.

“According to the citation, Gordon’s 2014 grey Mercedes-Benz SUV was clocked going 74 miles an hour in a 60-mile-per-hour zone north of state route 82 on Interstate 71 North at 9:43 p.m. on Sunday, May 25.

Gordon is summoned to appear in court on Wednesday, June 4 to dispute the citation.

“We are gathering information regarding the situation,” Browns general manager Ray Farmer said in a statement released by the team. “We will not have any further comment until the appropriate time.””

While we await the NFL’s ruling on Gordon’s reported failed drug test, according to ESPN, this is about the last thing you want to hear. You would think when you’re potentially facing a year-long ban from football that you’d try to keep a low-profile. You would also think that you might want to start changing the company you keep if they do something for recreational purposes that your employer does not permit when you clearly don’t have the discipline to deal with that. But that’s the problem. Josh Gordon doesn’t think. The third-year wideout has all the talent in the world and can’t comply with the NFL’s rules, regardless of your opinion on the validity of punishment for marijuana use in the NFL.

In a silo, this wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it’s just part of a large pattern of reckless driving, drug use, and simply not following the rules that shows why the Browns aren’t counting on him for squat in 2014. There’s a lot to be excited about with the Browns, and Gordon’s wet blanket act is getting really old.

The Browns have signed Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson, and Earl Bennett along with releasing Greg Little, Davone Bess, and Josh Cooper to completely revamp their receiving corps. My hope is that Gordon will take whatever punishment the league hands him as a wake-up call and comeback fully determined to turn his act around, similar to what Joe Haden has done. Gordon’s costing himself millions upon millions of dollars because of his inability to follow the rules and increasingly pissing off a fan base that is begging to worship the Pro Bowl receiver.

Related: Strange clouds loom over Josh Gordon’s ongoing situation

Top pick trade talk, Film Room prelude, and more head coach candidates

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“This is insane.”

Ben Cox said it best, sitting next to me at Barrio in Lakewood on that Tuesday night last week, a mountain of tacos and a couple of mason jars of brew between us. I still don’t think it’s sunk in that the Cavaliers, after being fortunate enough to pluck the one elite player out of the 2011 draft, only to be subjected to some of the worst NBA drafts in recent memory, have finally landed atop another where they have the ability to draft a game-changing, potential All-Star player. Factor in Kyrie Irving’s upcoming max offer (we think?), the ongoing head coach search with the list of names growing (more on that in a bit), and David Griffin’s chips on the table in the form of extra draft picks, team-friendly contracts, cap space, and young players, and we’ve still got way more questions than answers right now.

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Who’s Next? Breaking down the Cavaliers’ head coach candidates

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Earlier this week, I shared my thoughts on Mike Brown’s termination after just one season. While I understood the statement the franchise was making after all of the declared playoff expectations pre-season, I couldn’t help but feeling that Mike Brown was a scapegoat for a lot of other problems with this front office and the roster as currently constructed. However, that’s in the past now, and what the Cavaliers need to do, in my opinion, is go through an incredibly exhaustive search of the college ranks as well as top assistants throughout the league and former head coaches. In that search, they must determine who can install a system that players can buy into and aligns properly with the front office’s vision for the roster.

Here’s a rundown of where I’m at with some of the discussed candidates.

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Rumor: Tristan Thompson on the block this summer

David Griffin has not shied away from the fact that his roster is due for some significant retooling this offseason. One player that could be traded due to a lack of fit moving forward is fourth-year power forward Tristan Thompson. Joe Kotoch of Probasketballdraft.com reports that this is a very real possibility. His veteran post mentor going along with him could also happen.

The Cavaliers have a logjam in the post with Thompson, Varejao, Zeller, and Anthony Bennett all needing playing time. It’s also possible that the team could resign center Spencer Hawes. This frontcourt as currently constructed lacks size, shot-blocking presence, and defensive prowess. While Varejao is the team’s best low-post defender, he continues to struggle when guarding the more physical centers in the league. The Cavaliers likely need to get some more offensive skill and shot-blocking down low if they hope to become a more well-rounded team.

Thompson averaged 11.7 points and 9.2 rebounds this season in 31.6 minutes per contest while completing his second straight 82-game season. His only real improvement came at the foul line where he improved 61% to 69%. Aside from that, Thompson plateaued offensively as he adjusted to switching shooting hands in the offseason. It raised concerns about his long-term potential as a starter. It may be the case that Thompson’s ceiling is an energy first big off the bench. Thompson can be extended this offseason, but his current contract pays him $5.4 million this season with a qualifying offer of $7.2 million next season.  Varejao has struggled to stay healthy the past several years, but he has produced when on the floor. The 31-year-old Brazilian averaged 8.4 points and 9.7 rebounds on 49.5% shooting in 27.7 minutes in 65 games this season. He enters the final year of his contract set to earn $9.8 million, though there is a $4 million buyout on his deal that could serve as instant savings for a cap-strapped team.

Kotoch also added that the Cavaliers could be in on the Kevin Love sweepstakes in Minnesota as he is just one year from free agency. Any package the Cavaliers could put together would likely include both Thompson and Varejao along with draft picks and other assets. The Cavaliers currently have the 9th best odds heading into Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery and are most likely to end up with the 9th pick in a deeper draft than the past few years.

While Kotoch seems convinced the Cavaliers have enough ammunition, I’m not so sure. If a trade would take Waiters as well, it really strips down basically everything on this team not named “Kyrie Irving”. If the Cavs could pull off such a deal while holding onto their talented backcourt, it would be a huge success.

Related: History Repeating: Mike Brown takes the fall… again

Report: Lionel Hollins in running for Cleveland job, Karl remains interested

We’ve heard a lot of names tossed around as potential replacements for Mike Brown as we inch closer to the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday night and the NBA Draft next month. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) reports some interesting bits of information regarding the Cavaliers’ opening alongside his Timberwolves updates. Among them, Zgoda says that Lionel Hollins was interviewed by Minnesota three weeks ago but it has not progressed any furthered. He mentions that Hollins is in the running for the Cleveland job.

Hollins was the Memphis head coach for three different stints, two on an interim basis in 1999-00 and 2004-05. When he was handed the full-time job in mid-season 2009, he started a very successful run of playoff appearances. After a 13-26 finish in 2009 and a 40-42 campaign the following year where the team missed the playoffs, Hollins helped his team become just the fourth eighth seed to upset a top seed in the first run, as the 2011 Grizzlies beat the Spurs in six games, advancing to the semis where they battled the Thunder tooth and nail for seven games before losing the series. In 2012, Memphis won 41 games in the lockout-shortened 66 game regular season, but they lost in the first round in a seven-game series with the Clippers. Last season, the Grizzlies won a franchise-record 56 games, got their revenge on the Clippers with a first round series victory in six, knocked off another top seed in Oklahoma City in five, and then were swept by the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Hollins was let go following last season.

Zgoda had this to say about two of the more popular college options for head coaching vacancies:

“Izzo was offered the same five-year, $35 million offer to coach and run the Pistons that Van Gundy eventually accepted last week. Izzo also declined when Cleveland fired Mike Brown and called for the second time in four years. Hoiberg, too, appears content to remain in college coaching, at least for now.”

It’s not hard to believe that Izzo declined the Cavaliers’ pursuit for a second time if he wasn’t going to accept the lucrative deal to run the Pistons and stay in the State of Michigan. Given the volatility of NBA head coaching ranks, Izzo has it far too good to consider the jump now. Hoiberg, however, is at a program in Iowa State that is respected but far from a perennial contender. He stands to move up somewhere in a big way, whether that’s at a more highly regarded college program or in the NBA.

George Karl’s name also refuses to go away, and Zgoda says he remains interested in Cleveland or Washington (should Randy Wittman be fired). Karl coached the Cavaliers from 1984-1986 with a 61-68 record and a first round playoff exit in 1985. He went on to win over 1,000 games at stops in Golden State, Seattle, Milwaukee, and Denver, reaching the Conference Finals in 1993 (Seattle), 2001 (Milwaukee), and 2009 (Denver) along with a Finals trip in 1996 in Seattle.

There are currently five head coaching spots open in Cleveland, New York, Minnesota, Los Angeles (Lakers), and Utah. Stan Van Gundy (Detroit) and Steve Kerr (Golden State) have already been hired this offseason.

Related: As head coaches come and go, how much longer will Cavs fans wait?

Francona drops Swisher, Santana in batting order

With the Indians’ offense in a massive funk for most of the season, the time for a change is now in manager Terry Francona’s eyes. Some would argue it’s long overdue. In today’s batting order, Francona has dropped Nick Swisher from second to sixth and Carlos Santana from fourth to seventh against right-hander Jesse Chavez as the A’s go for the sweep.

In today’s game, Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn will take the spots vacated by Swisher and Santana, respectively. Swisher is battling to stay above the Mendoza line, hitting .203/.303/.323 (.625 OPS) with 3 homers and 16 RBI while leading the team in plate appearances. Santana is second in plate appearances, batting an appalling .156/.319/.293 (.611 OPS) with 5 homers and 13 RBI.

Francona has a reputation for sticking with his veteran and star players until it’s painfully obvious that a change is needed. One such example was last season, when Asdrubal Cabrera spent most of his abysmal season last year rotating between the second, third, and fourth spots in the order. Finally, in mid-August, Asdrubal was dropped to sixth in the order and remained there for the rest of the stretch run. With the Indians at 19-24, the assessment appears to have been the team couldn’t wait any longer for their cornerstones to turn it around in the top of the order.

Longterm, however, it’s a little head-scratching to see Lonnie Chisenhall, he of the .353 batting average, batting behind these two today and eighth in the order against a right-hander. Some managers pride their lineup on consistency, however, and if Chisenhall isn’t deemed worthy of consistent at-bats against left-handed pitching, you’re committing to two entirely different hearts of the order. With Cabrera and Yan Gomes taking the day off today, it will be interesting to see where those two non-lefties slot in. With Jason Kipnis close to begining his rehab and potentially returning soon, that adds another element to the equation. If this is going to be a semi-permanent arrangement, I’d propose Bourn-Aviles-Brantley-Murphy-Cabrera-Chisenhall-Swisher-Santana-Gomes with Kipnis taking Aviles’s slot once he returns. The one complicating factor, of course, is that one benefit to having Swisher and Santana that high in the order as switch hitters was splitting up the left-handers.

Related: Unsolicited Observations: Cleaning up Santana’s swoon, Jesus is here, Bourn problems, and more

Indians recall T.J. House, option C.C. Lee

The not-so-dynamic duo of Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister really did a number on the Indians bullpen over the last two nights. In fact, the pen saw so much work that the Tribe made a move to replenish their NINE man bullpen. C.C. Lee is out, and Clipper starter T.J. House is in.

Lee has been with the club since April 9th when he took the spot vacated by Vinnie Pestano, who carried over his velocity woes from late last season. In that time, Lee has served largely as the mop-up man and first righty out of the bullpen. In 13 games (11 1/3 innings), he’s allowed 6 earned runs and 11 hits to go with 3 walks and 11 strikeouts. Lee had thrown three of the last four days, including 27 pitches in last night’s game as he put in 1 1/3 innings of work during the Indians’ 11-1 loss. It’s possible that Lee will return at some point, but he looked like he could still use some time at Columbus.

As for House, the left-handed starter is 1-2 with a 2.40 ERA in 7 starts (41 1/3 innings pitched). He has walked 11 and struck out 34, allowing 35 hits. He is 24 years old and is likely here primarily for insurance against a short start from Josh Tomlin tonight or Justin Masterson tomorrow.

The Indians will be making additional roster moves in the coming days as Trevor Bauer is due to face Detroit on Tuesday and Jason Giambi could return on that same day as well from the 15-day DL. Prime candidates to go down at that point would be Jesus Aguilar or Jose Ramirez and House or Kyle Crockett.

Related: Unsolicited observations: Cleaning up Santana’s swoon, Jesus is here, Bourn problems, and more

Browns reportedly sign wide receiver Earl Bennett

The Browns may have taken their first real step in adding an option to compensate for their lack of depth at wide receiver. Jake Jones of KFBB in Helena, Montana is reporting that the Browns have signed former Bears wide reciever Earl Bennett.

The 27-year-old Bennett caught 32 passes for 243 yards and four touchdowns last season, his sixth with the Bears after being selected in the 3rd round in 2008. The 6-foot wideout was on the field for just under 54% of the team’s snaps last season, but he was primarily used as an underneath option, with 26 of his 32 receptions coming from passes shorter than 10 yards. The Bears cut their third receiver after he refused to take a pay cut on March 18th.

With Josh Gordon facing a potential year-long suspension, the Browns have free agent signees Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson (who broke his arm in training camp) along with incumbents Greg Little, Josh Cooper, Travis Benjamin, Tori Gurley, and Charles Johnson. They also signed undrafted free agents Chandler Jones, Jonathan Krause, Kenny Shaw, and Willie Snead following last weekend’s draft.

The Browns weren’t going to replace the threat that is Josh Gordon, though a second or third round selection at the position could have provided a player that would likely make an immediate impact and ease the blow. As it stands, the Browns will likely need to continue to puruse trade options or more cap casulaties to add another veteran option. Right now, they have a bunch of capable third and fourth receivers without any proven legit first or second options.

Related: Browns Film Room: A look at Justin Gilbert

History Repeating: Mike Brown takes the Fall…Again

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There was a time, not that long ago, when Mike Brown was being applauded for being one of the game’s bright young defensive minds. His coaching skills had been forged in the crucibles of playoff runs as an assistant in San Antonio and Indiana. His Cleveland teams won ugly but won, and he even managed to have three seasons with a top ten NBA offense in terms of efficiency. Without the summer of 2010 ransom note the Cavaliers had in hand, there is no way Mike Brown would have been dismissed that summer in his first term as head coach. He was quickly swooped up by one of the league’s premier franchise in the Lakers that needed a culture change and identified Brown’s ability to get results. Then, after a shortened stay in L.A., clearer heads had won out, we were led to believe, and the Cleveland front office, led by Dan Gilbert and former-assistant-GM-and-then-general-manager Chris Grant, had realized the error of their ways. The triumvirate would once again provide stability to a franchise that preached it from the top down.

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Counterpoint: Passing on Johnny Manziel in pursuit of Pro Bowl talent

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Other teams’ fans have PhotoShop too!
(Photo illustration by Kara Wahlgren)

Quarterback is a pass-fail position. Sure, there are two or three on every team, but out of those 80-90 guys, there are 60 or 70 of them who are just around because every team needs one on the field; the others are insurance in case that one guy gets hurt. Half—and probably more—of the teams in the NFL are in the perpetual pursuit of that top-flight signal caller. Which brings us to the Cleveland Browns and Thursday night when Ray Farmer and his staff may very well select a quarterback. I’m OK with that. More than OK. In fact, they MUST take one by halfway through Day 2. What I don’t want them to do, however, is sacrifice their draft board and pass up a Pro Bowl talent in the never-ending pursuit of a franchise player under center.

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Cavalier Offseason Wishlist: Frontcourt

spencer hawes grizzliesThis will be the first in a few posts from me about my post-season Cavalier thoughts. Before I dive in, be sure to check out the great work from Ben, Andrew, and Jacob in their varying post-season thoughts and breakdowns.

It was only this past weekend that I sat down and watched the majority of a NBA playoff game. That’s truly a shame for many reasons. First and foremost, we’re having a crazy bonkers playoffs thus far in terms of road teams winning, eight seeds with series leads over one seeds, multiple overtime games in the same series, and thrilling game-winners. The second reason is because for as much as NBA regular season ball has its warts from critics, the playoffs are everything you could ask for in most cases. It had me thinking back to the way I watched the playoffs from 2006-2010. I lived and died with every playoff game, not just those involving my team, because it all meant so much with a team chasing a title.

Well, back down here on planet Earth, the Cavaliers are not doing any such thing. While they improved by nine wins over last year, we all know that so much more was expected with the major additions that transpired. So, with the disappointing season finally over and with nearly two weeks to digest it, I offer the first installment of my offseason wishlist (at least at this point), with the hopes that I’m back to living and dying with every playoff game come next April.

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Bourn, Bullpen, and Bitter Cold: Tribe edges Royals late

Bourn Hit 4/23/2014In a rotation where Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco are struggling mightily to the point of removal or demotion, the fact that Justin Masterson’s fifth start came and went with the team’s supposed ace remaining winless may be a snippet of catastrophic news. Rather, it only reinforced how worthless pitcher wins are as a metric on their own. Masterson turned in his third good start of the season against two poor ones. Add in Michael Bourn’s bat coming to life, the Indians coming through in the late innings in the clutch, and the sign-off from a better-by-the-day bullpen, and it amounted to a 5-3 win over the Royals.

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South-praw-blem? On the Indians’ early struggles against left-handed pitching

Jose Quintana mowing down the Tribe

An early story-line in the 2014 campaign has been the Indians struggles with left-handed starters. In the last six games alone, the Tribe has seen Eric Stults, Robbie Erlin, John Danks, Chris Sale, and Jose Quintana all of the southpaw persuasion. In Detroit, they’ll see Drew Smyly on Wednesday night. With a 12-man hitting arsenal, the Indians currently house five hitters that bat only from the left side, yet they have amassed an OPS of just .623 against lefties. The Tribe has struck out more often against lefties (40 vs. 38) despite having 71 fewer at-bats. Is this an overreaction of some early season hitting scuffles or the exposition of a larger problem? Let’s dig into the numbers a little bit.

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Buckeyes add transfer Anthony Lee for next season

The 2014-15 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes is going to look much different than the squads of the last two seasons. First, the starting backcourt of Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. has graduated. Then, junior LaQuinton Ross and sophomore Amedeo Della Valle both chose to pursue professional opportunities and leave Ohio State early (Della Valle for pro ball in Europe with Ross looking to be drafted in the NBA). Now, coupled with the incoming top five recruiting class headlined by D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate, Thad Matta added transfer big man Anthony Lee today, per ESPN Insider Jeff Goodman.

Lee comes to Columbus via Temple, where the big man played three years as an Owl before completing his undergraduate degree. Last season, he averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds and just under a block while playing over 31 minutes per night. At 6’9″ and 230 pounds, Lee likely slots into the starting center role, displacing the incumbent Amir Williams, who has been an overwhelming disappointment after being a highly-touted recruit and McDonald’s All-American. Williams, fellow junior Trey McDonald, and Lee will all be gone at next season’s end, leaving a large opening in the OSU frontcourt for Thad Matta to recruit some new bodies. Thad’s already working on that with another traditional transfer prospect in Virginia Tech’s Trevor Thompson.

As someone who can step in immediately by NCAA rules that permit transfer to a graduate school program not offered at the current institution, Lee was highly sought. After saying he wanted to play in the Big Ten, ACC, or Big 12, he received interested from several schools, including Indiana, Iowa State, Lousiville, Notre Dame, and others.

Returning to the rotation next year will be juniors Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Williams, and McDonald along with sophomore Marc Loving and redshirt freshman Kam Williams, who sat out last year due to mononucleosis that delayed the start of his year. Russell, Bates-Diop, and Tate rank 13th, 21st, and 27th respectively in the 2014 class. Russell is considered a five-star per ESPN as a 6’4″ shooting guard out of Louisville, KY. Bates-Diop is a 6’7″ small forward prospect from Illinois that will likely play some power forward in Matta’s system despite weighing just 190 pounds currently. Tate is a local recruit out of Pickerington and is a 6’5″ small forward. It’s possible (though unlikely in the beginning) that Ohio State could start four newcomers along with Scott at the point.

The Buckeyes will look to return to their period of sustained success that included a Final Four in 2012 and Sweet Sixteen appearances in four straight seasons prior to their first-round exit1 at the hands of the Cinderella Dayton Flyers.

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Footnotes:

  1. I refuse to call the games following the “First Four” the “second round”. []

Report: Indians sign Yan Gomes to long-term contract

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported this evening that the Indians have locked up their surprise young backstop Yan Gomes for the foreseeable future. The deal is a reported six years and worth $23 million. The deal includes two club options that could keep the Yanimal in a Cleveland uniform into his mid-thirties. This contract, per Jon Heyman, marks the largest given to a catcher pre-arbitration, breaking Carlos Santana’s record.

Gomes, 26, was arbitration eligible following the end of the 2015 season and would have been heading to the open market potentially following the 2018 season. This move effectively “buys out” his three arbitration years and his first year of free agency (plus an additional two years if the team so desires), a move that the Indians have used countless times in this era, including with Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley (which actually could buy out two of his free agency years if they pick up his $11 million club option).

After playing both corner infield slots, outfield, and catcher for Toronto, searching for a positional home, Toronto was willing to part with Gomes. He was acquired from the Blue Jays along with utility infielder Mike Aviles in exchange for middle reliever turned starter Esmil Rogers, Gomes hit .294/.345/.481 (.826 OPS) with 11 homers and 38 RBI in 88 games behind the plate as he became the Indians full-time catcher in the second half playoff stretch run. Aviles and Gomes formed one-half of the “Goon Squad” along with Ryan Raburn and Jason Giambi that gave the Indians one of the most versatile and talented benches in the bigs, helping them win at the margins and finish the season on a 10-game tear.

Ironically, it was Yan’s play that forced the Indians to move Carlos Santana to a primarily 1B/DH role late in the season to put the best lineup on the field both offensively and defensively. Gomes was an assassin behind the dish, throwing out a phenomenal 41% of base-runners (the league average last season was 26%). This year, with Carlos Santana committing himself to a position change to third base, the door is wide open for Gomes to be the everyday catcher with Santana the only other catcher on the Opening Day roster to spell him.

With talks with starting pitcher Justin Masterson over and the Tribe ace all but certainly heading to free agency, the Indians’ next goal is to sign All-Star Jason Kipnis to a similar (albeit more lucrative) team-friendly deal.

Related: Setting the lines on the 2014 Indians

Imperfect finish to an imperfect season: Bucks fall to Dayton

craftmissIt was the opener to the wall of games yesterday afternoon. In the in-state matchup that doesn’t happen very often, “little brother” Dayton had nothing to lose against the Buckeyes, and they played like it. The Ohio State Buckeyes showed their warts as they have all season long, and they went down just as they have in nearly every loss this season, looking like a team without a leading scorer. Former Buckeye Jordan Sibert and the Flyers provided the first upset of the tourney with a 60-59 stunner as Vee Sanford provided the game-winner with 3.8 seconds remaining, sandwiched between would-be game-winners from Buckeye heart and soul Aaron Craft. One unbelievable make and one heart-wrenching miss. The Buckeyes end the season 25-10, a far cry from many of the early season expectations. Now, they have to say goodbye to one of the most polarizing figures to don the scarlet and gray in the last half century.

The same things that plagued Ohio State all season long manifested again today: their lack of consistent play from the center position, the uneven shooting of their two leading scorers LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr., the lack of outside shooting from Shannon Scott, and turnovers. But, the things that kept giving you hope all season long that they could turn it around were on display too: a surprise performance from one of those inconsistent players (Sam Thompson), clutch and gritty play from Aaron Craft, and tenacious defense that racked up stop after stop after stop. [Read more...]

Buckeye Senior Day completes long strange regular season trip

craftdivesrdayBasing your analyses of the Big Ten basketball season on anything other than pure randomness has seemingly been a fruitless task. There’s no better example of this than the current campaign for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Let’s recap just a bit: Two losses to Penn State, the first two in Thad Matta’s tenure; wins at Iowa and Wisconsin, two of the biggest threats in the upcoming Big Ten conference tournament; losses at Lincoln, Minneapolis, and Bloomington. The Buckeyes won twice to open the conference slate and followed that with losses in five of six, followed by wins in six out of seven, then inexplicable losses at Penn State and Indiana. Fans of the scarlet and gray have surely been up and down the Columbus roundball roller coaster. Then, Sunday happened.

On Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.’s Senior Day, a tall task stood in the way of a happy ending in the Michigan State Spartans. The two had squared off in a top-five showdown earlier in the season with Ohio State putting forth a miracle sprint to force overtime only to fall just short. This time, the Buckeyes used their vice-like defende to hold on for the win despite stalled offense and a parade of missed free throws in crunch time. The 69-67 Buckeye win kept the hopes of a Big Ten tourney first-round bye alive (these were ultimately dashed by the Huskers), but more importantly, it was a positive finish to a whirlwind year, sending out the seniors properly.

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#CavsRank: At No. 5, it’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Editor’s Note: Yes, we realize that Anderson Varejao, the ninth-ranked Cavalier of all time (per #CavsRank) was unveiled on Thursday. Today, however, we flip the script and give one man his just due on the eve of his monumental night.  Join WFNY, along with the rest of the #CavsRank participants, as we pay homage to the man in the middle, Big Z. Please take some time to check out the entries at Fear The Sword, Real Cavs Fans, Cavs: The Blog, and Stepien Rules.

zreturnOn Saturday night night, along with 20,561 other ticket-purchasing fans, I will be in attendance as my all-time favorite Cleveland Cavalier, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, has his No. 11 jersey raised to the Quicken Loans Arena rafters. It’s been a long road for the Lithuanian center, full of crushing defeats, obstacles overcome, and moments of glory. For reasons of longevity, skillset, leadership, and his sentimental place in the hearts of this city, retiring his number and in such short order should come as a shock to nobody that’s a Cavaliers fan. 

When Ilgauskas was drafted in 1996, I remember being at his friend’s house to watch the NBA Draft with my dad. It was an exciting time for the Cavs in having two first-round picks in what was a deep draft. They beefed up their frontcourt, adding a pair of centers in Vitaly Potapenko (aka “The Ukraine Train”) and Ilgauskas with the 12th and 20th picks, respectively1.  It’s strange to look back on those frozen snapshots in time and see the lanky 21-year-old Ilgauskas in the electric blue and orange Cavs hat. I remember watching Z in those early years and thinking that I had never seen anyone with his particular skillset as a 7-footer. Some of the younger Cavs fans may not remember that Z, prior to the extensive operations on his feet, was a more mobile rim-runner that still popped shots on the perimeter with frequency.

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Footnotes:

  1. This draft also included Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Derek Fisher, Stephon Marbury, Peja Stojakovic, and Jermaine O’Neal to name a few. []

Cavs vs. Jazz Behind The Boxscore: A single triple double!

kyrietripledoubleIf the Cavaliers have done one thing consistently this season, it’s give fans anxiety with their inability to handle any sort of success. They came out in this home matchup against the Utah Jazz incredibly flat on offense and slow on defense. Then, the Utah Jazz started missing and they never stopped for the rest of the game. In the process of pulling away from the Jazz late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, Kyrie Irving inched closer and closer to a triple double. He finally got it, marking the first Cavalier to do so since LeBron James in 2010. With the 99-79 win, the Cavaliers have won two straight as they prepare for a trip to Memphis tomorrow night while still incredibly short-handed. Here’s a look at some of the easy on the eyes stats from this big win.

48 – Irving was the star of this game, but the Cavalier frontline deserves equal credit. Those two elements combined to the tune of 48 points in the paint for the Cavs, completely dominating that category 48-22. Tyler Zeller continues to confidently cut to the basket and finish strong, and Spencer Hawes’s spacing has opened up more driving lanes for Kyrie (more on Hawes in a second). No one has confused the Cavaliers for being a team that consistently takes it strong into the paint, but that improved spacing is reducing the number of blocked shots (just six for Utah tonight) as the defense collapses. The 22 points allowed in the paint (on 11-of-25 shooting) is probably even more impressive with the Cavs closing off the paint and making the shots that did occur in there a higher degree of difficulty. Which leads quite well into…. [Read more...]