Someday, and it shouldn't be long now, the question will change. It won't be the big question, the one related to 1948, 1964, and all of eternity, but we're going back to baby steps. Any mention of championship or bust is really misguided in Cleveland, given the current landscape. The question is, when will one of these teams make the playoffs?
The ship has long since sailed on that viable discussion about winning a championship, but the post-season and nothing more than a seat at the table is in sight. It's in sight for all three of the organizations that call Cleveland home, even if it may not necessarily be likely for any of them. We know the Browns have the most work to do, the Indians need to catch some breaks, and the Cavs appear to have evolved far enough from the bottom of the Eastern Conference that bonus basketball might be in the cards. Soon, the question becomes, who will be the next one to miss?
There are a lot of ifs involved. The Tribe was off on Thursday, but we didn't need them on the field today to remember the questions. If Nick Swisher becomes something more worthy of his $48 million than just being a fun guy that loves Ohio, maybe we won't have to think of Matt Lawton and David Dellucci. If two exhibtion outings demonstrate the difference that a coordinator like Norv Turner means to Brandon Weeden, these next few drafts could be about adding pieces, instead of building blocks. If Anthony Bennett is the most underrated rookie overcomes early projections that he's not a Top 5 Rookie of the Year candiate, Mike Brown might have a squad to get him back to familiar territory, the NBA Playoffs. And, if something-something-something, my aunt would be my uncle.
It isn't all that crazy. I can take a look at the Indians, give you 20 or 30 reasons that they aren't a championship caliber team, but admit I wouldn't bet my life against them winning the World Series. They obviously don't present the most water-tight case for winning it all; a playoff rotation of Masterson, Kazmir, McAllister is just good enough to briefly take your mind off the fact this team doesn't have a natural clean-up hitter and no one seems to have a clue when Asdrubal Cabrera is going to wake up and begin to care.
Laughable might be the word to describe any attempt at an intelligent conversation about the Browns sticking around past Week 17. The benefit of the doubt is not something that most of us are willing to grant them. The regime is new, and new has to be better, which I would consider to be wishful thinking from a desperate fan base, except I think it's fair to say that taking over for Pat Shurmur means you're already on the bottom floor. I recall 2007, the way they missed at 10-6. Then, there was 2002, the one asterisk next to any season of the reboot, but XFL MVPs, Butch Davis, and Heinz Field tainted the memory altogether.
Despite a lot of losing, and less than perfect luck since Mike Brown's Cavaliers walked out of the Boston Garden-ish place, things have bounced the Cavs way quite often since #3 and #6 in Miami decided to shadow box, a move that pissed off the Dallas Mavericks so much that they denied Chris Bosh and James Jones a championship in their first year playing along side one another. I don't care what anyone says, living vicariously through Dallas that summer was a small victory that Cleveland needed.
Some will resist my claim that the Indians have to play above their level to achieve their goal, a goal I'm making up, of making the playoffs. Of course, they prefer the division title, but now just isn't their time. The wild card doesn't seem out of sight, especially being three games off the pace, but they lose ground in every slump. Winning streaks aren't putting them ahead of the curve, they're just a necessary measure of damage control.
Having said that, hovering around 10 games over .500 isn't the worst thing in the world. The Opening Day rotation included Brett Myers, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Carlos Carrasco in some way, shape, or form. There was no contribution of real significance in that group, but we discovered Corey Kluber and the new Scott Kazmir, while Danny Salazar looks sensational in very limited appearances. The bullpen was supposed to outstanding; the rotation guys were always quick to point that out this spring, but late-inning leads have become an endangered species in 2013. Fans wanted the club to trade Perez and give Vinnie Pesatano the 9th inning, sooner rather than later. Perez saved his 19th game on Tuesday, but Joe Mauer tagged him with his 4th blown save of the year, and Pestano is slumming in AAA, trying to figure out what's happened to him since we were exploring the possibility of a setup man for Rookie of the Year in August of 2012. They got a nice first half out of Cody Allen, and are toying with the idea of seeing what Carrasco can give them in relief. It was my opinion that Jason Giambi didn't deserve a roster spot out of Spring Training, and I don't care how many clutch hits you think the old man has given the team, there were better uses for the 25th spot on the roster.
One of the most guaranteed spots on that roster belonged to Nick Swisher, and I've got to hear about his clutch hits too. It was the liner down the right field line, off Jesse Crain on frigid Friday night at Progressive Field that gave the team a little fire after dropping their first two home games. Still, he's hitting .240 or getting 24 hits out of 100 at-bats, and you want to tell me that 7 of them are "big"; are you good with $12 million dollars a year for 7 important hits a month? Even in spite of all these things, being with 7 of the Tigers and even closer to one of the AL Wildcard spots, this team has accomplished something. Maybe, they can hang around long enough to catch fire down the stretch. After a brutal road trip that includes trips to Atlanta and Detroit, the stars align for the Indians in September, if they can win the games they're supposed to win.
The last time they were there, in 2007, it ended very badly for the Indians. Now, I can't put JD Drew's Game 7 Grand Slam into a category with Elway, Jordan, or even Renteria, but that's what makes it so frustrating. That team wasn't the '95 team by any stretch, but they were good enought to win it all. If you're searching for something to make the elimination in the ALCS anything more than what it was, you could gripe about the timing of Cliff Lee's comeuppance not syncing up with that of CC Sabathia, or even Fausto Roberto Heredia Hernandez Carmona, but that's completely misses out on the point. Yes, Indians fans would have loved to have gotten the 2008 Cliff Lee in 2007, instead of the one that finished the season in Buffalo, so the club could move Aaron Laffey to the big league club. The Tribe had a solid rotation behind Sabathia and Carmona; Jake Westbrook was in his prime and Paul Byrd walked about two batters a month between dentist appointments. The offense needed Kelly Shoppach, Dellucci, and Ben Francisco types to step up in the moment, even though production from Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta was not where they needed it to be. No one won more than the Tribe's 96 games that year, but Boston matched it and the head-to-head tiebreaker for ALCS home field advantage tilted in Boston's favor. There were no excuses, they just couldn't finish what they started, and Eric Wedge never got them back to that level.
It looked Manny Acta had them on track, blazing out of the gate in 2011, then maintaining competitiveness for much of 2012 before the wheels came off and someone set the dumpster on fire in late July and early August. Manny Acta quit on the team, and fans were getting a vibe that the players were quitting on Cleveland. It was ugly, and suddenly the stench of apathy began to pollute the Northeast Ohio air. Playoffs were the farthest thing from our minds, so the organization woke up and tried to make something real of 2013. Results are still pending.
How do you sell someone on the idea of optimism with the Cleveland Browns? It probably isn't conventional that the new owner is subject to federal investigtions for some bad business, but it's more important to wonder if drafting the 28 year-old quarterback to build for the future was such a good idea. If he's good, it's a great idea. If he isn't, Brandon Weeden is nothing more than the name on a piece of masking tape on a Tim Couch jersey. We don't know what the new Head Coach is really about, but we should remember that he made Ken Dorsey into a National Champ and a Heisman candidate. Then, he made Derek Anderson into a Pro-Bowl alternate quarterback, and it's hard to say how much of a role he had in the development of Phillip Rivers or Cam Newton, but he did work with them both. Norv Turner was a bad Head Coach in San Diego for so long, it not click right way, Troy Aikman and Alex Smith were better players for having worked with Turner as their Offensive Coordinator. Ray Horton comes from solid coaching stock too. Looking at what he had personnel-wise in Arizona, and what he got out of them, there's reason to believe the Browns defense will be interesting to watch.
Of course, we all start telling tall-tales this time of year, about all of the promise of the season ahead, and we Browns fans are rarely ever right about anything but the gloom and doom.
Look, we've seen two preseason games, seen them suffer a few injuries, and look good in the process of winning meaningless games, but how do you get playoffs out of a 5-11 team? The upgrades didn't make headlines this summer, but Desmond Bryant, Paul Krueger, Davonne Bess, and Dion Lewis are off-season pick-ups that really upgrade the Browns in the right places, without giving up on anyone with a lot of potential. I look at the schedule and see 9-7, but maybe I'm insane or just carry a ridiculous bias.
There's certain injuries the Browns won't be able to afford, there's going to be a number of games the Browns will need other teams to win, and they're going to need more than a couple of bounces or calls in their favor to get in. It's starts with Baltimore and Pittsburgh, even though the experts might be calling this division Cincinnati's to lose. I like them to split the division down the middle, which gets them 3 wins, to beat all of the last place teams on their schedule; Jacksonville, Buffalo, and Detroit are home games, but they'll go to Arrowhead to take on Andy Reid's Chiefs. I apologize if I'm supposed to be excited about the addition of Alex Smith, but they were obligated to upgrade from Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, or Ricky Stanzi. Reid and Smith don't mean instant turnaround for the Chiefs, so the Browns should still be a better team, even though we all know being better doesn't always translate to victory on the field. If that all goes well, and it won't, a 9-win season is within reach. Chicago, (at) Green Bay, (at) Minnesota, and (at) Houston, and (at Indianapolis) doesn't offer much yeild, so it might be in their best interest to do better than 3-3 in the division, especially if there's anything real about the slide of the Ravens or Steelers. History tells said slides are unlikely for both teams, but Baltimore is just a shell of its Super Bowl-winning self from 7 months ago. Like the Indians, the Browns don't need to win the division to get in, but it may very well be the path of least resistance. The 11-5 Patriots of 2008 received no consolation prize, so 9-7 may just be another year without an asterisk on Pro-Football-Reference.
The Cavs have just been a collection of souls trying to win a knife-fight with a Nerf football over the last three seasons. While the Indians use their Tribe Town campaign to attempt to grab some spotlight from the beloved, even if rebooted, Browns, the Cavaliers are the team of our younger generations. The kids born in the 90s may have been too young to enjoy the Indians success under Mike Hargrove, seeking an NFL team that didn't exist locally, and getting behind the pseudo-local kid around 2003. There were no playoffs in 2004 or 2005, but there was something worth watching every night, even when they weren't quite an 8 seed. For the fruits of their losing labor, Jim Paxon netted the team Luke Jackson and Jiri Welsch. Then came 2006, 2007, 2008, and the hype going into 2009 and 2010. At some point, the Indians were expected to win it all, I'm sure, but the clock was ticking on the Cavaliers. It struck midnight and the playoffs have been a thing of the past ever since.
We've finally reached a point where the future has become the present, and 10 seasons have passed with playoffs in Cleveland, the longest current span for any 3 or 4-sport city. It's hard to scour the history books to find any city with three teams that all missed in 3 consecutive seasons concurrently. I took a few stabs at it; searching for another city that's been where Cleveland is right now on the whole. In the whole contest of misery, Cubs fans are forgotten because it's assumed they were happy about the Blackhawks or Bulls in the last 20 years. The Cowboys haven't done much to write home about, but don't forget about "our" beloved 2011 Mavericks. How about Seattle? I don't remember the Mariners and the old AFC Seahawks doing much when the Sonics were down.
The window for Seattle is a little small, considering the Mariners didn't arrive until the 70s and the Sonics were gone after 2006. It still drives me crazy that I have to go through the Thunder's franchise index to see Seattle's history on basketball-reference, by the way. The Sonics made it easy, they didn't miss the postseason in three consecutive seasons, not until their final years in Seattle when the Seahawks were Super Bowl-bound.
How about Atlanta? Three misses from the Braves before Bobby Cox wouldn't difficult to find. There were enough games on TBS that would remember any playoff run the Braves were on, and I don't remember any before their run of division titles that spanned two decades. Turns out, they made it in '82, but the Hawks carried the flag for the A-T-L, missing the playoffs just 4 times from 1978-2000. The Falcons reached the postseason in 1978, but the MLB, NBA, and NFL playoffs did not ask Atlanta to participate in 1974, 1975, 1976, or 1977. There you have it; WINNER, WINNER, CHICKEN DINNER!!!
Hold the phone, since we are required to consider the NHL, it's best to check to make sure Atlanta didn't do the NHL thing back then. Lo and behold, the Calgary Flames came from Atlanta, an apparent contender when all else in the state of Georgia was bad, just waiting for Herschel Walker to show up on campus in Athens.
Then, there's the city where I sleep at night, Phoenix. About six weeks after I moved to the desert in 2001, the Diamondbacks won the World Series, the only of the 4 majors in town ever to bring one home. I believe the WNBA Mercury and the Arena League Rattlers have titles, but let's try to stay focused on what's real about Major Championships. Anyone want to hang their hat on the Cleveland Crunch of whatever Indoor Soccer acronymn ruled the day back in the mid-90s? I didn't think so.
Even Phoenix, a city that gained a 3rd team in '96 in the Coyotes, then a MLB franchise in '98 hasn't gone too long without a postseason. They Coyotes were regulars in the playoffs for 4 or 5 seasons after leaving Winnepeg, the Cardinals and Jake Plummer made a cameo in 1998, and the Diamondbacks made it to the playoff in two of their first four seasons. The Suns have had their ups and downs, but Phoenix hasn't gone three years without a playoff season since the NHL came on the scene 17 years ago.
That leaves present-day Cleveland by itself in this order of futility. We have thrown away our 2011 and 2012 calendars without once "saving the date" for any semblance of playoff action from any of the home teams, but all of that is about to change. It may not happen for all three teams this year or this upcoming season, but I'd bet one of my hats that we'll see all three in their respective tournaments in the next three seasons of play.
Then, we will be asking, who will be the first team to have the shame of missing the playoffs?