Right Where It Should Be
Much was made of the Cavaliers not taking advantage of a winnable Game 1 in Boston last week. The full effect of that loss may still be out there waiting, ready to bite. Opportunities such as that are difficult to come by and a team, especially a team facing a #1 seed that also possesses home court advantage, needs to be ready to take advantage of any opportunity allowing them to steal a game.
But the Cavaliers are right where most of us hoped or thought they would be after three games in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. They trail Boston 2-1 in the best of 7 series with Game 4 Monday night in ‘The Q’.
For what it’s worth, I feel pretty good about where they are despite the Game 1 loss and despite the fact that their leader has yet to get untracked. Hey, it would be great if they were up 3-0 and on the precipice of advancing to meet, in all likelihood, Detroit again, but that’s not the case today. Oddly enough, I feel good about where the Cavs are in this series precisely because of the Game 1 loss and because LeBron James has yet to get going.
The Cavs have proven to us all year that they are best with their backs to the wall. Games you didn’t think they’d win this season (the shorthanded Washington game the day after the deadline trade comes immediately to mind) are the games when they have put forth some of their best efforts of the season. When this team is forced to concentrate on the task at hand they have played quite well. And a 2-0 deficit going into Saturday night, with their All-World leader not performing up to his usual standards, forced this ball club to concentrate on the little things that win ballgames and it forced everyone not wearing the #23 to step up, make plays and be accountable.
Likewise, the Cavaliers cut into the Boston series lead without a huge contribution from James. In the back of the Celtics minds they have to be waiting for the King to find his rhythm and step to the fore in this series. They know the other shoe is going to drop sooner or later and that James will return to form.
With or without an effective James, Monday night’s game falls into the “must-win” category. There is no excuse for the Cavs to come out anything other than possessed on their home floor and there is still no margin for error. A 3-1 series deficit is likely death to their hopes of moving on. It means Mike Brown will likely stick with his seven man rotation again as opposed to treating Game 4 like a pre-season scrimmage and experimenting with yet another rotation.
I know many writers and many professionals in other fields who work best under the pressure of deadlines. Give them a month to write an essay or a report or complete a project and they squander the time and are less than effective. But put them to the test when their project or article needs to be completed tomorrow morning and they respond with focus and quality work. This Cavaliers team is much the same. They seem to squander any wiggle room you give them and get down to business only when they have to.
Monday night, once again, they have to.
When Worlds Collide
In the last week or so, Casey Blake and Ben Francisco have been the offensive impetus behind the Tribe showing signs of life and playing winning baseball. These two ballplayers share more than just coming up with some big base hits over the last 6 or 7 games too.
Blake has long been the poster boy for ‘everything wrong’ with the Indians and is also, in human form, a reflection of the Mark Shapiro/Eric Wedge regime that runs the Indians. Blake is a 34 yr-old baseball lifer who currently holds down the 3B position for the Indian. His fans love his versatility, his work ethic, his willingness to do whatever asked and the fact that he’s been a productive major leaguer since getting an opportunity with the Tribe six seasons ago.
Blake’s critics see a guy who does nothing extremely well, has a history of struggling with runners in scoring position and who is an impediment to “The Next Great Thing” at his position. What cannot be argued, at least to this point in the season, is that Blake has been extremely productive. While hitting only .236 Blake has been at his best with RISP. Blake is currently hitting .444 with RISP and 24 of his tam leading 25 RBI have come in that situation. His OPS with RISP is an outrageous 1.237 as we sit here today.
With 2 outs and RISP Blake’s numbers are only slightly less impressive. Blake is hitting .368 with 9 RBI and an OPS of .955 in the most pressure filled at bats. That’s just flat-out getting the job done. It’s more impressive given the Indians difficulties in scoring runs to this point in the season. Blake defenders will tell you “getting the job done” is pretty much what Blake does. They’ll also tell you that they’d fall all over themselves to have a better option at the position. But until the day comes that the Tribe has a better major league option (which, given Blake’s contract status, will be next season) Casey Blake is just fine batting 9th and playing 3B for a contending team.
Ben Francisco is another story altogether. Overlooked for a roster spot in favor of veteran Jason Michaels, Francisco went down to Buffalo and was less than impressive. He struggled early with his demotion and was hitting .220+ when he was finally likely recalled for good earlier this week when Michaels was released.
All Francisco has done since he was recalled is hit. He’s currently at .333 and has driven in 4 runs in 21 at bats. That may seem pedestrian compared to Blake, but consider that Michaels hit just .207 in his 60 at bats and drove in just 9 runs.
Francisco, 26, has been impressive handling major league fastballs. He has not been overmatched at the plate against big league heat. In fact, Francisco is nearing the time in every young player’s career when the men are separated from boys. Ben is about to embark down ‘Off-speed Road’. Already showing he can turn around the straight stuff, it will not be long at all before he’s seeing a steady diet of breaking balls. How he adjusts to the slow stuff will be a true indicator of whether Francisco is a legitimate big league hitter or another young player undone by pitchers pitching to his weakness. Thus far, however, Francisco has show good discipline, plate coverage and a bat that is quick to the ball.
Another positive with Francisco has been that he’s shown that your off-speed stuff better be wrapped pretty tight. Francisco will hit hangers that pitchers leave up in the zone. Being able to turn around hard stuff and hanging breaking balls is a solid sign for Francisco and the Indians. It certainly beats the alternative, AKA Andy Marte.
Personally, I and most Indians fans don’t care how old a productive Cleveland hitter is. Contribute toward some production and some wins and there’s plenty of room at the inn for you.
But look deeper.
Laffey has an ERA of 1.83 and a WHIP under 1.00. That means Laffey is allowing less than a base runner per inning in his nearly 20 innings of work this season.
We as fans tend to fixate on the negative and expect positives, but Laffey deserves praise for stepping into the rotation and providing stability and quality effort when not having either could have been fatal for a struggling club. Laffey took no-hitters into at least the 5th inning of his first two starts before, with ‘help’ from the bullpen, losing both those games. Friday night against Toronto Laffey threw 7 innings of shut out baseball and scattered just hits 6 hits in a 12-0 Tribe victory.
The kid has been nothing short of brilliant since returning to Cleveland.
Big night downtown on Monday. An old fashioned doubleheader between the Indians and Blue Jays after Sunday’s Mother’s Day ball game was rained out. And there’s also that little Game 4 match up between the Cavs and the Celtics. Bring the noise, bring the funk. Bring back a 3 for 3 evening to kick off the week.