Cleveland, this is for you.
Roughly 4 months after the Cavaliers vanquished the 52-year sports championship curse, the culmination of the Summer of Cleveland is here.
Tuesday night the eyes of the sporting world once again will be set on Cleveland. The Cavs regular season opener at Quicken Loans Arena will see them receive their championship rings while the Indians host the Cubs in Game One of the World Series.
While there are countless theories on how to best partake in the festivities, Cleveland is a changed city. The “woe is me” loser mentality that plagued the region for generations has started to crumble, replaced with a new confidence.
With that new mindset comes the reality that Cleveland cannot and should not be defined by their failures, either past or future.
Nor should falling short of the highest goal a team can achieve be the reason to ridicule Cleveland. Results will always matter but now the relief of a title gives way to nuance and circumstance.
Consider the 2016 Cleveland Indians whose ability to overcome adversity is second to none.
Absent their best hitting for the entire season, their starting catcher half the season and 2 of their best pitchers from their rotation down the stretch & in the playoffs, all the team did was fall go 7-1 in the first 2 rounds of the playoffs.
Oh and one of their best remaining starters lost a battle with a drone & had his finger explode during one of those playoff games requiring the bullpen to go 8-plus innings in a game the team still won.
Cleveland hasn’t always had the easiest relationship with their Tribe but this year’s team epitomizes the resilience of The Land. Those circumstances should be celebrated, regardless of the outcome of the World Series. This team deserves a special place in the heart of Cleveland fans.
A) Danny Salazar’s Role Is Key- The clear advantage for the Cubs heading into this series is their starting rotation. A healthy Indians rotation rivals Chicago’s but Carlos Carrasco was lost for the season in September and Danny Salazar hasn’t been the same pitcher since mid-July.
Salazar has been out since September with elbow issues but has worked his way back in contention for the roster. He threw a 3-inning simulated game on Sunday at Progressive Field and Indians manager Terry Francona has said Salazar could be available as a starter or reliever.
Whether this is gamesmanship or not remains to be seen but Salazar’s role in the series will be crucial to the Indians. If healthy enough to start, he stands a better chance to give the Indians the quality of pitching necessary to beat the Cubs than any starter not named Corey Kluber.
A bullpen role remains intriguing if starting isn’t truly an option. Salazar has top flight stuff and could be deployed in a manner like how the Indians deploy Andrew Miller. That would make an Indians bullpen even more lethal & likely to overcome a deficit in the rotation.
Either way, Salazar could be the Indians secret weapon in evening out any advantage the Cubs might have in pitching.
B) Another Season Absent Of Challenge For The Cavs In The East- The NBA off-season held plenty of interesting moves in the East this year. Dwight Howard to Atlanta, Al Horford to Boston, the retooling’s in Chicago, New York and Indiana all present interesting dynamic shifts in the East.
Yet if we’re being honest about the other teams in the East, they will all be fighting for the right to be the final sacrificial lamb to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals come May. Each potential challenger simply can’t match the Cavs balance & ability to take what their opponent does and beat them at it.
Chicago’s shooting is highly suspect; Indiana’s defense will be a liability despite their potential for high octane offense and Boston is still at least one superstar short of challenging the Cavs. The Knicks are now a core of older, injury plagued ball hogs with chemistry concerns and they have gone away from building around their greatest hope, Kristaps Porzingis.
Yet on a broader level, too many people are assuming a third rematch in the finals between the Cavs-Warriors is a certainty. The Spurs addition of Pau Gasol can’t be overlooked nor can Gregg Popovich.
Lurking in the shadows remains the Clippers who have another year together and have parted ways with Blake Griffin’s former sparring partner. Could this be the year they finally break free of past failures or will they confirm themselves a super team that never was?
C) First Pitch Questions Answered- After much intrigue & speculation, the first pitch participants were announced for the first two games of the World Series on Monday.
Indians legends Kenny Lofton holds the honor for game 1 while Carlos Baerga carries the responsibility for game 2. While it might not hold the pomp and circumstance of a prospective Charlie Sheen first pitch fueled by Tiger blood, Cleveland can breathe easy that Jose Mesa will be nowhere near Progressive Field for either game.