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News, Scores, Teams, Stories & More on Northeast OH Sports on cleveland.com

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    Higgins hurt his knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 12-9 OT victory over the Ravens.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Rashard Higgins is week-to-week with a sprained MCL, and coach Hue Jackson said "we'll see'' when asked if the Browns will sign former Titans receiver Rishard Matthews, who's working out for the team in Berea today.

    Jackson said he believes he can get through the next few weeks if necessary with some of his own back up receivers, including Rod Streater, Derrick Willies, and sixth-round pick Damion Ratley.

    He said they know the system and have been here practicing.

    He said he hasn't had any conversations with Browns GM John Dorsey about signing former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who visited in August.

    He said Higgins will not require surgery and that they'll just evaluate him week-to-week.



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    "I feel like if we can keep this team together for a couple years, we will bring a Super Bowl to this town," Damarious Randall said. "You can mark my words on that." Watch video

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Baltimore receiver John Brown missed a deep sideline connection with Joe Flacco in the third quarter Sunday, Browns cornerback Denzel Ward running with him and safety Damarious Randall coming over to help, and now Randall was talking Brown back to the huddle.

    "Of course," Randall said. "I've just got to let him know I'm the best free safety in the league and I'm going to be going sideline to sideline the entire game."

    On the next play, Joe Schobert forced a fumble, Trevon Coley dove on it for the Browns, and Randall went over and slapped Coley in the helmet in celebration, or at least what looked like celebration.

    "I was smacking him to let him know there was no Ravens player over there and if I would have scooped that fumble or anyone else would have scooped that up, we would have gotten a touchdown," Randall told me after the Browns' 12-9 win over the Ravens on Sunday. "So it was one of those bittersweet happy moments. We got the fumble, but we knew is this a division game, we've got to score on defense to have a chance."

    So Coley took Randall's score.

    "Let's just say our score as a team," Randall said. "Because the guys are the one who got the ball out. I was just coming over to try to finish the play."

    And if not finish, at least talk about it.

    After watching those two plays in FirstEnergy Stadium, Randall, the first-year Brown and four-year veteran, was the guy I wanted to talk to about this 2-2-1 Browns team, because he was talking to everyone else.

    He talked constantly on the Packers, engaging Josh Gordon in a Twitter back-and-forth last December. Randall could do that in Green Bay, where he went 27-21 in three seasons with two playoff appearances.

    Acquired by Cleveland in the offseason in a trade for quarterback DeShone Kizer, Randall moved back from corner to his natural free safety position, and he's in on any talk that John Dorsey robbed the Packers in that deal.

     

    But Randall has always been on teams that won, or least competed every week. You can't talk like that at 0-16. He couldn't talk like that as an old Brown.

    But now? He came ready, and he's not holding back. He was part of winning as a Packer, and he's looking for it here.

    "Honestly, I feel like if we can keep this team together for a couple years, we will bring a Super Bowl to this town," Randall said. "You can mark my words on that. If we can keep most of these core guys and most of this together, we will win a Super Bowl."

    That's a jump from 2-2-1. But Randall could find teammates and Browns fans willing to make that leap with him.

    I think playoff talk for this team is way premature, and there are going to be some more close games they lose this season because they're a bit short on talent in one area, or a bad call or decision costs them. But as I wrote elsewhere, they're talented enough to overcome mistakes. And while Randall would probably talk no matter where he was, he's not to be dismissed here.

    "Honestly, we're supposed to be 5-0, everyone in the locker room know that, or at least 4-1," Randall said. "Let's just say that for sure. But I'm not harping on that and we're not harping on that as a team.

    "We've moved past that. We know how good we played in the first quarter of the season, and now this is the second quarter of the season. We were preaching first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter, and now we're in the second quarter. We're preaching go 4-0 in the second quarter, and we'll get our respect that we deserve."

    You can imagine Randall delivering that message into the ear of every Raven he crossed paths with Sunday. Baltimore gained 410 yards, about its average, but put up just nine points after averaging 31 points in a 3-1 start to the season.

    "Other teams that come in here to play against us, everybody respects us, and it feels good to know that," Randall said.

    So 2-2-1 might garner that respect. Again, I say slow down on the postseason. The defense came to play Sunday, but Baltimore receiver Michael Crabtree had a case of the drops, though perhaps for good reason.

     

    Baker Mayfield bailed out the Browns by making plays when the protection broke down and when penalties and bad calls backed up the offense early on.

    But put together a play-making defense and play-making quarterback, and you're about 80 percent of the way toward success in the NFL. And that's where the Browns are headed ... or maybe already are.

    "The thing about the NFL is you have to get better each week," Randall said. "I don't want to be that team that starts off hot and then drops off at the end."

    Randall said he doesn't want praise for a good seasons just because it was a big step up from 0-16.

    "No, we're not in it to just have a good season," he said. "We're here to make it to the playoffs and we're here to show the world what the Cleveland Browns are all about." 

    His next riff is better listened to than read, a quick 23-second breakdown of the season that includes Randall's impersonation of a fan who wasn't sure what to think of the Browns after their loss to the Raiders last week. 

    That's some talk. 

    Randall said it just comes out of him as a confident player who is comfortable again as the eyes and voice of the defense at free safety, after feeling out of place as a corner in Green Bay.

    He's a talker. So you really have to listen when he mentions what he doesn't need to say. I told Randall it sounded like he'd keep spreading the news about the Browns.

    "Every Sunday is spreading the news," he said. "I don't think I've got to say much. What we're doing on the field is spreading the news to the people who need to hear the news."


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    CLEVELAND, Ohio - On what seemed like a hot 83 degree day in July, rather than the October day that it was, the Cleveland Indians lineup was introduced to the enthusiastic home crowd before the start of Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field.  The Tribe trails the series 2-0 and needs to win to...

    CLEVELAND, Ohio - On what seemed like a hot 83 degree day in July, rather than the October day that it was, the Cleveland Indians lineup was introduced to the enthusiastic home crowd before the start of Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field.  The Tribe trails the series 2-0 and needs to win to stay alive.

    Watch as the Cleveland Indians starting lineup is introduced before the start of the game moments before the team took the field against the defending World Series champs.

    Also watch below as Jim Toncar of the Faith Fellowship Church sings the National Anthem before the game.


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    Hafner played with the Indians from 2003-12 and in 2006 tied the MLB record with six grand-slam homers in a season. Watch video

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Former Indians great Travis Hafner threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Monday afternoon at Progressive Field.

    The Tribe came into the game trailing the defending World Series champion Houston Astros 2-0, needing a win to extend the series.

    Hafner played with the Indians from 2003-12 and in 2006 tied the MLB record with six grand-slam homers in a season. Hafner is one of only 12 Indians to start on 10 Opening Days for the team.

    Also watch below as Jim Toncar of the Faith Fellowship Church sings the National Anthem before the game.


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    Francisco Lindor hit his fifth career postseason home run to give the Cleveland Indians a 2-1 lead in must-win Game 3 of the ALDS.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- There was no chance Francisco Lindor was bunting when he stepped to the plate in the fifth inning of Monday's American League Division Series with two out and the score tied 1-1 against the Houston Astros.

    Lindor, who laid down a sacrifice bunt in his previous at-bat that led to a Michael Brantley sac fly for the Tribe's first run of the game, this time blasted a 446-foot home run that smashed off the clock on the home run porch in left field to give the Indians a 2-1 lead.

    According to StatCast, the ball left Lindor's bat with an exit velocity of 109.6 mph. It was Lindor's second home run in as many games for Cleveland, his fifth career postseason dinger.

    Lindor hit 38 home runs during the regular season, the most by a switch-hitting shortstop in American League history.


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    The AL Central champs managed 13 hits in three losses to the Houston Astros, and they're gone.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- With a whisper they were gone, a long season dispensed in a long weekend, and it may be hard to remember if the Cleveland Indians were ever here.

    Their 20-game winner got knocked around in Game 1, their one-time MVP candidate made nothing but turns back toward the dugout for three games, and the second Cy Young candidate in the starting rotation got his chance with a game on the line in relief and tossed it away.

    You'd thank Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez and Trevor Bauer for the memories, but in this 3-0 sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros, was there anything to remember?

    The 2018 Cleveland Indians made the playoffs.

    Really? I don't remember that. Are you sure?

    Yeah. Swept.

    Get swept in the Division Series, and a 91-win season can fall out of your head like the last item on a grocery list.

    That Monday's 11-3 lackluster effort served as an exit is the fault of the Indians and their frozen bats, but also the fault of baseball, the sport of the excruciating regular season and potentially fleeting postseason.

    To slog through a 162-game regular season and get swept in a best-of-five series is to take part in a postseason that is 1.85 percent of your regular season.

    Translate that to basketball's 82-game regular season and it would be like if the Cavs could lose Game 1 of a playoff series, trail at halftime in Game 2 -- and be eliminated.

    Translate that to football's 16-game regular season and it would mean if the Browns finally made the playoffs again and were trailing three minutes into the second quarter, they were done.

    This was the 34th time in the 24 years of a best-of-five Division Series that a team got swept. This was the first time for the Indians, making them the 18th of the 30 franchises to suffer the ignominy of working eight months for 27 losing innings.

    The Indians clinched the AL Central and their playoff spot with a 15-0 win over Detroit in Game 148 on Sept. 15, then played 14 meaningless games over two weeks while treading water waiting for the postseason.

    Then after three games in four days, they were done, swept in the playoffs for the first time since the New York Giants beat them 4-0 in the 1954 World Series.

    Baseball expanded the postseason to include another second-place team as a second wild card. Fine. But how about finding a way to make sure the best teams, those who had to win a division, at least get a shot in a best-of-seven Division Series?

    This is an awful lot of complaining about a winning team, but it's hard not to feel robbed of something right now. The Indians got invited to the party, then were handed some stale corn chips and sent home before they even heard the chorus of "Mo Bamba."

    Terry Francona has dealt with this before. He was swept in the Division Series twice in Boston, in 2005 and 2009, and now became the third manager to be swept in a Division Series three times, joining Ron Gardenhire and Mike Scioscia in a stat no one likes and no one cares about.

    But how else do you analyze this team? The Indians didn't give us much to work with.

    They're a smart, overachieving small-market squad that is taking advantage of a pathetic division and is just two seasons removed from hosting the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7.

    In that same ballpark, 37,252 fans turned out Monday afternoon on a beautiful and unseasonably warm October day. If they stuck it out, they saw Cody Allen, a demoted former closer with an ERA this season a full two runs higher than the first six years of his Indians career, get knocked around while getting charged with four runs in the eighth inning.

    Brad Hand, the closer from the season-changing trade who replaced Allen? He came in and gave up the base runners he inherited from Allen, plus another two runs of his own.

    Also, the Indians batters managed 13 hits in three games.

    The Indians made the 2018 playoffs?

    Yeah, remember? Francisco Lindor hit a home run off the clock.

    Right. What else happened?

    Nothing.


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    Houston completed a three-game sweep in the ALDS on Monday to send the Indians home for the season.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio - A home run straight out of Hollywood couldn't save the Indians on Monday afternoon as their season was left on the cutting room floor by the powerful Houston Astros.

    Francisco Lindor, with the Indians facing elimination in Game 3 of the ALDS, hit a 446-foot homer off the facing of the clock above the home-run porch in left to give the Indians a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning. The home run stirred memories of Roy Hobbs' fictional homer in the movie The Natural, but while Hobbs' homer shattered the scoreboard clock, all Lindor's did was give the Indians a moment or two of false hope.

    Houston scored 10 runs in the last three innings to humble the Indians, 11-3, and complete a three-game sweep to advance to the ALCS for the second straight season. It is the first time the Indians have been swept in a postgame series since they lost four straight to the New York Giants in 1954.

    The Astros are the second team in as many years to celebrate an ALDS victory on the Indians' home field. The Yankees celebrated last season when they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Indians in five games.

    Still, what a moment Lindor delivered. The only thing missing was Glenn Close, the Lady in White, standing in the stands to encourage Hobbs, who was played by Robert Redford, before he shattered the clock.

    What Lindor did was give the Indians a chance to put their postseason plan into action. Not only did they have a lead - just their second of the series - but it was late enough in the game to use Trevor Bauer in the ultimate leverage situation. The Indians put Bauer in in the bullpen for the ALDS for just that reason.

    Bauer pitched a scoreless sixth, but ran into big problems in the seventh. He allowed a leadoff single to No.9 hitter Tony Kemp and made things worse by making an errant pickoff throw to move Kemp to second. In the third inning, starter Mike Clevinger did the same thing with Kemp on first.

    George Springer, who homered twice, kept the inning going with a squib single 15 feet down the third-base line to put runners on the corners. Jose Altuve scored Kemp on a fielder's choice to short to tie the score, 2-2. Alex Bregman sent a double-play bouncer back to Bauer, but his throw to second was wide of the bag and both Altuve and Bregman were safe. Yuli Gurriel walked to load the bases and Marwin Gonzalez doubled to left to give Houston a 4-2 lead.

    "It's disappointing," said Bauer. "We really didn't play well today. If you're going to go out, you want to make sure you put your best foot forward and that didn't happen. . .They outplayed us all series."

    Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, in probably their final appearances with the Indians, relieved and managed to end the inning. Allen started the eighth, but the relentless Astros added six more runs in the inning -- homers by Springer and Carlos Correa highlighted the surge -- to complete the sweep.

    The Indians were outscored, 21-6, in the series. They were beaten in all phases of the game - pitching, offense and defense. Houston out-homered them, 8-2. Springer out-homered them by himself, 3-2.

    Their top five hitters-- Lindor, Michael Brantley, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson -- hit a combined .157 (8-for-51) with 13 strikeouts.

    Houston pitches posted a 2.00 ERA compared to a 7.20 by the Indians. Cody Allen, who didn't allow a run and saved six games for the indians just two years ago in the postseason, allowed six runs, including two homers, in two appearances covering one inning in the ALDS.

    "They out-pitched us. They out-hit us," said Lindor. "They ran the bases better than us. Hats off to Houston. They've got a great ball club. . .They played way better than us the whole three games and they deserved to win."

    The Indians and Astros entered the series with the two best rotations in the league. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel went 2-0 with 2.60 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Clevinger went 0-2 with a 4.20 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 15 innings.

    The Tribe's bullpen posted a 14.63 ERA, allowing 13 earned runs in eight innings. Houston's pen posted a 0.93 ERA, allowing one run in 9 2/3 innings.

    "Houston is really good," said manager Terry Francona. "They present a lot of challenges and they're worthy of moving on."

    The Indians took a 1-0 lead in the third off Keuchel as Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis opened the inning with singles to put runners on first and second. It was the first time in the series the Indians managed consecutive hits.

    Lindor advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. He came into the game hitting .167 (2-for-12) against Keuchel.

    Brantley gave the Indians their second lead of the series with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Gomes and advanced Kipnis to third. Keuchel ended the inning on Ramirez's line drive to the track in center.

    Springer tied the score, 1-1, with a one-out homer in the fifth. He hit Clevinger's first pitch into the bleachers in left field. He finished the series with three homers and stretched his franchise record to 10 postseason long balls.

    Clevinger walked the tightrope for the first four innings of a five-inning start. He threw 75 pitches, allowed two hits, two walks and hit a batter. In the process, he faced 17 Astros, but somehow held them scoreless. He was at his best when he escaped a one-out bases-loaded jam in the third.

    In five innings, Clevinger allowed one run on three hits. He struck out nine and walked three. The nine strikeouts are a franchise record for a pitcher making his first postseason start.

    What it means

    These are the kind of things that happen in the postseason. In his career Bauer, a good fielding pitcher, has committed five errors. In one postseason inning on Monday, he made two.

    The pitches

    Clevinger threw 99 pitches, 60 (61 percent) for strikes. Keuchel threw 78 pitches, 50 (64 percent) for strikes.

    Thanks for coming

    The Astros and Indians drew a sellout crowd of 37,252 to Progressive Field. First pitch was at 1:33 p.m. with a temperature of 85 degrees.


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    The Cleveland Indians have lost their last six playoff games. There is a message in that.

    CLEVELAND -- The Indians season ended with the diamond in the shadows, the stands nearly empty and big questions hanging over the franchise,.

    Not only were they swept out of the best-of-5 American League Division Series, Houston dominated them.

    Final Score: Astros 11, Tribe 3.

    The Indians had a 2-1 lead in this game after six innings.

    Then they gave up nine runs in the next two innings.

    That's right, nine runs against a bevy of beleaguered bullpen pitchers beginning with Trevor Bauer.

    Bauer was supposed to save the sagging bullpen. In the seventh inning, he made TWO throwing errors and lost his composure. Bauer allowed four runs in his five innings of relief during this series. 

    Cody Allen entered the game, and was whacked for a homer and four runs in one-third of an inning.

    I feel bad for the shaken Allen, the team's all-time leader in saves and a terrific guy. He gave up as many runs in this series (6) as the Tribe scored in three games.

    And he pitched only one total inning.

    Andrew Miller obviously isn't healthy.

    The once great bullpen is a leaky row boat. No matter what the coaching staff did, this group was sinking fast.

    THE SAD REALITY

    The defending World Series champion Houston Astros, 103-59 in the regular season, were too talented and too focused.

    All the games stayed close - for a while. But the Astros were never really threatened in the late innings, which is where these playoff games often are decided.

    No matter how the Indians try to explain it, this was a rotten way to end the season. They played some of their sloppiest baseball in the last three innings.

    The gap between these two franchises is wider than originally thought.

    Something also happened to the Indians from the time they blew a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 ALDS series against the Yankees last season.

    Manager Terry Francona and several players such as Corey Kluber kept saying, "Last year has nothing to do with this year."

    Only the Indians were out-scored 13-5 in the last three games of the Yankee series.

    And they were outscored 21-6 in three games against the Astros.

    It was like an extension of the 2017 playoffs, only worse.

    The Indians have lost their last six playoff games.

    And yes, there is a distressing message in that.

    THE PLANS FAILED

    The Indians sort of shuffled through the regular season, winning a very weak Central Division with a 91-71 record.

    Moves were made.

    The trade for Josh Donaldson...

    Jason Kipnis moved from second base to center field...

    Jose Ramirez from third base to second base...

    Bauer to the bullpen...

    Signing Yonder Alonso to play first base...

    In the end, none of it helped the Indians in the playoffs.

    "We prepared pretty extensively," said Francona. "Not a lot of things went the way we hoped they would."

    Donaldson had one hit in three games. Same with Edwin Encarnacion.

    Ramirez and Alonso had none.

    The spark that was supposed to come from the playoff-tested Donaldson and the ready-to-pitch-everyday Bauer was a fizzle.

    The Indians spent much of September like spring training, trying to nurse Miller (shoulder, knee) and Bauer (broken foot) back to health.

    They shifted people around infield.

    Part of the reason the Tribe made several dramatic moves during the season was to arm the team for playoffs. The front office knew it lacked the talent reach the World Series.

    Some fans will want to blame Francona for the team being swept out of the post-season for the first time since 1954.

    Francona didn't have a good series.

    But he also had a bullpen that has collapsed. The hitters didn't hit. The late-season moves didn't work.

    And the season ended quietly in the sad shadows of an early October afternoon.


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    Only Francisco Lindor was able to hurt the Astros in the ALDS.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- You might not believe it after watching the Indians convincingly swept out of the ALDS, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch was concerned about the top of the Indians' order.

    Francisco Lindor. Michael Brantley. Jose Ramirez. Edwin Encarnacion.

    That foursome included three players with at least 30 home runs and a .300 hitter. So it's understandable that Hinch would want his pitchers locked in on them.

    "That Lindor, Brantley, Ramirez, Encarnacion top four is as good as anybody's," Hinch said Monday. "And controlling that group, and not only that but the group at the bottom of the order before the lineup rolled over, was important."

    It was not just important, but a catalyst in the Astros' ALDS sweep of the Indians, completed with an 11-3 thumping Monday at Progressive Field. The top of the Indians lineup was 7-for-42 in the three-game series. They were 3-for-13 in Game 3.

    Lindor was the only one of the group to hurt the Astros, finishing 4-for-10 with a pair of home runs, including a majestic blast on Monday that gave the Indians a 2-1 lead.

    The fact that it was his second solo home run of the series played into the Astros' strategy.

    "We didn't really control him," Hinch said. "He hit the ball out of the ballpark from both sides of the plate. We were able to minimize the people in front of him, the guys at the bottom of the order where it rolled around where he only ended up with an at-bat or two with guys on base."

    Take out Lindor's four hits, two homers and two RBI, and the remaining trio was 3-for-31 with two RBI. Ramirez finished 0-for-11, Encarnacion 1-for-10 and Brantley 2-for-10.

    But even with the large lead in the late innings and the top of the Indians' order struggling, the Astros weren't ready to relax.

    "I remember a game here in early May, when we were up five," said Astros outfielder George Springer. "They scored five to tie it in the ninth. I think for me, (I relax) when the game is finally over, because with the lineup that those guys have, this game is not over until it's over."

    The game was actually May 27. The Indians scored five in the ninth to tie, then won it in the 14th. Ramirez and Encarnacion started the ninth-inning rally that night. Lindor and Brantley singled in the fourth and fifth runs of the inning.

    On Monday, with the Indians trailing by eight runs, Lindor and Brantley hit back-to-back singles in the eighth. But Ramirez grounded into a double play to end the inning.

    Encarnacion walked and scored in the bottom of the ninth, but it was just a final glancing blow for the top of the Indians' order that never got on track.


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    Osman, who played a little more than seven minutes before going to the bench for good, scored five points and pulled down two rebounds.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cedi Osman left Monday's preseason game against the Indiana Pacers because of soreness in his right ankle. He will not return. 

    Osman, who played a little more than seven minutes before going to the bench for good, scored five points and pulled down two rebounds. 

    The team called his absence "precautionary." 

    Cleveland was already thin on the wing going into the third exhibition game, as head coach Tyronn Lue announced Rodney Hood's absence hours before tipoff (left ankle soreness) and Jordan Clarkson was held out for rest. David Nwaba, who hasn't played since the preseason opener, also missed Monday's game because of a strained left groin.

    Those losses led Lue to starting both Collin Sexton and George Hill in the backcourt while playing JR Smith and Kyle Korver simultaneously off the bench -- something Lue said he wanted to avoid this season.

    It also gave point guard Isaiah Taylor a chance to run the second team in his quest to nail down the final roster spot. 


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    After looking overmatched in three playoff losses to Houston, the Cleveland Indians are left to face an offseason of uncertainty and the possibility of a shrinking championship window.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- With Monday's American League Division Series sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros, the Cleveland Indians have now lost nine straight games when facing elimination in the playoffs dating back to Game 7 of the World Series in 1997.

    This time, it was the defending champion Astros who powered past the Tribe, riding dominant pitching and an offense that capitalized on mistakes in the strike zone to score more than half of its runs against a beleaguered Cleveland bullpen.

    At times, the Indians looked overmatched in nearly every facet of the game.

    Does Monday's loss bring to an end Cleveland's championship window that seemed wide open after a trip to the Fall Classic just two seasons ago? Where can Tribe fans look for some hope when they get out of bed on Tuesday morning?

    Columnist Doug Lesmerises joins the final podcast of the season from the press box at Progressive Field as Paul Hoynes and Joe Noga look at what happened on the field and what lies ahead for the Tribe.

    Brilliant young stars such as Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez will be back, along with the best starting pitching rotation in the AL Central. But is that enough to get the Tribe over the hump in 2019? Will the window stay open beyond that? Paul, Doug and Joe weigh in on Cleveland's prospects.

    Got a question you want answered on the podcast? Submit it to Paul or Joe on Twitter or via email.

    Listen along to the show and leave your comments. You can download the audio here.

    Subscribe on iTunes.
    Subscribe on Google Play.


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    "I hope they would be able to count on me in the future," the Indians' All-Star said after going 0-for-11 in a three-game sweep by the Houston Astros.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Jose Ramirez is the worst hitter of the 2018 Major League Baseball playoffs, which wasn't a shock because he was the second-worst hitter of the 2017 Major League Baseball playoffs, and now, the Indians All-Star is the individual equivalent of the 0-16 Browns.

    At least he can't get worse.

    So prepare yourself for the triumphant return of Ramirez in the 2019 playoffs, when 3-for-22 with a bloop double or something would be seen as redemption.

    His 2-for-20 effort a year ago gave way to an 0-for-11 postseason in 2018. It started with a walk in the first inning of Game 1 of the Division Series against the Houston Astros, but Ramirez got it back with a double-play grounder to end the bottom of the eighth in Monday's 11-3 season-ending Game 3 loss, so that's 12 plate appearances, 12 outs.

    Imagine if he had done anything.

    Anything.

    "Maybe it could have been different, maybe it could have been different," Ramirez said through a translator at his locker after the Indians' season had ended. "Maybe the results would have been different. But we're a team and we lost as a team and it didn't go well for us as a team, and that's all I can say."

    The Indians are a team, but what makes them work is a collection of stars.

    There's Ramirez and Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley and Edwin Encarnacion swinging the bat, the four of them ranked fourth, eighth, 17th and 22nd in the American League in OPS, that measure of overall offensive production. There's Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco throwing the ball after ranking second, fifth, sixth and eighth in the American League in ERA.

    That's four bats and four arms, and then you pray the bullpen holds it together, and that's how the Indians have to win.

    Lindor went 4-for-11 with the Indians' only two home runs. The only other extra-base hit in the series was a Yandy Diaz double.

    Clevinger gave up one earned run in five innings of Monday's start before everyone else imploded, and he was the best Cleveland pitcher in the series.

    But Brantley, Encarnacion and Ramirez went a combined 3-for-31. Kluber, Bauer and Carrasco had a combined 5.79 ERA in 14 innings.

    Stars failed. Ramirez failed most spectacularly.

    Over the last two regular seasons, his Wins Above Replacement is 14.7, which is third-best in baseball, behind only Mookie Betts and Mike Trout. In the entire American League, Ramirez helps a team win more than all but two players.

    In the postseason, his Wins Above Replacement is a tree stump. You could cut off an oak in the batter's box and have it be as effective.

    "I'm going to keep working and I'm going to keep working hard in the offseason," Ramirez said. "That's the only thing I can control. I'm healthy, I feel good, so I'm going to keep working and that's the only thing I can do."

    It was a clubhouse full of cap-tipping on Monday, the Indians giving credit to the mighty Astros while perhaps forgetting that more than a handful of them are supposed to be mighty themselves.

    So Ramirez is on a team-friendly contract and he's a heart-warming underdog story and he has become a player no one ever expected. But if he keeps this up in the playoffs, now 2-for-31 over the last two years, the Indians are dead.

    Houston shortstop Carlos Correa, a 23-year-old former All-Star who had a lousy year, can go 1-for-10 in the playoffs and the Astros can survive with a deeper bullpen and a payroll $35 million above the Indians'.

    In Cleveland, the Indians can't rely on Ramirez for six months and then win when he disappears in the postseason.

    "Jose's had a tough last month," manager Terry Francona said. "When you're not feeling great at the plate, this isn't exactly the recipe to get out of it."

    By that, he meant the Astros' starting pitching. They made it tough for Ramirez. But he's the kind of hitter who's supposed to make it tough for them, too. Why aren't Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel shaking their heads over their inability to get Ramirez out?

    Instead, it was five groundouts, two fly balls, a popup and three strikeouts -- no problem. He didn't live up to the responsibility of a star, to lead your team when it matters most.

    In the clubhouse, after pulling on a Michael Jordan Jumpman white T-shirt and black Jordan pants, Ramirez didn't want to talk. He told the team translator there was nothing to say.

    I said he was one of the leaders of the team and he should talk to the fans.
    "Tell him yourself," said the Spanish-speaking assistant. "I'm just the translator."

    "Jose, the fans want to hear from you," I told him.

    And he talked. He understood.

    What he needs to do in the clubhouse after playoff losses, he needs to do at the plate during playoff games to prevent losses. He needs to stand up. He needs to lead.

    Right now, can the Indians rely on him in the 2019 playoffs?

    "I always try to be positive," Ramirez said. "Everyone in here, we all try to be positive. We sometimes don't have control over what's going on with ourselves. So I hope they would be able to count on me in the future. But I think we just all try to stay positive and look forward to next year."

    On Monday, positive was difficult.

    The Indians' last three playoff series have ended with three straight losses. They blew a 3-1 lead to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series, a 2-0 lead to the New York Yankees in the 2017 Division Series and were swept 3-0 this time.

    Somewhere in there, a star needed to stop that.

    Ramirez was solid in the 2016 World Series, batting .310 with nine hits in 29 at-bats, though seven of them were singles. Since then, it's 1 for 31.

    In his career, he gets an extra-base hit in the postseason in 3.4 percent of his at-bats.

    In the regular season, he gets an extra-base hit 11.8 percent of the time.

    Yes, the pitching improves in the playoffs. But the Indians need more.

    Last year, Ramirez slumped in August, rebounded with a huge September, and then did nothing in the playoffs. This year, Ramirez fell off the map in both August and September and continued his slide into the postseason.

    Maybe he's wearing down. Maybe pitchers are figuring him out and no longer throwing him fastballs. Maybe postseason scouting reports reveal the holes in his swing.

    Whatever the reason, it can't happen. Because getting nothing from Ramirez leaves too big of a hole in the lineup, and the Indians can't fill it.

    As he threw a black backpack over his shoulder, Ramirez headed out through the back entrance of the clubhouse with the same strut that takes him everywhere. That never changes.

    But in the playoffs, he changes.

    Out the front door of the clubhouse, there's a larger-than-life mural on the wall, in the line of vision of everyone who exited that door at the end of another season. It's Ramirez, bat in hand, snarling, looking like every pitcher's worst nightmare.

    In the playoffs, that Ramirez doesn't exist.


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    During the most important stretch -- the first three quarters when most of Indiana's regulars were playing, the Cavs lost by 14 points (81-67).

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland Cavaliers are no longer perfect in the preseason. 

    After back-to-back drubbings of the Boston Celtics, the Cavs were on the receiving end against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night, losing to last year's fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, 111-102.

    Let's call it an early reality check. During the most important stretch -- the first three quarters when most of Indiana's regulars were playing, the Cavs lost by 14 points (81-67). 

    Earlier in the day, members of the team talked at length about what they wanted to accomplish in the final two tuneups before the regular season opener, hoping to build on a pair of quality defensive performances and sharpen the movement principles in this new offense. They also wanted to continue to push the pace, something head coach Tyronn Lue has been preaching since the start of training camp.

    There was very little of that against Indiana.

    Playing shorthanded, the Cavs showed depth will likely be an issue this season and consistency may be as well, as they were unable to build on the previous two showings. 

    "I thought our defense was a little more solid in the second half," Kyle Korver said. "But I don't think either half was great. It's the preseason, but we didn't play as well as we did in the first couple of games."

    Monday's film will give them plenty to work on, lessons on what not to do, before Opening Night in Toronto. 

    No options on offense

    The Cavaliers played without both Kevin Love (foot soreness) and Rodney Hood (ankle soreness) -- the top two scoring options. Not having that duo along with Jordan Clarkson (rest) and starting small forward Cedi Osman, who departed the game early because of soreness in his ankle, the Cavs had few answers against the smothering Pacers defense. 

    "Once we get in sync, there are going to be more open looks than what everybody thinks," Korver said. "But everyone has to evolve their game from last year and change our approach."

    Sam Dekker, starting in Love's spot for the second straight game, tallied 10 points. But it was an inefficient shooting night overall (3-of-12 from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point range). George Hill, who has gotten off to a slow start, also reached double figures (10 points) against his old team. But like Dekker, those points didn't come easy. 

    Not even Collin Sexton was immune to the team-wide slog. The rookie who dazzled in his first two preseason games had his welcome-to-the-NBA night against the Pacers' aggressive backcourt of Darren Collison and Victor Oladipo.

    Sexton scored just three points on 1-of-7 from the field and 0-of-2 from beyond the arc. He struggled to finish around the rim with the Pacers' length and athleticism and when he couldn't get into the paint off the dribble, Sexton watched jumpers repeatedly clang off the rim. 

    The Cavs had some success running Korver off screens to get him open looks. The sharpshooter popped off the bench and tallied 17 points on 6-of-10 from the field, including 4-of-7 from long distance.

    John Holland, one of a pair of Cavaliers on a two-way contract, tried shooting Cleveland back into the game late in the fourth quarter, acquitting himself well with 13 points, including a trio of long-range bombs. 

    The Cavs hope to use a quicker pace to get easier baskets. Operating against a tough halfcourt defense like Indiana will be a challenge -- no matter who is in the lineup. On Monday night, the Cavs failed to race out in transition, tallying just three fastbreak points.

    Defense optional

    The Cavs' defense looked a lot like it did during last year's regular season, which is not a compliment. Cleveland ranked 29th in defensive efficiency a year ago, failing to give the requisite effort. 

    On Monday night, the Pacers shot 48.9 percent from the field. They finished with 16 fastbreak points.

    "I thought our transition defense, which I thought was really good in both games against Boston and really getting back and communicating well, thought we took a step back on that tonight," Korver said. "That's kind of the starting point for a defense is getting back and getting matched up. Gave them a bunch of layups and fouls and walk-up 3s. Then we got out of sync on offense." 

    Osman is expected to get the toughest defensive assignment this season, taking over that role from JR Smith. The second-year man was eager for a matchup with Oladipo. But it never materialized. Indiana played with such a rapid pace and there were so many crossmatches and switches that Osman spent time guarding everyone. 

    No matter who tried taking that challenge against Oladipo, he had few problems. The Pacers All-Star tallied a game-high 23 points on 6-of-10 from the field in 28 minutes. He blew by his defender with relative ease, scoring around the basket and hitting all eight of his free throws. When he had the chance, he stepped into 3s with confidence, draining three of his five attempts.

    Late run

    Behind Korver, Tristan Thompson and a few others fighting to make the roster, the Cavs went on a 7-0 run early in the fourth quarter to cut the Indiana lead to single digits. The group did it the way the Cavs need to this season: hustle, ball movement, sharing on offense and hard-nosed defense. 

    That same group made the final score look a lot better than the Cavs played. 

    Next up

    The Cavs wrap up the preseason on Friday night against the Detroit Pistons. Considered a home game for the Cavs, the game will actually be played on the campus of Michigan State. 


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    Francisco Lindor atoned for last year's playoff struggles with a strong showing in the 2018 ALDS.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- There are no silver linings for Francisco Lindor after his Cleveland Indians were eliminated from baseball's postseason Monday by the Houston Astros. The bottom line is winning, and that just didn't happen.

    But for the 24-year-old Lindor, whose well-documented playoff struggles in 2017 were a motivating factor from the moment he arrived at spring training this year, a strong 2018 American League Division Series performance shows that he's ahead of the curve and ready to continue growing.

    "It shows I learned from my mistakes and learned how the league is going to pitch to me and adjusted to it," Lindor said after the Tribe's 11-3 series-ending loss to the Astros. "You try to make the adjustments as soon as you can and try to be successful."

    Lindor hit a mammoth 436-foot home run to left field in the fifth inning that gave the Indians a 2-1 lead. It answered George Springer's solo shot in the top of the inning and electrified the crowd at Progressive Field, if for a fleeting moment before the reality of Houston's offense brought things crashing back down to earth two innings later.

     

    The blast to left off Astros starter Dallas Keuchel conjured memories of Lindor's grand slam in the sixth inning of Game 2 in last year's ALDS against the Yankees. That homer cut a five-run Tribe deficit to a single run in a game the Indians would go on to win in 13 innings.

    Monday's game would have no such storybook ending. Lindor finished the series batting 4-for-11 (.364) with three runs scored, two homers, two RBI and a pair of strikeouts. It's a dramatic improvement from his 2017 postseason line of 2-for-18 (.111) with a homer, four RBI and six strikeouts.

    "Just because I hit two home runs doesn't (change the fact that) I did absolutely nothing to help my team," Lindor said. "I wish I could have helped my team a little better."

    The three-time All-Star credited Houston for sticking to its game plan and executing in every facet of the game in handing Cleveland its first postseason sweep since the 1954 World Series.

    "You've got to respect that they came out here and they did what they had to do," Lindor said. "They played way better than us the whole three games and they deserved to win. They played better than us."

    Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Houston's pitching did a good job of limiting Lindor's at-bats with runners on base throughout the series, but he managed to generate offense on his own.

    "He's very similar to George (Springer) at the top of our order," Hinch said. "We didn't really control him. He hit the ball out of the ballpark from both sides of the plate."

    Lindor's teammates credit him with taking on stewardship of the winning culture within the Indians clubhouse. Regardless of Monday's outcome, and regardless of what the future holds, veterans such as Jason Kipnis said afterward that they know the Indians organization is in good hands with talented young players such as Lindor and Jose Ramirez in the fold.

    "We've got a lot of young talent here with Frankie and Josie and a bunch of guys who will be here for a few more years," Kipnis said. "You've got guys that are signed like Kluber and Carrasco and a bunch of guys who will keep this team where it needs to be for years to come -- competitive and hopefully winning division titles."


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    Meyer leaves his defense to his defensive assistants. But should he step in more with some of the struggles that side has had? Watch video

    COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Highlights from Urban Meyer's Monday news conference previewing Ohio State vs. Minnesota this week, and recapping last week's win over Indiana.

    * Despite coming off a 23-point win, most of the questions on Monday centered on the two things Meyer said he was concerned about coming off the game against Indiana: The Buckeye run game and the defense giving up big plays.

    In the past, Meyer has mentioned getting more involved on the defensive side of the ball when issues come up. Typically he leaves that side of things to his coordinators and position coaches, focusing himself more on offense and special teams.

    "I have conversations," Meyer said, "but I have so much confidence in the people doing it that we're going to get that fixed."

    Ohio State is middle of the pack nationally in total defense, ranking No. 56 in yards allowed per game. OSU has also given up 19 plays of 30 yards or more, sixth-most in the country.

    "I don't want to get in too much detail other than it's a variety of things," Meyer said. "But getting second level, when someone gets a second level, get them on the ground and then some coverage issues we've had."

    * The Buckeyes are also dealing with injuries on that side of the ball. Nick Bosa remains out following surgery for an abdomen injury. Defensive tackles Dre'Mont Jones and Robert Landers have been playing banged up. Linebacker Malik Harrison and defensive end Jonathon Cooper left Saturday's game against Indiana with unspecified injuries.

    "Much better today," Meyer said of Harrison and Cooper. "Probably know more today or later tomorrow, but much better."

    * On the offensive injury front, Meyer said offensive lineman Branden Bowen is "close" to a return following surgery earlier this year for a broken bone in his leg that didn't heal correctly. Bowen was limited in the spring and in camp while recovering from a broken leg last October. Meyer did not put a timetable on a return for Bowen, though the Buckeyes could use some depth on the interior of the offensive line.

    Asked if Bowen could come back this year: "There's a chance," Meyer said.

    * There was a bit of a scary moment on the sideline against Indiana when Meyer dropped down to a knee holding his head in the fourth quarter. Meyer explained after the game that he had a severe headache stemming from cyst issues he's had in the past. He was asked about that again on Monday.

    "I've been dealing with that cyst for many years, and we had the surgery several years ago," Meyer said. "And when it does take place, it's just, you know, they give me some medicine and I feel fine now. Just something I've got to monitor."

    * Meyer's early thoughts on this week's opponent, Minnesota:

    "Their defense is outstanding. They're not a big pressure team, but they've got a great pass rusher No. 45. Excellent player. And they had a tough injury to one of the best players in the conference. But their defense is outstanding."

    Minnesota is No. 21 in the country in yards per game allowed (324) and No. 41 in scoring defense (23.4 points per game). The No. 45 Meyer mentioned is junior linebacker Carter Coughlin, who has five sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss this year.

    The Gophers are down two key players: Running back Rodney Smith and defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr., who are both out for the season.

    * Ohio State's top performing position group this year has arguably been its receivers, a group that's currently working with an interim position coach in Briant Hartline.

    Not only are Hartline's players performing well, but he was also instrumental in helping OSU land a verbal commitment from four-star receiver Jameson Williams two weeks ago. 

    "He's been great," Meyer said of Hartline. "He's learning on the run still. Doing some great things. And one thing about our job, it's very evaluation-friendly. They're playing very well."

    The final question of Meyer's news conference was if Hartline could lose the interim tag and be a full-time position coach.

    "Oh, he sure could," Meyer said.


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    Now that the Indians have been eliminated by Houston from the postseason, deciding who stays and who goes among their own free agents will be the next challenge. Watch video

    CLEVELAND, Ohio - Change is coming to the Indians' roster and it could be widespread.

    Carlos Carrasco, Michael Brantley, Josh Tomlin, Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall, Andrew Miller, Melky Cabrera, Raja Davis, Brandon Guyer, Oliver Perez and Josh Donaldson could be free agents at the end of the World Series. Carrasco and Bauer are the only players with club options for 2019.

    The reality of that change hit home Monday after the Indians were swept out of the ALDS in three games by the Houston Astros. Houston completed the sweep with an emphatic 11-3 victory at Progressive Field.

    Tomlin, Brantley and Jason Kipnis sat in a far corner of the locker room after the game. They talked quietly and seemed in no hurry to leave. They'll be cleaning out their lockers in the next few days, but while Kipnis is signed through 2019 with a club option for 2020, Tomlin and Brantley may not be coming back.

    Players like Tomlin, Brantley, Kipnis and Chisenhall, who was not with the team in September or the postseason, have played together for a long time. They went to the World Series in 2016, reached Game 7 and fell short. They believed they had the talent to finish the job, but it didn't happen.

    "It really would have been something special to finish it off (win the World Series) with the guys who have been here a long time because of how close we've gotten," said Kipnis. "That's why it's such a letdown. We've become a product of the high standards we've set around here, which makes it even more disappointing."

    This is the second straight year the Indians have been eliminated in the ALDS, and the first year they've been swept in the postseason since the 1954 World Series.

    "When you win a three division titles in a row and you keep going to the playoffs year after year, just getting there doesn't seem to be enough anymore," said Kipnis.

    Kipnis said he doesn't know if he'll be back next year. The Indians tried to trade him last winter and his name came up again at the trade deadline in July and August.

    Asked if he had an idea what the 2019 Indians would look like, Kipnis said, "Fortunately, that's not part of my job description. There will be questions a lot of guys in the front office have to answer. I'll be waiting to see if my name gets called, just like last offseason."

    Regarding Monday's sweep, Kipnis said the Astros were just better.

    "We were just outplayed," said. "I wish it weren't that simple. It just seems from top to bottom we were out-scouted, out-pitched, out-coached a little bit. They really did just a fantastic job over there of being ready and prepared before the series.

    "I don't think we were underprepared; they just went out and executed and played the way you need to play to win."

    Brantley, like Kipnis, Tomlin and Chisenhall, has spent his whole big-league career in Cleveland. The Indians acquired him as part of the CC Sabathia deal in 2008. He's spent nine-plus seasons with the Indians.

    "It's been an honor to wear this uniform," said Brantley.

    Should Brantley sign elsewhere, he felt the Indians were well positioned to continue to dominate the rebuilding AL Central.

    "This organization is in great hands," said Brantley. "You look around this room. They've got phenomenal leaders still, great players. They're going to be good for a long time. I hope to be a part of it."

    The Indians' starting rotation of Corey Kluber, Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger should be back next year. So will Shane Bieber, who was scheduled to start Game 4 on Tuesday if the Indians had managed to win Monday's game, and Adam Plutko.

    The Tribe holds club options on Carrasco for 2019 and 2020. They are expected to exercise the 2019 option in November.

    Infielders Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Yonder Alonso, Yandy Diaz and Kipnis are expected to return next year. So, will catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez. The bullpen and outfield will need a lot of help.

    The Indians acquired relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber from San Diego in July. They traded for center fielder Leonys Martin from Detroit, but he was stricken by a bacterial infection that ended his season. Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin will be available, but Bradley Zimmer is not expected to be available as he continues to recover from right shoulder surgery.

    Cody Allen loves the culture the Indians have developed throughout the organization.

    "This organization has done a good job of putting some pretty good teams on the field without making the big free-agent splashes," he said. "I know we went out and got Eddie (Encarnacion) and we've made some very good trades, but guys like Jose Ramirez, Frankie Lindor, Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco -- the backbones and the core and the centerpieces of this club -- either came up in this organization or they got traded for in the minor leagues and were developed. This organization's going to be just fine with or without whoever the guys are that are free agents."

    Allen, who set the franchise record in saves this year, was disappointed with his season, especially in the ALDS.

    "You don't want to take getting into the playoffs for granted," he said. "I was not good. I was not good, and I feel bad for the guys who were extremely good this year and carried us to this point. I did not help in getting past a very, very good team in Houston. We knew we were going to have to play our best baseball and we didn't. . .and I didn't it."

    Allen said he'd love to stay with the Indians, but that was a decision for later. If Monday was his last game in Cleveland, well, he was still processing that.

    "It will take a few days probably," he said. "Right now, I'm just kind of numb to it all. This city. . .means a lot to my family and I. But guys move on. Carlos Santana was here forever and he moved. But, I mean, these places, they become home. My son was born here. So, we'll see."


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    This season, the oddsmakers have the same view of the LeBron-less Cleveland Cavaliers, putting their number at 30.5.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Prior to the 2017-18 season, the Indiana Pacers' over-under win total was set at 31.5. 

    Sound familiar? It should. 

    This season, the oddsmakers have the same view of the LeBron-less Cleveland Cavaliers, putting their number at 30.5.

    Of course, the Pacers -- who handed the Cavaliers their first loss of the preseason on Monday night and taught them plenty of lessons throughout -- went on to eclipse that total, earned a trip to the playoffs and gave Cleveland a hard-fought tussle in the first round. 

    Indiana overachieved with one All-Star (Victor Oladipo), a fast-paced offense that scored nearly 15 fastbreak points per night, a system that demanded a balanced offensive output and a pesky defense.

    In the nicest way possible, the Pacers were a well-coached scrappy group of overachievers that simply played harder than most on a nightly basis -- using the whole-is-better-than-the-sum-of-the-parts identity to overcome some obvious talent deficiencies. 

    That's the team Cleveland should be trying to emulate.

    "They have a pretty good model of how we want to play this year," Kyle Korver said early Monday morning. "Obviously Oladipo had an incredible year for them last year, but they really just played good team basketball, they competed every night and they didn't beat themselves.

    "They all know their job. They execute really well. They get back on defense. They are strong down low, with length, size and strength. Oladipo is a problem. He's someone you have to put a whole gameplan around. They all play off each other well. They get up and down the court. They get the ball and go. Have a couple of guards that are fast. They're a handful."

    The Pacers' makeover came only months after losing their franchise player, a trade that was supposed to cripple the team and rip away any chance of making the postseason.

    Paul George isn't LeBron James. The latter is irreplaceable. But there are some similarities and it's hard not to wonder if the Cavs can follow the blueprint all the way to the playoffs.

    First, Cleveland has its All-Star centerpiece. Kevin Love is different than Oladipo. Love needs his teammates to keep him involved throughout the game. He will do most of his work from the elbow and the post, trying to take advantage of his unique offensive versatility. Oladipo, meanwhile, is a dynamic playmaker that can create offense in a pinch -- the kind of weapon capable of attacking switches relentlessly and shifting a playoff series in this NBA era.

    Still, Love -- the hub of Cleveland's offense -- has pulled a team to the doorstep of the playoffs before and he's better equipped and more seasoned now. 

    Like the Pacers, the Cavs want to run, using their young bodies and rangy athletes to attack in transition. That should help the offense generate easier baskets and maybe wear down the opponent by the end of the game.

    Can the Cavs get six players in double figures like Indiana? Will someone breakout unexpectedly the way Oladipo did? Those are fair questions. 

    The Cavs new-look offense features plenty of movement, trying to have multiple threats and counters per possession. It's designed for that share-the-wealth approach. It can't be about the individual. It has to be about the team. 

    Rodney Hood has averaged double figures in three of the four years since coming into the NBA. Efficiency may still be a problem for him, but Hood has spoken about his increased comfort in this system, getting back to the way he was used with Utah when he was the team's second-leading scorer.

    Jordan Clarkson remains one of the league's most combustable bench players. Korver will have more plays called for him than the past few years, getting looks comparable to the ones he got in Atlanta. If Collin Sexton can continue to polish his jumper then he could get to that double-digit mark.

    What about Larry Nance Jr. with increased minutes? He averaged a shade south of 10 points per game last season in just 20.8 minutes. George Hill hasn't been in single digits for a full season since 2011-12.

    "Once we get in sync, there are going to be more open looks than what everybody thinks," Korver said. "But everyone has to evolve their game from last year and change our approach."

    That goes for the defense as well. 

    Last season, Indiana finished tied for 12th in defensive efficiency, allowing 105.6 points per 100 possessions.

    Can the Cavs, who ranked 29th, match that? Tristan Thompson actually believes Cleveland can finish higher, saying the goal is to rank top 10.

    "Of course, it will be baby steps," he said recently. "You can't just wake up in the morning and be top 10 in the league in defense. It's going to be step by step. We can see how our defense pans out, and see what adjustments we need to make. There's going to be steps. The sooner the better is always what we like to hear and what we want. We've got to trust it, trust our coach and watch a lot of film."

    The Cavs believe there are reasons for optimism. They would be the first to admit playing hard on defense didn't happen during the regular season. Instead, they plodded their way through, just counting down the days until late April.

    Transition defense was comical, developing horrible habits that were extremely hard to break. The communication was hit or miss. Laziness infected the team and with it came a lack of trust and oodles of finger-pointing. But everyone knew their lone focus was the playoffs. That's why they often held back strategies, waiting to uncork their effective blitz until the most important time of year.

    When they did that, Cleveland became, let's say, respectable at that end of the floor.

    This year, the playoffs aren't guaranteed. Playing hard won't be an option. It will be a necessity.

    The Cavs don't have the most talented individual defenders. Hill, who used to have that kind of reputation, has slipped lately. In the playoffs, he had an individual defensive rating of 109.1, which ranked 140th out of the 210 players that logged time. JR Smith, once considered Cleveland's top perimeter defender, is coming off a season where he finished among the league's worst at any position.

    Osman could be important to a potential turnaround, especially after head coach Tyronn Lue said the second-year man will get the toughest assignment.

    "Cedi has been one of our best defenders since he's been here," Lue said.

    He will certainly scrap and give the non-stop effort the Cavs need on a nightly basis, but it's hard to envision him thriving in that role against the game's elite.

    That's why scheme, switchability, trust, communication and toughness will need to step to the forefront. Five traits that help lay the foundation for Indiana's defensive success.

    The Cavs are a week away from the start of the regular season. They are trying to create an identity and get a better understanding of the playbook. It will take time. The rotation won't be written in pen immediately. Players won't have all the answers. Neither will the coaches.

    So who are the Cavs?

    They should try to become the Pacers -- an overlooked squad that exceeded expectations, even after the league left for them dead following their superstar's departure. 


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    Answering your questions about Ohio State football.

    COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State is at the midway point of the regular season at 6-0, but still with some issues to iron out. You have questions about those issues. 

    This is our Ohio State football mailbag, answering your questions about the Buckeyes as we head into the back stretch of the season. 

    Let's get to it.

    There's definitely talent there, so I have some confidence they can get this figured out to have a defense that's good enough. Health is an important factor. Getting Nick Bosa back, giving Dre'Mont Jones and Robert Landers time to heal from their injuries, and allowing other guys to mend general bumps and bruises that every team has at this time of year will help. That last one is a bit compounded by the fact that OSU has played two physical games so far against TCU and Penn State -- not many teams have had two games like that.

    A healthy defensive line changes a lot of things, and you saw the impact of a sub-par pass rush in the first half against Indiana.

    Aside from that some scheme changes can help to mold the defense to the personnel. The back seven is just not as good yet as it's been the last few years. More zone, more depth for the linebackers to allow them time to dissect things. The talent is different, but there's still talent. It just feels like that talent is not being put in the best positions to succeed. But if scheme and personnel can mesh a little better, I think this defense can patch it together and be good enough.

    I don't have any kind of scientific grading system, nor do I have access to the numbers from Pro Football Focus or something like that. All I know is that all five offensive line starters have graded out well in most of OSU's games so far, according to the coaching staff. So I'd give them a B through six games. Munford and Prince have been the two best. The interior has been more inconsistent.

    That there weren't wide-spread communication issues or breakdowns against TCU, and especially at Penn State, was impressive. The pass protection, especially with a drop-back quarterback, has been mostly excellent. That said, there's another level to get to when it comes to blocking in the run game.

    I'm assuming this is the report you're referring to? I wouldn't make anything of it. That's not a report as much as it is a wish list. We've done those too when Ohio State has coaching openings. The point is to look for interesting names that make some sense, though I'd argue that putting Grinch on that list doesn't make much sense.

    Urban does ask for two years, usually. Greg Schiano got a one-year deal. Grinch's deal is two years, and will pay him $800,000 this year. He's eligible for a raise after this season. I still think that Grinch will be elevated to sole coordinator next year and Schiano will get a head coaching job somewhere. Without that, perhaps Grinch could be enticed to go somewhere else and run his own show, but I'm not on the lookout for that.

    Keep in mind that Grinch is from Ohio, so is his wife. They chose to come home. These guys have family considerations to make when jumping from job to job. I just don't see Grinch going after one year.

    So Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin and C.J. Saunders will be gone. K.J. Hill, Ben Victor and Austin Mack are all draft-eligible. Not saying those last three will go, but you can't be sure of that now and what they think the offense might look like next year will matter.

    But Jaylen Harris, Jaelen Gill, a healthy Kamryn Babb, Chris Olave and others are coming up. And Garrett Wilson is coming in. So maybe? It's so hard to say with how well this group is playing now and how little we've seen of the young guys.

    You will lose a lot of leadership, intangible stuff, and this is a really good blocking group. But pure receiving talent? Yes, I think next year's group could be better, especially if a couple from that draft-eligible group stay for one more year.

    It's hard to rely on game participation reports, because those can be inconsistent. But here are the freshmen Ohio State currently has down as having played more than four games: Tyreke Smith, Tommy Togiai, Jeremy Ruckert and Olave.

    I don't think we'll be seeing Branden Bowen this year. He would help for depth at guard, sure. But when he had his surgery, he sure made it seem like he had his sights set on a return for next season. Urban Meyer mentioned him this week as being "close" to doing some things again. But I wouldn't be hopeful about a return for Bowen this year.

    I'd disagree with Sheffield as a slot corner, but I'd be all for working in some other guys there to see what happens. Guys like Shaun Wade or Marcus Williamson. Not sure about the freshmen yet. I do think Arnette is better suited in the slot.

    As for the run game, it's more varied this year. There's plenty of counters and they're running some more outside zone. Don't think we've seen a draw. I agree that they should rely on some of those runs more than they're still relying on inside zone, but they are doing them.

    Variance, play calling, is an issue. But I think it's more execution than anything else. The interior offensive line and tight ends have been very inconsistent with their run blocking, especially on some of these interior runs. Getting that right can fix a lot of what's plaguing OSU right now. And also keep in mind that teams are continuing to play against the run rather than against the pass. Until that changes, it's going to be really difficult to run, especially without the option element in the backfield.

    Depends on when Dwyane Haskins leaves. If he's gone after this year, Martell will be the starter next year. If Haskins sticks around next year, it's impossible to say what happens in 2020. It won't be Chris Chugunov, the West Virginia transfer. He's here for depth purposes only.

    Hard to say until we know where Ohio State is at when Bosa is ready to return. But I know he wants to win a national championship. So if OSU is in that position when he gets healthy, I think he comes back.

    Bosa is set to be reevaluated in November. The Buckeyes have Minnesota, Purdue, a bye and then Nebraska before they get Michigan State in the second week of November. Bosa would be about seven weeks out from surgery heading into that Michigan State game, and the timeline for recovery ranges anywhere from six to eight weeks for the kind of abdominal injury he had.


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    Baker Mayfield and Rashard Higgins had success against Baltimore. Jake Burns breaks down the film on how it happened.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio - The worst-kept secret throughout Browns camp and preseason was the relationship being forged within the second team between two Browns skill position players: Baker Mayfield and Rashard Higgins.

    The duo came into 2018 with hopes for the future and little in terms of expectations.

    Then the future happened quickly.

    The Josh Gordon trade and Tyrod Taylor's early-season struggles thrust Mayfield and Higgins into the spotlight immediately. So far in 2018, the pair have been more dynamic than anyone could have hoped. Mayfield and Higgins have connected 12 times in just seven quarters played together for 159 yards and a touchdown. 

    The duo connected three times for 66 yards and a touchdown on Sunday against the Ravens before Higgins left with an injury early in the fourth quarter.

    Let's take a look at the schemes offensive coordinator Todd Haley used for the duo to find success against Baltimore. 

    - By Jake Burns, Special to cleveland.com


    'Smash Concept'
    The smash concept is a staple of any spread offense, and it is a big part of the passing game the Browns highlighted Sunday. Smash is one of the best passing concepts in football for both its simplicity and effectiveness against multiple types of coverage.

    There are two main components to the smash concept:

    • a corner route from the inside receiver
    • and a quick hitch route (or out) from the outside receiver.

    Against Cover 2 defenses (two deep safeties), this creates a vertical stretch on the cornerback, forcing him to choose between coming up to play the hitch route in front of him or sinking to the corner route behind him.

    Against Cover 4 (two cornerbacks and two safeties splitting deep coverage into fourths) or Cover 1, the quarterback will have early options with the hitch, or out, or he can catch down coverage cheating for a shot at the corner route over the top. 

    The Browns used the concept to exploit man to man coverage (or Cover 1) when they needed to convert long third down situations. 

    On the Browns' second drive of the game, coming off an early interception (where the duo miscommunicated), the Browns faced a third and 16. This is never favorable for an offense, and it is the type of situation on your own end of the field that the Browns have struggled to convert for nearly a decade now. 


     

    In this set you will notice the Browns run a tight 'bunch' alignment meant to give the quarterback clearly defined reads and bigger outward breaking windows.

    You will see the No. 1 receiver (Jarvis Landry - bottom of the screen) run a 10-yard out, and then Higgins will run his corner route. The quarterback must first identify what the defensive cornerback's goal is. If it's man-to-man, he can throw the out route if he's open; or work to the corner route against leverage over top.

    Here, once Mayfield reads the cornerback play Landry's out, he knows the corner route by Higgins will have a nice window. This is easy arm strength from Mayfield and a dart to complete a big third down.

    Early in the second half, the Browns capitalized on a turnover and found themselves driving again in Ravens territory. A key third down arrived again and with 10 yards to get a first down, the Browns went back to the scheme they knew had a high probability to be effective. 


    The Ravens give away man-to-man coverage in the pre-snap alignment against Higgins and Landry.

    Mayfield knows if he can't throw the 10-yard out, he has a tight window throw to Higgins on the corner route just like the first-half throw. Mayfield fits this one in a shoe-box-size hole as Higgins is being covered well by Baltimore's Tavon Young. This is the type of elite throw Browns fans have been craving. 


    'Mills Concept' 
    The Mills concept was made famous by Steve Spurrier in his 1990s coaching days at Florida in the early mainstream editions of the spread offense.

    The scheme combines a post route, usually run by an outside receiver such as X or Z, and pairs it with a Dig route from the inside receiver.

    The goal here is target the play-side safety, putting him in conflict with taking the Dig or the Post, and the route is most effective against Cover 4. If the safety gets caught flat-footed running upfield to play the Dig, the defense becomes vulnerable in the deep quarter the safety vacates. We will see exactly that here:

    What's most impressive about this play is how quickly Mayfield processes Baltimore safety Tony Jefferson biting on the Dig route, and releases the ball on the Post to Higgins with excellent anticipation and accuracy as he is being hit.

    The Browns will have a tough time replacing Higgins over the next few weeks as the young wide receiver recovers from an MCL injury.

    As Mary Kay Cabot reported just last night, the Browns are expected to replace Higgins with in-house answers. It likely means an uptick in snaps from late-game hero Derrick Willies and more passing game usage from Duke Johnson.

    The end goal is for Higgins to return to full health come midseason and this budding quarterback-receiver connection continues to thrive.  

    - Jake Burns played Division III football as a quarterback and also has coached at the high school level. You can read more X&O analysis from Burns at the OBR and VikingUpdate.com.


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    Cleveland native Daniel Bercu is looking for a few hardy souls to join him in completing, over time, his new 'Erie Man" triathlon challenge, a swim-bike-run event that begins in Canada and ends in West Virginia.

    CLEVELAND, Ohio -- I'm a regular guy. If and when I do triathlons, I do normal distances.

    That may be about to change, however. If I relent and accept a challenge from Cleveland native and race organizer Daniel Bercu, I could soon be an "Uber" man.

    I'm not talking someone who uses ride-sharing services. I'm talking someone who's completed the local version of what Bercu claims is the longest triathlon in the world.

    Fortunately, I'm not yet on the hook, or the only one he's invited. Through me, Bercu is extending an offer to all of Northeast Ohio, to anyone who might care to join him on the endurance journey of a lifetime.

    First, a bit of background.

    Bercu, a Pepper Pike native now living in Los Angeles, got into triathlons, and essentially went off the deep end. What began as a passion for the sport developed into a quest to launch and complete a truly epic event, a race for the most gluttonous of gluttons for punishment.

    Zachary Lewis Zachary Lewis

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    The result? Uberman (uberman1.com), a now three-year-old California triathlon consisting of a 22-mile ocean swim, 400-mile bike ride, and 135-mile run on the course of the Badwater Ultramarathon, an event known as "the world's toughest foot race."

    One other thing: It's entirely self-supported. Bercu provides no food, drink, or other services. Participants are expected to make their own accommodations, stash or carry their own supplies, and arrange their own rescue boat and kayak crew.

    On the flip side, it's free. No entrance fees or lotteries. Bercu's aim isn't just to test himself and others. It's also to level the playing field, to welcome anyone "dumb enough" (his words) to do it.

    Since the event's launch in 2016, only two people have gone the "Uber" distance. A few others have finished one leg, stopped short, or completed the race in relay fashion. The course record is 190 hours, or nearly 8 days. Bercu himself broke the race into stages, swimming, biking, and running a few miles at a time over several months.

    It's a version of that Bercu is asking me and others to join him in completing, in this region. He's calling it the "Erie Man" (no offense to any interested women).

    Bercu's vision is to swim from Point Pelee National Park in Canada to Pelee Island (also in Canada), run across that island, swim to and then run across Kelley's Island (after crossing the border), swim to Marblehead, Ohio, bike to the start of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath, run the trail to its end, and finally pedal to West Virginia.

    All told, it's 22 miles of swimming, 200 miles of biking, and 100 miles of running. A few miles short of the Uberman, yes, but still a daunting challenge to say the least. "Erie Man" also has the distinct advantages of taking place in fresh water without sharks or jellyfish and on mostly flat ground.

    Not that I'm rationalizing this, mind you, or anywhere near ready to enlist. At this point, label me merely intrigued. If "Erie Man" were just a long run or bike ride, or even both, I'd commit right now, but between my weak swimming and intimate knowledge of Lake Erie's volatility, I'm more than a bit wary of the water leg.

    In the meantime, while I think it over, I'm happy to serve as Bercu's middle man, to help him recruit hardy souls. If you'd like to be the first "Erie Man" or woman, let me know and I'll connect you.


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