If You Don’t Help Me Now Jobu…
A quick glance at the American League standings following this weekend’s games would cause one to think they had woken up in Bazarro World. The Red Sox are in the cellar in the East? Wait! What?
The Indians are leading the Central? Granted, with a record of 18-16 heading into the Twins series, the Indians are leading the division more as a result of the powerhouse teams (Tigers and White Sox) getting off to a rough start rather than their own stellar brand of baseball.
Last weekend’s series against the BoSox was a good measuring stick for the Tribe. The Indians started off a homestand against the Texas Rangers where they garnered a 2-1 series win. This was a big boost for the Indians based on the firepower of the Rangers both on the mound and at the plate. The hope was that series victory would translate into momentum against the White Sox and Red Sox. Unfortunately, the air of confidence was quickly washed away with a 2-1 series loss to the White Sox. Any momentum gained was put into neutral.
Then came the series against the Red Sox. Although the Beantown Crew is not packed with names we are used to seeing in their lineup (Youkilis, Ellsbury, Crawford) due to injury, there is something about facing the Red Sox that conjures up the feeling of a rivalry. The series started out well for the Tribe, knocking embattled pitcher Josh Beckett out of the game after 2 1/3 innings en route to an 8-3 victory. I wish there were additional pleasantries to report from the trip to Boston, but since Beckett pitches only once every 5th day… there were no more victories to be had at Fenway over the weekend.
I believe the Tribe is playing solid, competitive baseball to start off the season. They are not winning fluky games or getting multi-home run outings from players that have no business performing at those levels (Yesterday’s three home run game against the Twins excluded).
I questioned the hiring of Manny Acta as manager before last year. I wanted a more established manager or a “Name” manager to bring some buzz to the Jake. Until the Indians are able to bring a championship to the shores of Lake Erie, many will continue to question the manager, players and the organization as a whole, but for now, I am giving Acta a nod of approval. He is a steady voice on a team that is not predicted to do much more than exist in a strong AL Central.
Now the weather is turning warmer and the heart of the baseball season is upon us. I look forward to seeing this team continue to grow and mature. If that doesn’t work, we can always look to the idol in Cerrano’s locker for strength and guidance.
New Sheriff in Town
The Columbus Blue Jackets made the first of what should amount to a laundry list of changes this off-season. Todd Richards, the assistant turned interim head coach after the mid-season firing of Scott Arneil, had the “interim” label removed from his coach’s office door earlier this week. Richards is technically the sixth head coach for the CBJ, but there have been a litany of other interim coaches in the team’s eleven year history.
The Blue Jackets were a respectable 18-21-2 after Richards assumed control of the team in early January. By that time, many will argue and rightly so, the Blue Jackets had nothing to play for, thus there was no pressure on them to perform. I have written previously about the lack of player accountability that exists in the CBJ organization, but I hold GM Scott Howson and owner John P. McConnell responsible for fostering that environment.
The first question that came to mind when I head of Richards’ signing was: Was he signed because he was the right man for the job or was he the only man that would take the job? There are plenty of qualified candidates looking for work behind NHL benches, and with the Stanley Cup playoffs still in progress, coaches for competing teams are not available to be interviewed. I like the idea of a familiar face to welcome back the returning players. With all the projected turnover in the roster, some sense of stability amongst the coaching staff could be a good thing. I am a firm believer in limiting the changes in an attempt to determine where the problem lies.
Many fans have been vocal in their desire to see Howson removed from his position as GM. Last season, some stability was brought to that position as well in the form of Special Advisor Craig Patrick. Patrick’s role in the organization was to oversee the development of players and advise Howson on player trades and contracts. Some have wondered if Patrick’s role as former GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins had something to do with Rick Nash not being traded at the deadline this year. Patrick orchestrated what hockey insiders have called the blockbuster trade deadline deal of the century in favor of the Penguins, bringing defenseman Ulf Samuelsson and Hall of Fame center Ron Francis to the Penguins in exchange for Zarley Zalapski and John Cullen going to the Hartford Whalers. The trade was a springboard for the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 1991 and ’92. As for the Whalers, the trade was the beginning of the end of their days in Hartford. The franchise relocated in 1997 to become the Carolina Hurricanes. Did Patrick see the Blue Jackets on the Hartford Whalers side of a possible Rick Nash trade?
With relative stability in the front office and behind the bench, the focus now will turn to the players on the ice. It is still possible that Nash will be dealt prior to the NHL Draft in June, and the Blue Jackets must address the glaring need for a legitimate #1 goaltender. The defense core of the CBJ is solid with the addition of Jack Johnson from Los Angeles. Johnson is currently the captain of Team USA at the World Ice Hockey Championships. It seems likely that if Nash is moved this summer, Johnson would assume the captaincy of the Blue Jackets. A move that would bring youth and energy to a position of leadership that is desperately needed for the franchise.