Cleveland Sports Weekly: Don’t forget about baseball

Jim Piascik

School is back in session, fall is in the air and football season is underway. Fans all over Northeast Ohio celebrated wins for the Kent State Golden Flashes and Ohio State Buckeyes while anxiously awaiting the Cleveland Browns’ opener this Sunday.

But what about what’s going on at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario?

Sure, Cleveland is a football town that routinely fills Cleveland Browns (now FirstEnergy) Stadium while Progressive Field is often half-empty. Fans feel burned from Larry Dolan not spending much money on payroll since becoming the team’s owner, the historic collapse last August and the lack of winning baseball in Cleveland since 2007.

But it is not like the Browns have played any better. During that same timeframe the Browns have not won more than five games in a single season. The common line of thinking is that the baseball team will always let you down, but if that is the case, why keep going back to the Browns?

There is promise with this year’s Browns, but why invest in promise when you already have a team in contention?

It is Sept. 3, and Terry Francona and company has brought Cleveland a playoff race. With the Tribe well-above .500 and only a few games out of the wild card, the addition of Francona and a spending spree in the offseason is threatening to bring the playoffs back to Cleveland.

While Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are not having their greatest seasons, they are better than the players that made up 2012’s team. Swisher and Bourn replaced Casey Kotchman and Shelley Duncan; Cleveland does not need them to be stars to make the team better.

The addition of those two has been big, but the emergence of players like Scott Kazmir, Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn has also been huge. These are not major names, but their success in 2013 is taking the team from mediocre to playoff contention.

Every thriving team needs unexpected contributions, and watching players like Kazmir, Gomes and Raburn take this team to bigger things is the beauty of following a long baseball season.

All this, plus the development of Jason Kipnis and Justin Masterson into All-Stars has turned this team from a joke in 2012 into a contender this year. Despite being behind in the standings, the people who made the schedule gave Cleveland an advantage in September.

The Indians play 15 of their final 26 games at home and have one of the easiest schedules ahead of them. Their final 10 games come against the lowly Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins, priming the team for a late-season push into the playoffs.

Yes, the baseball season is long, but why get out now? This is when things are getting good.

There is no denying that the team has holes — the offense since the All-Star break has been one of the worst in baseball — but how often are Cleveland teams in contention? The Cavaliers are 64-166 since LeBron James left, and the Browns are the third-worst team in all of football over the last five years.

The race for the playoffs has arrived in Cleveland, but everyone is much more obsessed with the Miami Dolphins coming to town this Sunday.

Which is fine, really. It has been over eight months since the Browns took the field, and optimism is rampant. Maybe this will finally be the year that the Browns make it back to winning. People like different sports, and maybe baseball is not your thing.

Far be it from me to tell you what to do, but it cannot hurt to at least pay attention to the amazing baseball going on right now. Don’t ignore football. Just make a little time for baseball as well.

Ohio State is contending for national title, Kent State has the exciting Dri Archer back in the fold and the Browns are a trendy sleeper pick that some believe can make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

But come October, Progressive Field has the chance to be hosting playoff action. Why jump on the bandwagon then when you have the chance to follow the journey now?

Contact Jim Piascik at [email protected].