Posted on: February 4, 2009 12:58 pm

2008: Year of Greatly Failed Expectations (Pt.II)

Trying something different.  I'm going to post a link to my own blog, where it's already formatted correctly.

HERE is the link.  Enjoy.

Posted on: February 4, 2009 12:51 pm

King of Arguments Looks Back At 2008 (Part One)

By: Luke Florence

Charles Dickens
wrote, "Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before - more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle."

Dickens wrote that in the classic book, "The Great Expectations." A book about the life of Pip, an orphan boy who finds his life going in all sorts of different directions, and meeting a wide arrange of people. You may have watched the 1998 movie starring Ethan Hawke , but, as usually the case, the book is much better.

This was the first thing that came across my mind when re-hashing the past year.

I entered 2008 with a sense of excitement typically reserved for a young child trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. You want to get to sleep as fast as you can, so you can wake up first thing Christmas Day and see what Santa had brought. That was me in January of '08. I wanted so badly for the Browns season to start. For the Indians to begin spring training. For the Irish to begin their 4th season with Charlie Weis . For Luke Harangody and company to start March Madness . I was ready for it all.

Instead of a shiny new ten-speed bike or Madden '09 video game, Santa gave me an old rusty shovel and directed me outside to get to work getting rid of all the snow I hadn't seen accumulate while I was sleeping.

I hate Santa.

Expectations are a dangerous thing to have. Meet low expectations, and you wonder what could have been. Fail to reach high expectations, and even generous results will be treated as a major disappointment. And sometimes, the excitement that produces high expectations can blind you, causing you to miss that proverbial snow fall, when weather reports were actually calling for it for weeks.

All of my sporting teams (Bulls, Indians, Browns, Irish, Penguins ) exhibited one of those two traits. High expectations were not matched - in some cases, not even close - or they entered the season with low expectations, matched them, but left us wondering what really could have been.

Just like last year, we will start with the worst team of the bunch.

Unfortunately for me, it was a tight race for the first spot. And, unfortunately for me, my favorite team ended up with it.

#6 CLEVELAND BROWNS (2007 Rank: 2/6)

Where did it all go wrong with this team? One clip from Seinfeld sums it up better than I could ever imagine.
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There were huge expectations - albeit unrealistic - for a team one year removed from ten wins.

There was the unjust contract extensions given to Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel even though they had NEVER beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers and NEVER reached the playoffs. There was the TERRIBLE decision to sign Derek Anderson to a huge contract, which set this team up for un-needed drama and a year long quarterback struggle. There were players - Braylon Edwards , Kellen Winslow and Joshua Cribbs - calling for more money even though ... well just read the Savage/Crennel sentence, it finishes the same.

And all that took place before the season started. Once actual games were being played it got even worse (remove all sharp objects from your vicinity before reading the following).

- The Browns were destroyed by the Giants on a Monday Night preseason game. Just slaughtered. Anderson received a concussion and doubt began to surround the entire organization.
- Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. Anderson (concussion), Edwards (foot gets stepped on by Donte' Stallworth , which just so happened to be the most damage Stallworth produced the entire season), Antwan Peek (knee), Beau Bell (knee), and Kellen Winslow (doesn't he always seemed to be hurt) all were either done before a game were played, or missed serious time before the season even began.

- Stallworth strained his calf during pre-game workouts of the season-opener against Dallas. Maybe he knew before all of us what was about to happen.

- The Browns lost their first three games by a combined score of 66-26. In all honesty, they weren't even that close.

- Romeo was making awful on-field decisions in regards to clock management. He seemed lost out there. Almost as if the game was moving too fast for him.
- The QB drama began almost immediately, and would last the entire season. Anderson struggled and Romeo kept him in. Anderson appeared to be getting a little bit better and Romeo pulls him. Brady Quinn showed potential, but got hurt then surprisingly got pulled during the Houston game. Anderson came back, looked below-average, and then was injured. Insert Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski . Needless to say, the Browns went the last six weeks of the season without scoring an offensive touchdown. A new NFL record.

- Savage was not making life easy on himself. He seemed distant, removed from it all, and not willing to accept any blame for the state of the football team. He even dared to call this season - and NOT last years - an aberration. Does he even know what that word means? Savage also withheld information during the entire Winslow-staph infection debacle. Then, he sent an e-mail to an angry Browns fan, telling the fan to "F--- off and go root for Buffalo." You stay classy Phil Savage .
- Braylon Edwards was a train-wreck. Led the league in drops ... again. This season it was in a run-a-way fashion. Said that the fans will never accept him because he went to Michigan. Pulled all his charity work from Cleveland. Stay tuned on this developing situation, Edwards will be a topic of interest during my look at the 2009 NFL Draft.
- Did I forget to mention the whole Shaun Smith punching Brady Quinn scene? Forgive me, but it almost gets lost in this sorry excuse for a professional organization.

I'm sure there was more, but just like a kid who unexpectedly walks in on their parents having sex, I'm trying to block it out from my memory. Almost like it never happened.

But this season did happen. And, as my friend John Locke would say, "what if everything that happened here, happened for a reason."

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Now we have a new coach, a new GM and hopefully a new attitude. Maybe 2008 was a blessing in disguise for the Browns? As Quinn put it, "Every time that I have encountered change in my life, it has always been positive." Let's hope that this time is not an exception.

Okay, time to take a look back at my prediction for the Browns last year, see how far I was off, and then make one for the 2009 season.

My Past Prediction for ‘08 - I would like to see Cleveland in some prime-time games this upcoming season. They deserve that. It’s very difficult to predict wins and losses in the NFL, but, if everyone stays healthy, this team should win 10+ games. Their offense is one of the league’s best. They have over $30 million to spend on free agency, which I would expect to be used on the defensive side of the ball (d-lineman and middle linebackers). It will be very interesting to find out if the Browns are able to handle the pressure and responsibilities of high expectations. They won’t be sneaking up on anyone in ‘08.

Review of '08 Prediction - If you read between the lines, you get a sense of skepticism entering the 2008 season. No way could I have predicted 4-12, but I did premise the 10+ wins by saying if everyone stays healthy, which obviously did not happen. The Browns did play in five prime-time games, a record for this club. They also spent some money obtaining defensive line-men Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams . The latter being a bust, but the former was a terrific get. Unfortunately, no middle linebackers, which hurt tremendously.

Prediction Grade - 6/10

2009 Prediction - Browns, now led by Eric Mangini and George Kokinis , clean house. They trade Derek Anderson for some draft picks. They decide to keep Winslow but trade Edwards. They go with Brady Quinn as their guy. They try and establish an identity. Will it work? Well, it's safe to say the Browns will have lowered expectations, and if they go say, 7-9, they very well could get a big round of applause. Which is exactly the record I'm going to give the '09 Browns. 7-9, with one of those seven wins being against the all-mighty Steelers. Lord help me.
#5 CHICAGO BULLS ('07 Rank #4)

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. That's a good thing, because there was nothing "good" about the Chicago Bulls last year. After winning 49 games in 2007, the Bulls did a complete 360, going 33-49 in 2008. Just as the Browns dumped Romeo Crennel , the Bulls also got rid of their head coach, as they let Scott Skiles go.

After failing to get Mike D'Antoni , Chicago was forced to go with Plan B, which involved the hiring of Vinny Del Negro to replace Skiles.
There really isn't much to say about these Bulls. I had been saying for quite some time that they had maxed out talent wise in 2007. They could not stay put with the likes of Luol Deng , Kirk Hinrich , Ben Gordon , Tyrus Thomas and Andres Nocioni . A trade needed to happen.

Be careful what you wish for.

A trade did go down in 2008, but not the one I was prepared for. Chicago traded away Ben Wallace and Joe Smith to division rival Cleveland for Larry Hughes , Drew Gooden and Cedric Simmons . So let me get this straight. After rumors of a possible Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant trade dissipated, Bulls GM John Paxson decided to trade away two pieces of marginal talent for three pieces of marginal talent? Usually when a trade of this nature takes place it is for salary cap reasons. However, the Bulls got rid of one big contract (Wallace) in exchange for another (Hughes). So, in other words, this was a worthless trade. As we speak, the Bulls are trying to unload Hughes. As my father told me upon hearing that my mom was coming down to OU to surprise me, "have fun with that."

Back to the "better to be lucky than good" comment. The Bulls were slated to draft in the #9 position and had a 1.7% chance of gaining the top spot ... which is exactly what happened. In one of the most unexpected moments in recent history, Chicago lucked out and won the draft lottery. This was also the moment that saved GM John Paxson . It was almost as if the NBA commissioner David Stern hit the reset button for Paxson. A chance to start anew.

The top two choices were Memphis PG Derrick Rose and Kansas State PF Michael Beasley . I was 60/40 in favor of taking Beasley, but Paxson went the other way, drafting Rose instead. After watching Rose play 40+ games, it is safe to say Paxson finally made the correct choice. Rose is going to be a superstar, no question.
My Past Prediction for ‘08 - Well the Bulls fired their head coach, Scott Skiles already, and their GM, John Paxson , is more than likely up next. It doesn’t look like it is going to get any better soon. I can’t believe I’m going to write this next sentence, but here goes. The Chicago Bulls will NOT make the playoffs this year. This was more like a 10 turning into a 2. It hurts. These Bulls will get worse before they get better and any true Bulls fan will agree with me.

Review - Paxson would have been gone had it not been for lucking into the #1 spot. Chicago obviously missed the playoffs, which makes my '08 prediction scary good.

Grade - 9/10

2009 Prediction - Derrick Rose is the new beginning for this team. He will be the focal point for the Bulls for at least the next six years. He is simply that good. The key to success will be finding another superstar to play alongside him. They don't have one yet, but they need to be searching for one. If they can find another All-Star and a low post scoring presence, they will be ready to go. As far as this season is concerned, I don't see the Bulls making the playoffs. They are just not consistent enough to grab a top eight spot in the Eastern Conference, even though it would probably only take 38-40 wins to get in.

#4 CLEVELAND INDIANS (2007 Rank: #1)

It all happened too quickly. Somewhere along the lines last season, the Tribe stopped playing for 2008, and started towards 2009. It was not supposed to happen like this. Not for a team that was bringing back everyone from a 2007 squad who was just one win away from the World Series. Not for a team who had the reigning American League Cy Young. But it did.

Gone is C.C. Sabathia . Traded away to Milwaukee for a hot young prospect.

Gone is Casey Blake . Traded away to Los Angeles for a young prospect.

Gone is Paul Byrd . Traded away to Boston for cash.

Gone is Travis Hafner . Traded away to ... oh really? I almost forgot he still plays for the Indians. I just don't remember him doing anything since 2005. My bad.
As far as expectations go, obviously the Tribe was supposed to contend for a World Series. The AL Central was the least of their worries. Never happened. Victor Martinez got hurt. C.C. got off to a slow start. Opposing hitters were no longer fooled by the dominant 85 MPH fastball of Joe Borowski . Asdrubal Cabrera came back down to Earth. David Dellucci was well ... David Dellucci .

Three great things did happen for the Indians in 2008.

One, Grady Sizemore cemented himself as the team's leader, statistically and otherwise. He batted .268, hammered 33 homeruns, drove in 90 RBI's, and stole 38 bases. Ladies and gentlemen, a five-tool athlete. He won his second straight Gold Glove , and his first Silver Slugger . This man is a legitmate super hero.
Two, Cliff Lee returned to form. Yes, I was calling for him to be traded during the off-season for Jason Bay , and I am proud to say I was wrong. Kudos to GM Mark Shapiro for staying with Lee. Although even Shapiro did not see a performance like this coming. Lee won the AL Cy Young Award , giving the Tribe their second consecutive Cy Young (the first since the Blue Jays won back-to-back in '96 and '97 with two different pitchers, Roger Clemens and *cough* Pat Hentgen ).

All Lee did was go 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, both tops in the league. He finished second in complete games (four), ninth in strikeouts (170), second in innings pitched (223 1/3), 13th in opponents' batting average (.253), first in homers allowed per nine innings (0.48), second in base-runners per nine innings (10.2) and third in strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.38). Take a deep breath, that's a lot to digest. Needless to say, Lee went from earning the fifth spot in the rotation to being the Tribe's bonefide ace.
Lastly, they got rid of the guys they weren't going to sign, and at the very least got something back for them. Sabathia, Blake and Byrd were not coming back and Shapiro recognized this. He traded them all away, instead of keeping them on the 2008 sinking ship.

My Past Prediction for '08 - I would have liked to see the Indians make a couple moves in the off-season, which they still have time to do. The Tigers and the White Sox both got better, and the Twins are getting healthier. It’s hard to stand still in this sport and still be competitive. If Sabathia and Carmona can continue like they did last year, then the Tribe will be in it to the end. The big question mark will be whether or not Hafner can rebound from his disappointing season. If my dad had any say then Casey Blake would pitch every day and bat for everyone (using ghost Casey Blakes for runners on base). In the end, I think this Indians team will make the playoffs in some way, shape, or form. From that point, it’s pretty much a crap-shoot. It will all depend on our pitching, as it always does in baseball and always will.

Review - The Indians did stand still for the large part in the off-season, but that isn't what hurt this team. Injuries hurt. High expectations hurt. Players under-performing hurt. But it wasn't because Shapiro didn't make any moves. Looking back, there weren't a lot of moves to be made. Hafner did not rebound, Carmona did not continue to improve, and Martinez didn't hit his first homerun until SEPTEMBER 2ND! Add those three up, and you will have an unsuccessful season.

Grade - 3/10

Prediction for '09 - The additions of Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa will help right away. Wood will look to be dominant in the closer's role, and DeRosa will fill Blake's spot at third base. This season will hinge on several things (starting pitching, bullpen, etc), but the most important is the middle of the lineup. If Martinez and Hafner produce like we know they are capable of, this team will flourish. Do I see the Indians making the playoffs? For the second straight year, yes I do. One of the most overlooked moves Shapiro made was getting reliever Joe Smith from the Mets. This gives the Indians, at least on paper, the best bullpen in the division, hands down. Throw in the gold-gloving and silver-slugging Sizemore, and this Tribe team, if healthy, will win the AL Central. After that, well ... a wise man once said, the playoffs are all a crap-shoot. It's about getting hot at the right time.
Okay, this post is getting much longer than I had anticipated (that's what she said), so it will be broken up into three parts. Part two will be out tomorrow as we take a look back at my top three teams of 2008. Part three will be out the day after, as awards are handed out for several categories, including MOMENT OF THE YEAR .

Until tomorrow, "read it, roll it, hole it."

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or