“The North Ends In Cleveland.” That’s the new catchphrase I’ve been promoting since we learned that the city of Toronto—for the second time this year—would be standing between a Cleveland team and a trip to a world championship series. The match-up, to some fans, feels like another eerie (or Erie) parallel, cosmically linking the destinies of the Cavaliers and the Indians across this crazy 2016 campaign. More than ever before in the franchises’ 45 years as co-existing local institutions, the lines separating the teams and their respective buildings have blurred. The Cavs’ title run coincided with a historic Indians win streak in June; Indians players sat first row at Cavs playoff games; and LeBron & Co. have turned out in force at Progressive Field (Yankees hats left at home) this postseason.
All this cross-sports camaraderie can fill one’s heart and spur dreams of an unthinkable second championship parade. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves (I know, too late). While the Cavaliers and Indians might share a certain appealing tenacity and “Us Against the World” mentality, the construction of the teams is very different (one massive payroll vs. one low-end payroll), the public expectations have been worlds apart (Cavs were expected to roll into conference finals, Indians were left for dead), and the personalities in each locker room are thoroughly unique.
Or are they?
For no good reason whatsoever, I have decided to tackle the absurd task of pairing each member of the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Championship roster with a current member of the Cleveland Indians lineup. Bear in mind, baseball and basketball are entirely different sports, and direct comparisons of the two are inherently misguided. And yet, here I am, finding more inarguable parallels that PROVE the fates have aligned in Cleveland sports in 2016. The Indians aren’t just a positive reflection of the Cavs. The Indians ARE the Cavs!
Rajai Davis is Richard Jefferson
I actually wrote a whole piece about the similar roles these two were playing on their teams back in the early summer. Jefferson and Davis (whose names also combine, unfortunately, to become the president of the Confederacy) were each 35 year-old journeymen when they signed with Cleveland before this season, and both showed a level of skill and athleticism far beyond what their age and part-time roles would have suggested. RJ came up huge for the Cavs in the playoffs. Rajai has looked comparatively overmatched of late for the Indians, but his wheels may yet prove a big factor in the days ahead.
Brandon Guyer is Channing Frye
Guyer notching three hits in Game 2 of the ALDS was like Frye stepping out at the arc, effortlessly burying threes. Both guys were mid-season acquisitions, both are specialists, and both arrived in bittersweet fashion, as Frye forced the departure of former fan favorite Anderson Varejao, while Guyer’s signing led to the DFA of clubhouse icon Juan Uribe.
Coco Crisp is Mo Williams
How obvious is this one? Former popular Cleveland standout returns years later to chase a ring while serving a considerably diminished but warm-and-fuzzy role. Both also look like middle-aged babies. The Coco-Mo parallel is rock solid.
Chris Gimenez is Sasha Kaun
Sometimes you need three catchers on a postseason roster like you need three 7-footers on a playoff roster.
Jose Ramirez is Iman Shumpert
Yan Gomes is Timofey Mozgov
Once a big part of the equation, Yan/Timo are relegated to junk time status, but keeping a real good attitude about it.
Mike Napoli is James Jones
Nap is certainly expected to carry a much bigger load than “Champ” does these days, but they serve the same role as experienced clubhouse leaders with hardware in their possession. Players nestle under the wings of the prototypical grizzled vet.
Tyler Naquin is Jordan McRae
They’re both 25, bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Maybe in over their head at times, but not lacking in confidence. Jordan wasn’t ever exactly in the RoY conversation like Tyler, nor contributing in the playoffs, but hey, somebody had to be Jordan McRae in this silly experiment.
Carlos Santana is Tristan Thompson
They were already favorites of the diehard fans during the lean years, but some observers were slow to come around. Carlos and Tristan’s offensive limitations in traditional categories (batting average and PPG) were used against them, while their actual concrete values to their teams were overlooked. Both guys are iron men, in the line-up every day, getting the job done while others get more of the credit. I don’t think Carlos has collected a Kardashian yet, but maybe if the Tribe gets to the World Series?
Lonnie Chisenhall is. . . J.R. Swish
Hey remember that time Lonnie got a walkoff hit last month and his teammates tore most of his jersey off him during the celebration? That made him very nearly shirtless in front of thousands of people. Lonnie, like J.R., has also been written off more than once, only to bounce back. I suppose you could also say that Chiz’s sweet swing may be the most aesthetically sound on the club, much like Swish’s catch-and-release jumper. Will Lonnie Baseball offer a tearful press conference in the event of a Cleveland title? Less likely, but he does have a certain perpetual melancholy expression to start from.
Roberto Perez is Matthew Dellavedova
I have always been more partial to comparing Delly to the similarly feisty Josh Tomlin. But sticking with the position players, Roberto Perez certainly emerged as the Delly of the Division Series, coming out of nowhere to outplay the much bigger names around him—including that guy Lucroy playing in the other AL series. Bob was the point guard behind the plate, played aggressively on both sides of the ball, and even muscled up from long range when the opponent dared to challenge him.
Michael Martinez is Dahntay Jones
Pretty much. Right?
Jason Kipnis is Kevin Love
Sometimes taken for granted next to the other big performers in the line-up, Kip and Love are laid-back Pac 12 frat boys, but they’re also also among the best in the league at their positions. You might criticize the JK-Kid on his conditioning or K-Love on his toughness, but when good things are happening, they’re always involved. . . and bearded.
Francisco Lindor is Kyrie Irving
Ah, you thought from the article’s title image that I was going to match Lindor up with LeBron, eh? Nope, this one makes far more sense. Kyrie and Frankie are the ballet dancers of their respective teams—unlimited natural gifts, grace under pressure, joy for the game, make the exceedingly difficult plays look strangely easy. Kyrie (24) may be a little further along in his maturation than Lindor (22), but both are also a long way from reaching their scary potential. They’re the smiling faces of Cleveland’s present and future.
The Entire Indians Pitching Staff is LeBron James
No one man on the Tribe could ever be LeBron, and that’s no insult to the Indians. This is simply where basketball and baseball deviate. No one position player can completely control the outcome of a game the way LeBron can. A pitcher, however, can at least be LeBron-like for one night. So rather than assigning the King’s role to just Corey Kluber or Andrew Miller, we’ll take a group photo. Collectively, Cleveland’s pitching does borrow various facets of LeBroniness to get the job done. There’s the brashness and competitive spirit of Trevor Bauer, the heart of Josh Tomlin, the power and velocity of Cody Allen. LeBron might not have Kluber’s game face, but he certainly has similar ice in the veins. And Miller, along with striking fear into opponents when he leaps in their direction, is also about the same height as LeBron.
Does this mean Jeff Manship is also LeBron? . . . Sure, yeah. Whatever.
So there you have it. The Indians are the Cavs. The Cavs are the Indians. There is balance in the universe, and the Blue Jays—which happen to be song birds, not raptors—may be in serious trouble.