Archive for the ‘Focal’ Category

Postseason ball’s back in ATL, with different feel

This is what it’s supposed to look like in Atlanta in October, with red, white and blue bunting hanging from the façade, folks tailgating five hours before the game, multiple TV crews filming batting practice, and Chipper Jones sitting at a podium talking about what makes his team’s starting pitcher tough and what it’ll be like facing the other team’s veteran pitcher.

Playoff baseball is back, and this time the Braves aren’t limping into it with an injury-riddled team and crossing their fingers while hoping their starting pitcher has one of his best games and their bullpen isn’t entirely out of gas.

Chipper said unlike in past postseasons, he wasn't the least bit nervous before this Wild Card game vs. St. Louis.

Chipper said unlike in past postseasons, he wasn't the least bit nervous before this Wild Card game vs. St. Louis.

This time, the Braves lineup is almost entirely healthy, their key relievers, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel, have been at their best for the past month or more, and their starting pitcher, Kris Medlen, has been the best in baseball since moving into …

Continue reading Postseason ball’s back in ATL, with different feel »

Braves shift focus to Friday’s Wild Card game

The Braves’ chances of reeling in the Nationals and winning an NL East title were reduced after they lost three in a row to the Padres and Phillies back on Aug. 29-Sept. 1 and again after they got swept in three at Milwaukee Sept. 10-12. But the hopes didn’t end until Monday night’s 2-1 loss to the skidding Pirates at mostly empty PNC Park.

Jeff Locke, a former second-round draft pick by the Braves, had the best game of his young career and picked up his first win while eliminating the Braves from NL East title contention Monday. (AP Photo)

Jeff Locke, a former second-round draft pick by the Braves, had the best game of his young career and picked up his first win while eliminating the Braves from NL East title contention Monday. (AP Photo)

The Pirates, who only a day before had lost for the 22nd time in 29 games to secure their 20th consecutive losing season, didn’t figure to be the team to drive the proverbial final nail in the Braves’ division-title hopes, especially with ex-Braves prospect Jeff Locke pitching for the Bucs. He of the 0-6 record and 7.08 ERA in nine previous career starts.

But in this often unusual and inconsistent Braves season, the unexpected …

Continue reading Braves shift focus to Friday’s Wild Card game »

Since Sid slid, it’s been 2 decades of losing for Pirates

PITTSBURGH – If you’re a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, can you imagine what it must be like to hear folks complain about the Braves going back to the postseason for “only” the second time since 2005? Or better yet, to hear complaints about the Braves winning 14 consecutive division titles but only one World Series in that stretch?

Not much good has happened to the Pirates since Sid slid in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.

Not much good has happened to the Pirates since Sid slid in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.

We say this only because the Braves arrived in Pittsburgh last night only hours after Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Reds that assured the Pirates of their 20th consecutive losing season. Think about that a moment. Twenty consecutive losing seasons. In a town with deep baseball roots and tradition, not to mention one of the two or three nicest ballparks in the majors.

Twenty consecutive losing seasons. It’s difficult to even comprehend.

And to make matters worse, each of the past two years under manager Clint …

Continue reading Since Sid slid, it’s been 2 decades of losing for Pirates »

Auto-pilot to the postseason is not the way to go

Whether it’s the winner of next week’s Wild Card game or one of the other division champions, whatever team faces Washington in the division series should be feeling better about their chances of knocking off the Nats, who appear to be on auto pilot lately, playing lackluster “let’s rest the lineup” baseball for the past 2-1/2 weeks after playing like the league’s best team for most of the season.

092912 braves CC13

Chipper and the great Hank Aaron during Friday's pregame ceremony on Chipper Jones night. The Braves lost 3-1 to snap a five-game winning streak (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

While the other four projected NL postseason teams – the Braves, Cardinals, Reds and Giants – are all finishing strong, the Nats are 6-8 with a 3.93 ERA and 65 runs scored in their past 14 games, and have allowed five or more six times in that span including six or more runs three times in their past six games.

St. Louis is almost certainly going to face the Braves in Friday’s Wild Card game in …

Continue reading Auto-pilot to the postseason is not the way to go »

Chipper’s best player I ever covered, best I dealt with

Chipper Jones’ first full season in the majors was 1995, which was also my first as a major league beat writer. I covered the Marlins for The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel back then. So I saw plenty of the Braves’ Golden Boy, who made girls swoon and boys want to be him in every city in the National League. Damn kid had it all.

slideshow_579032_Chipper+1_15024He was young, a switch-hitter with power and a sweet swing from both sides. Able to run fast, despite the major knee surgery that sidelined him the entire previous season.

I was young and able to run all night too, closing down bars in every city, staggering home or back to my hotel, waking the next day to crank out stories and do it again. That had at least as much to do with the fact that this was the pre-blog, pre-Twitter era for newspapers and still a few years before we started posting stories on our papers’ websites during daylight. A beat writer could sleep it off till 10-11 a.m. with impunity.

Chipper’s Braves won 90 games in that …

Continue reading Chipper’s best player I ever covered, best I dealt with »

After shedding Sept. 2011 albatross, Braves celebration fitting

Glad I didn’t write anything about it beforehand, because I’ll admit I was like the afternoon radio hosts who drew the ire of Chipper Jones, after he heard them criticize the Braves for their celebration after clinching a spot in the wild-card game.

When we were in Philly last weekend I mentioned to Mark Bowman that didn’t know if the Braves should or would celebrate clinching a spot in the wild-card game, as opposed to clinching a spot in an actual postseason series. Then when I asked the Braves PR man, he told me he was pretty sure they would celebrate if they clinched a wild-card berth.

And so they did. They drenched each other – and later a lot of fans who stuck around till the Braves came back on the field – with dozens of bottles of champagne and cases of beer after Freddie Freeman’s dramatic two-run walk-off homer gave them a 4-3 win Tuesday that clinched a wild-card berth, even though the Braves said they were still aiming for a division title.

Braves young (Heyward) and old (Chipper) celebrate after clinching wild-card berth (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

Braves young …

Continue reading After shedding Sept. 2011 albatross, Braves celebration fitting »

Braves “all good now,” what about the Nats?

(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)

Wonder how that carpet is going to smell today in the Braves clubhouse? Ah, they’ll get it cleaned up. They always have. And the Braves will happily replace it in the offseason I’m sure. And maybe they’ll shag it up with champagne another time or two before the season is over.

Even if “all” the Braves did was clinch a wild card berth last night, I think they showed a little of what they can do in a one-game playoff with Kris Medlen on the mound and the stakes super high. (He’s scheduled to pitch if the potential wild card playoff game Oct. 5.)

Freeman in his jubilation

Freeman in his jubilation

After Medlen gave up the second home run to Donovan Solano, as surprising as it was to see the two-out, two-strike pitch to him go out to the opposite field and the Braves trailing again 3-2, the Braves got right back to work.

Eric O’Flaherty pitched a perfect eighth for his 26th consecutive scoreless appearance since July 15. …

Continue reading Braves “all good now,” what about the Nats? »

Braves could clinch to start Chipper’s last homestand

(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)

So here we are. Final homestand of the season, final regular season homestand ever for Chipper Jones, and the buildup begins in earnest toward Friday night’s tribute to the retiring third baseman.

Both Hank Aaron and Dale Murphy mentioned to me in conversations for a story in our special section (coming Sunday!!) that they’ll be there Friday for the event. There are only standing room only tickets left at this point. So there are going to be goose bumps all around, maybe even if the press box, where they aren’t allowed.

oh, the goodbyes are coming...

oh, the goodbyes are coming…

No better way for the Braves to kick it off than by clinching a playoff berth?

It would just be in keeping with the drama that Chipper and the Braves have put together for his farewell season, don’t you think? The Braves magic number to clinch at least a wild card spot is one, so if they beat the Marlins tonight, they’re in, pop the champagne and …

Continue reading Braves could clinch to start Chipper’s last homestand »

Things different in Chipper’s last trip to City of Brotherly Boooo!

PHILADELPHIA – So we’re here for the next-to-last road series of the regular season and Chipper Jones’ last trip to the City of Brotherly Booooo! And, man, we sure thought six or seven months ago that this would be a bigger series than it turns out to be.

Chipper Jones has 49 career homers against the Phillies, including a pair of walk-off homers against them this season. This weekend marks his last series in Philly.

Chipper Jones has 49 career homers against the Phillies, including a pair of walk-off homers against them this season. This weekend marks his last series in Philly.

I say six or seven months ago, because seven months ago spring training had begun, but no Grapefruit League games had been played. And so I took the approach that until someone proved otherwise, Philly would find a way and was still the team to beat in the NL East, just as the Braves had been for more than a decade.

But six months ago it was mid/late March and we already had plenty of warning signs that this Philly team might struggle until it got healthy and that its run of five consecutive NL East titles would be put to the test.

Sure enough, the Phillies …

Continue reading Things different in Chipper’s last trip to City of Brotherly Boooo! »

Braves turn to streaking Medlen in rubber game

MIAMI – And so the Kris Medlen streaks are put to the test again tonight, as we continue to marvel at what the Braves’ improbable new ace has done not just since moving from the bullpen at the end of July, but as a starter throughout his career.

25 starts: that’s how many Medlen has made without a loss, a streak that began with his third major league game in 2009. There is no other major league pitcher on an active roster with a streak of more than 20 starts without a loss.

20 starts: that’s how many times in a row the Braves have won in games started by Medlen, the longest such streak in the majors since the Yankees won 20 consecutive starts by Roger Clemens in 2001.

He's a funny guy off the field, but Medlen is all business on the mound.

He's a funny guy off the field, but Medlen is all business on the mound.

Of all the pitchers the Braves had in their rotation since 2001, who’d have imagined that Medlen would be the one doing this?

Medlen, the switch-hitting former position player, the kid that so many said shouldn’t have been …

Continue reading Braves turn to streaking Medlen in rubber game »