Archive for July, 2010

Braves, Wren send right message with deadline trades

Rick Ankiel, a converted pitcher, hit 25 homers in 2008 and will fill the Braves' void in center field.

Rick Ankiel, a converted pitcher, hit 25 homers in 2008 and will fill the Braves' void in center field.

Sports fans scream for a championship every season. But really all most expect is for somebody in the executive suite — whether it’s the person who’s making trades or clutching the checkbook — to care as much as they do.

As a general rule, “We’re building for next season,” just doesn’t play well with the guy in the $6 seat.

Given that, the Braves should be commended today. They’re being as passionate and proactive off the field as they have been on it. They’re trying to win now, not sitting back and praying for unicorns.

Maybe Philadelphia’s acquisition of Roy Oswalt spooked them a little. Maybe they see something special in this team. Maybe they’re intent on trying to send Bobby Cox out with a championship.

Kyle Farnsworth excelled as a closer for the Braves in 2005.

Kyle Farnsworth excelled as a closer for the Braves in 2005.

Does it matter?

Drink this up Atlanta: You have a team going for a championship.

Faced …

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Dwight Howard opens up on LeBron, Shaq and Josh’s wedding (sssh)

Dwight Howard joked with the kids to not ask about LeBron James (but he talked about him later).

Dwight Howard joked with the kids to not ask about LeBron James (but he talked about him later).

Dwight Howard was back in his hometown Friday, thrilling a group of kids from the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Atlanta who had no idea the Orlando Magic star and Atlanta native was coming for lunch. But before he took questions, he had one request.

“Please, no questions about the Miami Heat,” he said. “I was just over in China for two weeks and that’s all I heard: ‘What do you think about LeBron?’”

Nonetheless, Howard granted this corner of the blogosphere a few minutes to discuss a few items of interest to Atlanta fans: The Heat, the Hawks and Shaquille O’Neal.

In the process, he also let something slip: The Hawks’ Josh Smith, his childhood friend, is getting married.The reason I know this is because when I asked Howard how long he was in town for, he said, “Until Sunday. Josh is getting married tomorrow night and I’m the best man at his wedding.”

Howard …

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Roy Oswalt going to Phillies, and Braves need to respond (UPDATED)

Roy Oswalt joined a Phillies' pitching rotation that includes Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.

Roy Oswalt joined a Phillies' starting pitching rotation that includes Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. (AP photo)

(UPDATED: 4:45 p.m.)

When rumors began to heat up the other day that the Philadelphia Phillies were pursuing Houston pitcher Roy Oswalt — the gem of baseball’s trade deadline — I mentioned that such a deal could put pressure on the Braves to make a move.

Well, it just happened

After reports surfaced late Wednesday that the Phillies and Astros had specifics of a trade in place, ESPN and Fox Sports now are both reporting that Oswalt has waived his no-trade clause and signed off on the deal. The Astros will get pitcher J.A. Happ and two prospects in return.

Oswalt will start for the Phillies in Washington Friday night.

What does this mean for the Braves? Simple. They need to do something.

The acquisition of Oswalt doesn’t guarantee Philly will overtake the Braves in the National League East. But it’s a significant and aggressive move by a three-time defending division …

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Blank says Falcons are playoff team again (and maybe more)

Arthur Blank says his optimism about the Falcons this season is based more on facts than hope. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Arthur Blank (right) says his optimism now is based more on facts than hope. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Having owned the Falcons for eight fluctuating seasons, Arthur Blank has come to a reasoned conclusion: It’s easier to predict success in business than football.

“Once we got things rolling at Home Depot, we never had an undue sense of urgency about opening our next store because we knew once we go there, that we’d be successful,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way in sports. It’s a game, and leagues like the NFL are designed for parity. At HD, if a guy breaks his leg, sometimes he still shows up for work. In football, his season is over.”

Given that backdrop, as well as experiencing everything from spineless and self-immolating head coaches to a derailed former quarterback, it would be understandable if Blank were gun-shy about making predictions. But when asked if he believed the 2010 Falcons were a playoff team, Blank responded like a self-made billionaire who had …

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Falcons discussed bringing in Terrell Owens, Blank says

Terrell Owens, who lives in Atlanta and attended a Hawks-Milwaukee playoff game in April, came up in discussions with the Falcons.

Terrell Owens, who lives in Atlanta and often attends Hawks games, came up in discussions with the Falcons. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Terrell Owens never was close to becoming a Falcon this offseason. But yes, the team did talk about it.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said this morning that general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith discussed the possibility of signing Owens to bolster the team’s receiving corps “about 30 days ago.” Blank even joined the discussions briefly. But ultimately they decided not to make a move on the former free agent, who recently signed with Cincinnati.

“We talked but the conversations were short-lived,” Blank said. “It’s not a criticism of him. We just decided that with Roddy [White] in place, Michael Jenkins still developing, Harry Douglas coming back and the young man we drafted from Kansas [Kerry Meier] coming in, that we didn’t feel a need to bring him in.”

Owens, a long-time Atlanta resident, signed with Cincinnati after spending last year …

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Auburn may get an ‘04 ‘title’ yet (and who’s USC’s cover boy?)

All 156 All-Americans, 11 (or 10) national titles and 7 (or 6) Heismans? Lane Kiffin did that.

All 156 All-Americans, 11 (or 10) national titles and 7 (or 6) Heismans? Lane Kiffin did that.

Before we get into this media guide cover — and thanks to devoted reader/serial e-mailer Andy Rosenberg for the tip — there is a movement afoot to appease Auburn in its national title claim for the 2004 season.

Rewind: Auburn, USC and Oklahoma all went undefeated in the regular season in 2004, but only two could go to the BCS title game. So Auburn was snubbed, went on to win the Sugar Bowl and finish 13-0, and coach Tommy Tuberville and Tiger Nation screamed injustice. The Trojans won the championship game but, as you might have heard, just got put into NCAA timeout and now must vacate that win (among others).

Now comes this: The executive director of the Football Writers Association of America said at the Big 12 Conference’s preview that the organization may take away USC’s 2004 title and award it to Auburn. “I wouldn’t say we’re definitely going to do that, but it’s a …

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Braves had no choice but to cut losses with McLouth

This is what Nate McLouth looks like when he hits a home run. It's an old picture. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

This is what Nate McLouth looks like when he hits a home run. It's an old picture. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

When I spoke to Braves general manager Frank Wren earlier today and asked about the struggling Nate McLouth, this is what he said: “The last ball he hit the other night was the hardest he’s hit since he came back. So we’re hoping that’s a sign.”

Sign? Right. Turns out the only sign was off of Interstate 85 heading north, exit 115: Buford Drive. That’s where McLouth will be parked indefinitely.

The Braves optioned McLouth to the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves. Ironic. He sort of takes the roster spot vacated in Gwinnett by Jordan Schafer, who was recently demoted yet another level down to Double-A Mississippi.

There was a time when McLouth was viewed as the bridge to Schafer. Now both are bridges to nowhere.

Give Wren credit for this. He understands this season can be a special one for the Braves. He’s not taking any chances. He decided to deal talented but pouty shortstop Yunel …

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Braves’ Wren struggling with decision on whether to deal

This is what Nate McLouth looks like when he's celebrating (granted, it's Brooks Conrad's grand slam).

Here's Nate McLouth celebrating (not his own at-bat, of course, but Brooks Conrad's grand slam).

(UPDATED at 5:15 p.m.)

Success apparently doesn’t bring clarity.

The Braves are in first place, own the second best record in the National League, endured relatively open tryouts for several weeks at leadoff and are still trying to navigate around a black hole in center field. But Frank Wren? He felt a little more certain about things a year ago, when the Braves were scrambling after the All-Star break to get into a playoff race.

“Last year we had started to play good baseball in June, and we felt we just needed a little boost, so we went out and made the [Adam LaRoche] trade,” the Braves’ general manager said Tuesday. “In that one, we could feel and see and knew where we were going. This year, it’s a little different. We got through a tough stretch with injuries. It’s not black-and-white. It’s a little grayer in terms of whether we need something.”

The …

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Countdown’s health report: A-Roid, hot dog stands, mite fight!

The Count is 100 percent natural.

The Count is 100 percent natural.

The Count has never understood the whole blood doping thing. OK, there was that one time after he pulled an all-nighter, and the Transylvania Huddle House was closed in the morning, and he required immediate nourishment, so he swooped in on a group of unsuspecting 11th graders on their way to summer school for their third attempt at passing algebra. Does that count as doping? Probably not. But the whole idea of taking something more powerful than a Flintstones chewable or a protein shake never appealed to The Count, especially given the potential of a 37-pound globey head and significant shrinkage in the Count’s, um, Southeast and Southwest divisions. Anyway, great news! This baseball season has been the “Revenge of the [Presumably Natural] Pitcher!” We just witnessed baseball’s fifth no-hitter of the season. Maybe because every batter doesn’t look like the off-spring of a barbell and a Wookie. So we congratulate Tampa Bay pitcher Matt Garza …

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With Oswalt trade looming, should Braves worry about Philly?

Roy Oswalt has mad skills: He can pitch and blow a bubble at the same time.

Mad skills: Roy Oswalt can pitch and blow a bubble at same time.

If you’re a Braves’ fan, this would be a good time to pull for anybody other than Philadelphia in the Roy Oswalt trade sweepstakes.

While the Braves have gone through a relatively magical run this season, with unlikely subplots like Brooks “The Big Bambino” Conrad, it figured to be only a matter of time before the Philadelphia Phillies re-emerged as a factor in the National League East. And here they are.

The Phillies have won four straight to trim two games off the Braves’ division lead (down to five). That’s of some concern. But these are the bigger issues:

♦ The Phillies have struggled all year with injuries, most notably to shortstop and leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins and shortstop Chase Utley. Rollins has missed over half the season (playing in 42 of Philly’s 98 games), but he is 9 for 21 (.429) in the past five games. Utley was 18 for 49 (.367) over 13 games before he had to go back on the disabled list …

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