Archive for April, 2009

Bradley’s Buzz: Not much spring love for new-look Braves

The Bravos’ bandwagon? It’s not yet rolling

Not for the first time, I’m in the distinct minority. I believe the undefeated Braves will win 88 more games and the wild card. Almost nobody else does.

This is the time of year when the big Web sites poll their experts, and the raw data isn’t promising for the local nine. Of ESPN.com’s 21 baseball analysts, only two see the Braves making the playoffs. Of SI.com’s 13 baseball pundits, not one does. (Though, intriguingly enough, three different Braves are tabbed as rookie of the year — Jordan Schafer, Tommy Hanson and the 33-year-old Kenshin Kawakami.) Of CBSsports.com’s four baseball analysts, two have the Braves finishing third in the NL East and two have them fourth.

As for power rankings: Sporting News Today puts the Braves 15th among the 30 big-league clubs; USA Today has them 14th, and ESPN has them 11th. But Jayson Stark of ESPN does call the Braves “the best team nobody is talking about,” and Stan McNeal of Sporting News Today …

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Wren: “We should have a chance to contend for our division”

Frank Wren likes his team. This isn’t a shock, given that he’s the guy who put it together. But it should be noted that, six months ago, he didn’t like what he had.

On Sept. 29, 2008, the general manager was asked where the Braves would be in 2009 if they made no major changes. “Somewhere in the middle of the pack,” Wren said.

On April 4, 2009, the same guy who’d posed that question asked what this reconfigured team might do. “We should have a chance to contend for our division,” Wren said, “based on the club we have and guys’ past performance.”

To suggest Wren had an active offseason would be to call Angelina Jolie mildly attractive. Barely a week passed that the Braves weren’t involved in some prospective transaction, a few of which came to fruition. Wren was criticized roundly for some of the guys he didn’t get/keep — Peavy, Burnett, Smoltz, Furcal, Griffey — but through it all he kept pushing. In all of baseball, there was no more aggressive …

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Is Georgia crazy like a Fox, or just crazy?

Mark Fox is not Mark Few. Mark Few coaches Gonzaga and would be a terrific hire for anybody. Mark Fox coached Nevada and is coming to Georgia. He’s not such a terrific hire.

It isn’t that Fox can’t coach. He won in the WAC, which is a nice mid-tier league. But the Western Athletic Conference isn’t the SEC East, where he’ll be working against Billy Donovan (two NCAA titles) and John Calipari (two Final Fours), plus the showman Bruce Pearl and the erudite Kevin Stallings and the rising star Darrin Horn.

The same Georgia that seemed to have little interest in hiring a winning coach from a mid-major with ties to both the SEC and the South just hired a winning coach from the Pacific Time Zone who has never worked east of Manhattan, Kan. Alabama was clever enough to scoop up Anthony Grant. Georgia wound up with a guy known mostly for his temper.

Given two months to search, Damon Evans found a coach who won’t sell many tickets and who’ll have to learn the names of the Atlanta AAU …

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The Braves in 2009: Is a wild card such a wild notion?

Here’s where I say something and you tell me how smart I am. (Or, as is more often the case, how smart I’m not.) I’m saying the Braves will win 89 games and claim the National League’s wild card. I’m saying they’ll finish second to the Mets. In sum, I’m saying better days are at hand.

I know, I know. I thought the same last spring and was in egregious error. But last spring I’d bought into the Braves’ message of hope. This time I’m operating on something closer to faith.

I’m not banking on 40-year-old pitchers to call back the years. I’m banking on Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez to do what they always do. I’m banking on Jordan Schafer and Tommy Hanson to provide the sort of lift that went missing in 2008. I’m banking on Jeff Francoeur to hit .285.

I’m banking on the bullpen to be quite good. I’m banking on Kelly Johnson’s second-half surge to have been more than a mirage. I’m banking on Yunel Escobar showing he can keep his head and play to his gifts. I’m banking on Casey …

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Winning Fiasco strategy: “I just picked against you, Mark”

My predictions can be perilous things. I had the Rams beating the Patriots 42-3 in the 2002 Super Bowl. I had the 1996 Braves as a possible match for the ‘27 Yankees. I had the 2008 Georgia Bulldogs winning a national title in a year they couldn’t manage a state championship.

But never in a career of being wrong have I been confronted so bluntly with the reality of my reputation. The winner of the 22nd Final Four Fiasco — my own little contest — won because he read what I’d written and took countermeasures. Why, I asked, did Joe Kingston go with Michigan State?

“I picked that because you picked Louisville,” he said. “That was just against you, Mark.”

Kingston, who’s 67, is retired from Automatic Data Processing. He lives in Decatur. He once won a Final Four contest in the workplace around 10 years ago. “I got 75 bucks,” he said. This time he gets the coveted winner’s Final Four sweatshirt, which should come in handy.

Kingston works out at a gym wearing what he calls “a …

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