Archive for June, 2009

After 75 forgettable games, Braves have one to remember

When you’ve played 75 games and nothing much has happened, you’re looking for that one good night. You’re looking for a start, a spark, a reason to keep hoping when you’re a good week away from even nosing above .500. Maybe this was that night. Maybe this was the start of something, if not quite big, then at least bigger than what we’ve seen.

The Braves blew a game against the reigning world champs and won it anyway. They won it because Gregor Blanco, who was playing only because Bobby Cox decided after batting practice that Nate McLouth shouldn’t, and Martin Prado, playing only because Kelly Johnson has forgotten how, mustered seven hits between them.

They won it because they outpitched the Phillies, which everyone does, and also outhit them, which you wouldn’t figure these Braves could ever do. They won it despite two horrendous pitches from Mike Gonzalez that turned a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 deficit. They won it in the way the Braves used to win games all the time but this team …

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Live from the ballyard: Charlie Manuel reconsidered (by me)

I’m going to the Braves-Phillies game and will be doing another in our series of live chats — please note the Braves have lost the past two times we’ve tried this — but I’ll be a little late getting to the ballpark. We Digital folks at the ol’ AJC have a media coaching session this afternoon, and if you recall my encounter with the Mayor of Cleveland you know I need all the media coaching I can get.

In the interim, I’ve giving you folks a little homework. Read this story, by Mark Bechtel of Sports Illustrated, about Philly manager Charlie Manuel. When first I had occasion to speak with Mr. Manuel — back in 2007, as I recall — I walked away thinking, “He reminds me of Eddie Haas.” And that is not, I should stipulate, a comparison you’d want me to make about you.

But the Bechtel story — it’s terrific — opened my eyes, and it also made me feel a bit ashamed. If anybody should know the perils of drawing conclusions from background and appearances, it’s a guy who was, in the summer …

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Bradley’s Buzz: Overrated = DeAngelo, Brooking and Vick

No. 7 is No. 2 on ESPN’s list

It’s the most loaded word in the lexicon of sports, and it’s not “steroids.” It’s “overrated.” Use it and you’ll start an argument. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, writing for ESPN.com’s Insiders Web site, starts 25 arguments in one fell swoop, listing the most overrated NFL players of the past decade. (Link requires registration.)

DeShaun Foster holds the unenviable No. 1 spot, and I wouldn’t object: I’ve never seen him as anything more than an average tailback. But DeShaun Foster isn’t why we’re here. We’re here to identify the three former Falcons who cracked Schatz’s top 11, presented here — with Schatz’s full commentary — in descending order:

2. Michael Vick: Even before Vick’s sordid off-field activities came to light, he was a disappointing No. 1 overall pick. Vick was a great runner, sure, but when he dropped back to pass, he turned into Tyler Thigpen or Derek Anderson, quarterbacks who are close to Vick’s career averages of 6.7 yards …

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Bradley’s Buzz: Three Falcons among decade’s underrated

Say what you want about the Worldwide Leader, but it knows how to start a discussion. On its Insiders Web site, ESPN.com presents the 25 most underrated NFL players of the past decade, and also the 25 most overrated. Being Mr. Merry Sunshine, I’ll begin by accentuating the positive.

The list of the underrated (link requires registration) was compiled by Aaron Schatz of Football Insiders, and since it’s one of those pay-to-view things — and I paid my $39.95 — I’ll take the liberty of quoting liberally. The most undervalued player of the decade is wide receiver Derrick Mason. And three Falcons, present or past, are included:

11. John Abraham: Abraham ranks second in total sacks since 2000, behind Jason Taylor. He’s had five seasons with 10 or more sacks, plus a sixth season with 9½ in 12 games. He was a first-round pick and was later traded for a first-round pick, but he’s oddly under the radar. He hasn’t made the Pro Bowl since 2004, even with 16½ sacks last season.

22. Grady …

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The Hawks’ free agents: Hope for three, settle for two

Mike Woodson is a coach, and every coach wants more and better players. On Monday, as the Hawks welcomed Jamal Crawford to Atlanta, Woodson spoke of the Hawks’ four key free agents and said this was how many he wanted to see back here.

“All of ‘em,” he said.

This is how ambitious Woodson is: He wants to keep the four free agents — Mike Bibby, Flip Murray, Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams — plus add “another veteran big, and there are some out there.” But that’s a coach talking, not a general manager. And Rick Sund might have a more pragmatic take.

Me, I can’t see any way the Hawks keep all four. Nor should they. With Crawford and Jeff Teague in a mix that already included Joe Johnson, there wouldn’t be enough minutes for both Bibby and Flip. And if Bibby returns to start, then Crawford becomes Flip and Flip becomes Acie Law, who barely played, and Teague becomes Thomas Gardner, of whom some of you haven’t even heard.

A reasonable scenario is for the Hawks to keep three of the …

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Bradley’s Buzz: Draft grades for the Hawks (and Thrashers)

Hey, straight “B’s” put you in the Beta Club

A sentence seldom written: People really liked what the Hawks did in the draft! Chad Ford of ESPN.com gave them a B-plus, questioning whether Jeff Teague is truly a point guard but also saying this:

“On the other hand, he was ranked in our top five for much of the year, and had his team not crashed in the tournament or had he gone back to school for another year, he would have been a top-10 pick. So the Hawks got great value here.”

Writing for SI.com, Scott Howard-Cooper awarded a straight B and claimed taking big men B.J. Mullens or Taj Gibson “would have been a risk or a reach.” Adi Joseph of NBAdraft.net bestowed another B-plus, calling Teague “a great fit.”

And Joey Whelan of Slam Online handed down a B, saying “Teague has all the physical attributes you love to see in a floor general—athleticism, speed and quickness—but is he going to be a good distributor?” But Whelan also noted: “Eric Maynor, a more NBA-ready point guard, was …

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The new Bobby Cox? He’s managing the Red Sox

Of Bobby Cox, I’ve maintained — sorry to be quoting my silly self here, but know no way around it — he’s the best manager I’ve ever seen and the best I’ll ever see. But now I’m thinking maybe only the first part applies.

Because Terry Francona has Bobby Cox written all over him, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment.

Francona manages the Red Sox, and that’s a job unlike any other in sports. “I don’t think anything prepares you for Boston,” Francona said Saturday, speaking before Game 2 of his team’s series at Turner Field. But then, in almost the same breath, he admitted that maybe something did help ready him for Red Sox Nation.

The Red Sox have and have had a slew of good players in Francona’s five-plus seasons — Manny, Big Papi, Pedro, Beckett, Schilling, Papelbon, Pedroia, even Nomar — but none of them was, is or will ever be the greatest athlete this manager has managed. See, Francona had Michael Jordan.

The year was 1994, and Jordan was a Birmingham Baron. …

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Braves’ solid-gold arms are undone by dime-store bats

If pitching is 75 percent — or 90 percent; estimates vary — of baseball, why are the Braves further under .500 than they’ve been all season?

Because the other 25 (or 10) percent of their team is worth about 10 cents.

Without meaning to say it, Brian McCann said it perfectly: “We’ve got to start playing better baseball.” Then he checked himself. “Not better baseball — we’ve got to swing the bats better.”

The Braves swing the bats just fine. It’s the hitting part that bumfuzzles them. They’ve scored one run in two games against the Red Sox, who have managed only five but have already won this loud and steamy series. Jair Jurrjens was rather good Friday night but wound up the loser. Javier Vazquez was nigh-great Saturday and got beaten 1-nil by a 42-year-old who throws about 42 mph.

The Braves mustered three singles against Tim Wakefield, who was knuckle-dusting the Braves in October 17 years ago, and Garret Anderson’s two-out double off the heat-bringing Johnathan Papelbon. …

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Live from the ballyard: Smoltzie and I avoid each other!

I spent about a half-hour in and around the Red Sox clubhouse, and I should tell you the Red Sox have a great vibe about them. Kind of like the old Braves, only a tad livelier, and nothing like the new Yankees, who come across as spoiled and surly. The Red Sox, I can report, have a splendid mix of guys.

And now you’re wondering: Amid this splendid mix, did I encounter My Favorite Pitcher in said clubhouse? Not really. (Nor did I go looking for him, or he, I feel sure, for me.) My Favorite Pitcher and I almost crossed paths when the Sox were preparing for batting practice, but we both turned our heads. (We’re really good at this, as you may know.)

I can also tell you I’m writing a little something for Sunday print — and for posting here later today — on Red Sox manager Terry Francona, whom I see as the New Bobby Cox. (And I mean that, Larry, as the highest possible compliment.) Francona is a delightful conversationalist, and we media types got to talking with him about Michael …

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A Lowe-down dirty shame – the Braves’ ace is in a hole

Two days ago I called Derek Lowe the Braves’ ace because that’s how I’ve come to see him. Alas, he’s not pitching like one. We can hope this is a momentary lapse, the kind every pitcher must endure and correct over the course of a six-month season. But the cold truth is that Lowe isn’t looking Lowe-like.

Over his past six starts he has yielded 48 hits and 24 earned runs in 32 2/3 innings. He has won once in a month. He has had to be removed in the middle of innings in his past three outings. His ERA has grown from 3.45 on May 23 to 4.53 today. Only once since he settled in as a big-league pitcher more than a decade ago has Lowe finished a season with an ERA that lofty.

This is, as I say, unlike him. And the reason Lowe isn’t being Lowe is because his famed sinker seems not to be sinking. Over his first 10 starts — six of them wins — he recorded 101 ground outs against 47 air outs. Over his past six starts — four of them losses — the ratio is 53 against 33.

You can say, “Well, …

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