Archive for April, 2010

The regal Phillies come to town: It’s early, but it’s still big

One of Ryan Howard's eight homers against the Braves in 2009. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

One of Ryan Howard's eight homers against the Braves in 2009. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Opponents used to come here shouldering the burden of proof. To reach the World Series, National League teams would say, you had to go through Atlanta.

The Mets would say it, and the Phillies and the Marlins. “And even the teams not in our division — the Astros and the Dodgers,” Chipper Jones said. “They knew they had to go through us to get to the World Series.”

Said Brian McCann: “For 14 years, that’s the way it was. But for the last three years, the Phillies have been the best team … They’re the team in the National League.”

The Braves haven’t graced a playoff game since Chris Burke hoisted Joey Devine’s pitch in the 18th inning into the Crawford boxes at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The date was Oct. 9, 2005. The Phillies have won the NL East three years running and have reached the World Series the past two, winning it all in 2008. They have become what the Braves, over those 14 …

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The Braves must bump up Heyward in the order, right?

Hitting seventh seems to have agreed with him so far. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Hitting seventh seems to have agreed with him so far. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I asked someone who wears a Braves’ uniform, “How much longer can you go with Jason Heyward batting seventh?” And I figured this person, who has always been candid with me, would say, “Not much longer.” But he surprised me.

Stop and think for a minute, he said. Heyward has 15 RBIs batting in the seventh spot. That’s really good. (No other Brave has more than eight, and the one who does — sixth-place hitter Yunel Escobar — drove in five runs on Opening Day.) Say you move Heyward up to sixth or even fifth: He might have a few more ribbies, but at what overall cost?

Say you move Troy Glaus to the seventh spot. That would mean the bottom of your lineup is now Glaus, who’s hitting .195 with one extra-base hit; either Melky Cabrera (.119, one extra-base hit) or Nate McLouth (.148, no extra-base hits) in the eighth spot, and then the pitcher. And then the leadoff spot, which hadn’t been producing …

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The J-Hey Kid comes through again; why aren’t we shocked?

Ho, hum. Another home series, another pie in the face. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Ho, hum. Another home series, another pie in the face. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A month ago we wondered if he’d make the team; now he’s carrying it. Two weeks ago we wondered if he’d have a chance to win rookie of the year; now we’re thinking, “Why not MVP?”

On Sunday a TV reporter used the word “legend” in a question to Jason Heyward, who scoffed. “Legend?” he said. “It’s one season — it’s not even two weeks.” And it is terribly early to be bandying such loaded terms. That said …

“He’s a beast,” Brian McCann said.

“He’s special,” Jair Jurrjens said. “He’s awesome.”

“He’s the one,” Eric Hinske said. “These guys don’t come around that often, but he’s the one.”

The Braves won Sunday because the already famous rookie did a thing maybe one 20-year-old in a hundred thousand — this one — could have managed. With two out in the ninth and his team down a run, Heyward came to bat and, for four excruciating pitches, kept the bat on his shoulder.

Jurrjens: “In a big at-bat, another …

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Live from Braves-Rox: Unassuming hitless wonders try again

Great news! Ubaldo Jimenez isn't scheduled to pitch again today. (AP photo)

Great news! Unyielding Ubaldo isn't scheduled to pitch again today. Whew. (AP photo)

The Braves did two remarkable things Saturday night. They became the first team ever to be no-hit by a Colorado pitcher, and they became the first team in big-league annals to be no-hit by a pitcher whose first name begins with the letter “U.”

That’s correct. Urban Shocker, who pitched for the Browns and Yankees about 90-some years ago, did not throw a no-hitter. (Neither did Urly Wynn — heh, heh.) But Ubaldo Jimenez did the deed Saturday night, and here was what Terry Pendleton, the Braves’ hitting coach, had to say about the Colorado pitcher’s first name: “It’s unique.”

Ubaldo. Unique. An uncanny bit of alliteration!

Asked how Ubaldo’s no-no compared to Randy Johnson’s perfecto of 2004, Chipper Jones noted: “I didn’t even foul a ball off against Randy.” (For the record, Chipper put three balls in play against Jimenez.)

Eddie Perez, now the Braves’ bullpen coach, recalled how he’d ended the …

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Dimitroff on the draft: Falcons aren’t ‘locked in’ on Graham

Thomas Dimitroff, wearing shirt and tie, briefs the media Thursday. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Thomas Dimitroff, wearing clean clothes, briefs the media Thursday. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Flowery Branch — Thomas Dimitroff insisted Thursday the Falcons are not, as has been widely speculated, bound and determined to grab Brandon Graham with their first-round pick. Said Dimitroff, winking when Graham’s name was mentioned: “Who’s that?”

Then, more seriously: “We’re not locked in [on Graham]. But 19 of the 20 mock drafts I’ve seen have us taking him, so I’d say everybody else is locked in Brandon Graham.”

The Michigan defensive end is indeed a subject of much consideration here at 4400 Falcon Parkway, but in Dimitroff’s pre-draft briefing he  emphasized that this draft, unlike his first two as general manager, isn’t targeted to address one specific unit. “We’ve finally got an opportunity to open the draft board to both offense and defense,” Dimitroff said.

Translation: Don’t rule out the possibility of the Falcons taking an offensive lineman in Round 1. Asked if he’d be …

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Hawks-Bucks in Round 1: It’ll be over in five games, max

These guys aren't scared of the Milwaukee Bucks. Nor should they be. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

These guys aren't scared of the Bucks. Nor should they be. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Hawks’ run of late-season good fortune continues. Had Yi Jianlian made a baseline jumper at the end of regulation in Miami last night, the Hawks wouldn’t be playing the Milwaukee Bucks come Saturday. They’d have faced the Miami Heat in Round 1 again, and that would have been a much rockier path.

But Yi missed and his New Jersey Nets lost to the Heat in double OT — the league’s worst team had grown skilled at losing, doing it 70 times this season — and the Hawks got what they wanted: The Bucks as a first-round opponent.

Milwaukee has had a nice season, but it’s about end. It is working without its best scorer (Michael Redd, torn ACL) and its best player (Andrew Bogut, broken arm). The best remaining Bucks are John Salmons, who has played for four teams in eight seasons; Jerry Stackhouse, who’s 35, and Brandon Jennings, who’s 20.

This, folks, will end in five games. The Hawks will win …

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Why Teflon Don Waddell had become toxic for the Thrashers

ADon Waddell looks upstairs, which is where he was just kicked. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Don Waddell looks upstairs, which is where he was just kicked. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The Thrashers don’t have many fans, which is a problem. Except in his own organization and, we assume, his own household, Don Waddell had no fans. That was a bigger problem.

Even those few folks disposed to support this hockey team couldn’t bring themselves to endorse the Teflon Don. And there wasn’t  much to endorse. In place since 1999, he’d presided over one playoff appearance and no postseason victories. He’d traded away the two best players in franchise annals because they wouldn’t re-up. Yet he clung to his job like grim death.

As of Wednesday, the Teflon Don clings no longer. The Thrashers positioned his move to president as a promotion, but it’s way more than that. It’s a re-branding.

Advertising 101: When you’ve got a faulty product, fix the bugs and change the name. The Thrashers feel there’s nothing wrong with their personnel that a bit of seasoning can’t remedy. Said …

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Holy cow! The Braves again have holes in their batting order

Everybody hit on Opening Day. Even Nate McLouth. (AP photo by Rich Addicks)

Everybody hit on Opening Day. Even Nate McLouth. (AP photo by Rich Addicks)

The 2009 Braves were undone because their batting order went soft. Of the eight non-pitching spots, half — Jordan Schafer, Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur and Casey Kotchman — were substandard by major-league specifications.

Two of those (Francoeur and Kotchman) were traded before the season was done. Schafer was sent to Gwinnett in June. Johnson was dislodged by Martin Prado and left as a free agent at year’s end. And after the 2010 Braves scored 16 runs against the Cubs on Opening Day, Chipper Jones was moved to say: “We’ve got Jason Heyward hitting seventh and an All-Star [Nate McLouth] batting eighth. We’ve got a lineup that can turn over in a hurry.”

We stipulate by saying that the Braves have played only seven games, which isn’t a representative sampling. But the purportedly iron-clad lineup is already looking peaked.

Melky Cabrera is hitting .103. Troy Glaus is hitting .231 and hasn’t had an …

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Icy topic: How much longer will the Thrashers be in Atlanta?

John Anderson and Slava Kozlov are both pictured here. (AJC photo by Jessica McGowan)

John Anderson and Slava Kozlov are both pictured here. (AJC photo by Jessica McGowan)

Perhaps you’re fascinated by this whole John Anderson/Slava Kozlov back and forth. Or perhaps you have no idea who John Anderson and Slava Kozlov are.

I submit that more Atlantans fall under the latter heading. I submit more folks around here have forgotten the Thrashers even exist.

(For the record: The Thrashers are the Atlanta entry in the National Hockey League. Hockey is played on ice. The players skate and carry implements known as hockey sticks, with which they attempt to move a small rubberized disk known as a puck.)

This  leads me to today’s question(s): Given that the Thrashers traded their franchise player a while back and just finished 28th in a 30-team league in attendance, how much longer do you think they’ll be in Atlanta? Will the Spirit, as has long been rumored, sell the team to somebody who’ll then move it to Canada? (See, Canadians like hockey.) Or will these owners bite …

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The NBA playoffs are shaping up for your Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks are very close to having what they want: The No. 3 seed in the East and a weakened opponent in Round 1. All they have to do is beat the NBA’s best team here Wednesday and root for Miami to beat the NBA’s worst team the same night.

Wait. It gets better. The NBA’s best team — that’d be LeBron James’ bunch — hasn’t used its best player the past three games. LeBron has been resting. But he might play against the Hawks.

As Brian Windhorst writes in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cavs haven’t yet decided who’ll work Wednesday night. From Windhorst:

There is some temptation for [coach Mike] Brown to reassemble his entire starting lineup to attempt to find some rhythm before the start of the playoffs. That would include James, who has been inactive for the last three games.

It would be a good test especially against the Hawks, a potential playoff opponent who will want to win the game to secure their own playoff seeding. Brown has only been able to use his complete starting …

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