Archive for May, 2010

The first-place Braves have come to believe in Santa Glaus

Chipper Jones gives Troy Glaus some RBI-inspired love. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Chipper Jones gives Troy Glaus some RBI-inspired love. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

From worst to first — in two weeks. Even the legendary worst-to-first Braves of 1991 didn’t manage that.

“That’s true,” Tom Glavine said, then the National League’s best pitcher, now an interested observer with two children in tow on Memorial Day. “We were slow and methodical.”

From worst to first in two weeks. From being the team that couldn’t manage an earned run against a Philadelphia starter during a three-game set here in April to the one that led 2-0 after three batters this star-spangled holiday. From being Frank Wren’s rent-a-wreck to wresting the division lead from the league’s flagship team.

The reversal has transpired, as reversals do, for many reasons, among them Jason Heyward and a lockdown bullpen and the continuing excellence of Martin Prado. But the biggest reason the Braves will greet June in first place is because of a general manager’s offseason reach.

Worst to first? Well, …

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Live from Braves-Phils: First place – wouldn’t it be nice?

"Got to keep those lovin' good vibrations happenin'." (AJC photo by Curtis

"Got to keep those lovin' good vibrations happenin'." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Braves haven’t been in first place this late in a season since Oct. 2, 2005. They’ll be in first place if they win today.

How’s that for a snappy lead?

Memorial Day at the ballyard. Phils in the house.Big crowd assembling. Traffic a mess. Clouds overhead. Beach Boys to perform afterward.

(And here I pause for a Beach Boys digression. I saw Brian Wilson perform at the Daytona 500 a few years ago, and I thought to myself: Here’s an individual who couldn’t bring himself to leave his house — the one with the sandbox in the living room — for years at a time, and now he’s standing up there in front of a couple hundred thousand other individuals.)

Chipper Jones said it Sunday: “We’d like to win two of three. When we’ve played these guys the last few years, we went in knowing we had to sweep.”

True enough. Since 2005, which ended the run of excellence, the latest the Braves have been in first was …

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The newly patient Braves are closing in on first-place Philly

Chipper Jones hit this one where the Pirates weren't. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Chipper Jones hit this one where the Pirates weren't. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We’re seeing a different sort of Braves, and the difference isn’t just between bad and good. It’s the difference between professional and amateurish. It’s the difference between a guy who’ll take a pitch and one whose aim every plate appearance is to air-condition the ballpark.

“We seem like we’re a patient team,” Jason Heyward said Sunday. “We don’t give any at-bats away.”

The Braves … a patient team. When last could we say that?

Said Chipper Jones, drafted by this organization in 1990: “I never thought I’d see it here. Bobby Cox’s way is to sit back and wait for the three-run homer. This team is more suited to my liking — .300 hitters, .400 on-base percentages.”

The men who batted first, second and third in Sunday’s lineup — Martin Prado, Omar Infante and Heyward — finished the game hitting above .300. The man who delivered the tiebreaking single in the eighth — Jones, appearing as a …

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Live from Braves-Bucs: There’s good and better news

Good news: The Braves are playing really, really well. They’ve won 14 of 18. They’re a whisker out of first place, and not long ago they were last. They’ve raised their team batting average to .253, and a month ago they were under .230.

Better news: They’ve still got one game remaining against Pittsburgh, which isn’t the worst team in baseball but is looking like it.

Best news: They don’t have to face Roy Halladay when Philadelphia arrives this week.

It being (almost) Memorial Day, I’m tempted to make of the (in)famous Bradley milepost predictions: You know, like the one from two years ago where I said the Braves would be in first place by the Fourth and pulling away by Labor Day. I’m not going to do it this time, for a basic reason: I’m not yet sure how good these Braves are.

They had a rugged schedule in April. They had a soft slate for most of May. They look good at the moment. I’d like to wait and see how they look a few weeks hence. In other words, I’m resisting the urge …

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Tamper with this: LeBron might well win a title as a Hawk

Picture him in a white jersey. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Picture him in a white shirt. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Since Michael Gearon Jr. has spent $25,000 to raise the issue, we’d be derelict in our duties  if we didn’t follow up for free. Let’s say the Hawks do pursue LeBron James. (I know — Atlanta is never mentioned as an LBJ landing zone. But let’s pretend.) Would he find a team here that could win him that slippery NBA title?

Shockingly enough, he just might.

Ric Bucher of ESPN the Magazine offered the best insight on why LeBron and the Cavs haven’t won it all. Wrote Bucher:

The team has been constructed on the presumption that he is Michael Jordan, a scorer and finisher, rather than Magic Johnson, a playmaker who needed a go-to closer alongside him to win titles. “They tried to make him Michael,” says one league executive. “He’s not.”

Remember when LeBron was playing high school ball for St. Vincent-St. Mary? The belief then was that he would be an NBA point guard, not the league’s leading scorer. He wound up being the …

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Fining the Hawks’ Gearon is yet another unfunny NBA joke

Michael Gearon Jr. — the new Mark Cuban.

Just kidding. Gearon is to Cuban as Joni Mitchell  is to Lady Gaga.

And I’m not trying to suggest Gearon isn’t a conversationalist of the first rank — he is. Or even that Lady Gaga isn’t talented — she is. (I love both “Poker Face” and “Paparazzi.”) I’m making a distinction between understated and overt.

The Hawks’ co-owner was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Thursday. It was the lamest fine in the history of jurisprudence. Here was the offending quote: “If somebody came to us tomorrow and said you can have LeBron for max money and it puts you in the luxury tax, I’d do it in a a heartbeat,” Gearon said. “But am I going to do that for [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas ? Am I going to do it for Jermaine O’Neal? I don’t think so.”

There’s no denying Gearon spoke those words. I heard him. So did about a dozen other reporters. Gearon made the apparently egregious statement standing in the Hawks’ locker room the day after his team was swept by …

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The 2010 NBA draft: Will the Hawks get bigger in a hurry?

It’s usually the biggest night of the NBA offseason, but for the Hawks this isn’t the usual offseason. They have to hire a coach, and they have to try and keep their leading scorer from leaving. And they have only the draft’s 24th pick, which is five spots lower than they took Jeff Teague, who hardly played as a rookie.

That said, the draft can never be ignored. And it is possible to find a  pretty fair player that late. Here we offer examples, all taken this decade with the 24th pick or afterward of their respective draft: Gerald Wallace, Samuel Dalembert, Jamaal Tinsley (taken by the Hawks’ Pete Babcock and traded to Indiana in 2001), Tony Parker, John Salmons, Kendrick Perkins, Josh Howard (on whom Billy Knight passed in 2004 to take Boris Diaw), Delonte West, Kevin Martin, Beno Udrih, David Lee (30th pick in 2005 — major Knick coup), Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Aaron Brooks, George Hill and Taj Gibson.

You’ll notice that most are guards or small forwards. Most, but not …

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Why Jason Heyward (baseball) isn’t Jeff Francoeur (football)

Jason Heyward rounds third after his famous Opening Day home run. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Jason Heyward rounds third after his Opening Day homer. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Both were first-round draft picks from the Atlanta suburbs, both right fielders. Both hit home runs in their first big-league games, each against the Cubs. Both were given the Sports Illustrated treatment in the early days of their rookie seasons. But if you ask in the Braves’ clubhouse about further similarities between  Jeff Francoeur and Jason Heyward, you won’t find many.

What you’ll hear instead is an admission of a key difference: That one was a football player, while the other is a baseball player.

The intent isn’t to belittle Francoeur, who had three good-to-excellent seasons as a Brave. He hit .300 as a rookie in 2005 and drove in more than 100 runs in 2006 and 2007. But when his early blush of success faded, it spawned a full-blown backlash fueled by a fundamental flaw: Francoeur swung at everything, and when in doubt he swung harder.

That was the football player in him. (Again, we …

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Yes! Another writer makes a case for the Hawks to hire Casey

I’ve felt like the Lone Ranger on this one. I’m convinced Dwane Casey would be a fine hire for the Hawks, but few seem to agree. You say, “What has he ever done?” You say, “Why get a guy who lasted only a season and a half as head coach in Minnesota?”

And I understand, to a degree. Casey isn’t on TV talking, the way Avery Johnson and Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy are. (No, Casey actually has a job coaching.) He’s not a big name. He’s just a really smart basketball man who has a great way with people, and if that’s not the essence of head-coaching material I don’t know what is.

But you folks don’t know him, and you haven’t heard him talk about the game and seen him relate to people. I have. (I’ve known him for 25 years.) And I fault myself for not crafting my message better. So maybe I should let someone else deliver it.

On cue, here’s Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports and the blog Ball Don’t Lie. And here’s what Dwyer has to say about Casey:

Dwane Casey is not just another …

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Roy Oswalt to the Braves? Great idea. Won’t happen

There’s this All-Star player, see? And he wants to be traded, see? And he has apparently told folks one of the places he’d be willing to work would be Atlanta, see?

Too bad it can’t happen.

Our story so far: Roy Oswalt, the fine Astro hurler, last week requested that Houston deal him away, according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. (Apparently Oswalt has watched the Astros play this season.) Back in April, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported that a friend of Oswalt’s claimed the pitcher’s preferred destinations would be Atlanta, St. Louis or Texas.

Sounds promising, huh? It’s not, alas.

Oswalt is under contract through 2012 (the final year is a club option) for roughly $16 million per annum. That’s Derek Lowe money. And what did the Braves spend most of December trying to do? Trade Derek Lowe because he makes too much money. (As we know, they wound up trading Javier Vazquez instead, thereby treating us to the inspired outfield play offered up by Melky Cabrera.)

A decade …

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