Archive for July, 2010

His name is Nate McLouth, as in, ‘Get him OUTTA here’

Nate the Great draws a bead. Note that the ball is behind him. (AP photo)

Nate the Great draws a bead on a fly. Note that the ball is in fact behind him. (AP photo)

It’s difficult to hit any worse than .176, but Nate McLouth has done the deed. That skinny number is what he was batting when he went on the disabled list after his noggin clashed with Jason Heyward’s knee. Since returning last week, McLouth is 1-for-15, which represents a Twiggy-like .067.

(And the hit, we should note, was a flare that dropped into right field McLouth’s first game back. That gift should offset the live drive that became a double play Sunday.)

We have seen Braves struggle over the years — Andruw Jones, Jeff Francoeur, Yunel Escobar, the legendary Greg Norton — but we have never seen an everyday Brave perform worse than this. Nate McLouth is hitting .168 on the season. He has three home runs, 14 RBIs, four stolen bases. The highest his average has climbed since April 8 is .208.

He wasn’t very good in his half-season as a Brave in 2009 — a .257 average, 11 homers, 36 RBIs …

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The famous UGA man Isner makes the ATC a hot commodity

Fans were insufficient protection against the big heat. (M. Bradley photo)

Fans were insufficient protection against the big heat. (M. Bradley photo)

If you want an inaugural tennis tournament to become a hot (pun intended) item, you can hope for no more than the presence of the most famous Marathon Man since Dustin Hoffman. You can hope for no more than having the towering John Isner, illustrious former Georgia Bulldog, grace your event with more of his endurance work.

“We’ve lived a little bit of a charmed life the last month,” said Bill Oakes, the tournament director of the Atlanta Tennis Championships. Since Isner’s epic Wimbledon defeat of Nicolas Mahut — it carried over three days, ending June 24, and lasted 11 hours, five minutes — the first ATC had been able to bill as the venue for Isner’s homecoming, and folks around here tend to like their Bulldogs.

Heck, even Oakes, who’s a Tech man, likes this Bulldog. And he should: Isner’s participation has taken this modest tournament — only one of the world’s 18 top-ranked men took part — and …

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8 reasons why these Braves will NOT squander this lead

This young man is about to get going again. Just watch. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

This young man is about to get going again. Just watch. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

They’d suffered a bad loss late Wednesday, and now the Braves had to play an afternoon game against the team with the National League’s best record on a sweltering day. (Heat index: 106.) They won so easily as to make you believe there’s no way the final 10 1/2 weeks of this regular season hold any danger for this dauntless band. The reasons why:

1. They can pitch. It never changes. As long as you can pitch, you can win. The Braves won breezing Thursday — actually, they did some sweating, too — because Tim Hudson never gave the Padres a chance. He worked seven innings and yielded six baserunners, one of whom was erased by a double play. This isn’t a team apt to lose five in a row because the rotation won’t let that happen. Jair Jurrjens looks hale and hearty, and even if Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe haven’t been dominant they’re fine as Nos. 3 and 4 starters.

2. They’re buoyant. Not 15 hours …

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Live from the Braves’ game, not long after a really tough loss

Jerry Hairston Jr. slides home with the equalizer last night. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Jerry Hairston Jr. slides home with the equalizer last night. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A few words about, er, me: For nearly two decades I expected the Braves to win every game — even though I knew they wouldn’t, I still expected it — because for nearly two decades they did nothing but win. Then they stopped winning, and gradually I came to expect less.

But over the past two months I’ve been geeting that feeling once more: That a Braves’ victory is something close to inevitable, that they’re going to figure out a way to win even if you’re never sure just how they’re managing it. And I operated, as you blog and Twitter folks well know, on that assumption last night. And the Braves …

Well, they didn’t win.

They blew a ninth-inning lead for only the second time this season. Billy Wagner failed to close a game for only the second time in almost two months. They messed around a while longer before losing in the 12th inning. It didn’t hurt the Braves in the standings — the Mets …

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Oops! The Braves lose the sort of game they’ve been winning

The Padres tie it in the ninth. Note Billy Wagner's reaction. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Padres tie the game. Note Billy Wagner's reaction. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It was a dark night in a sunny season. A great closer went out two runs ahead and came back with a blown save.

“He’s been perfect,” Bobby Cox said, speaking of Billy Wagner. Then, correcting himself: “Almost perfect.”

Right the second time. Because this is baseball, where nobody’s perfect. But sometimes you learn more about a club on a dark night that in the afterglow of the most improbable walk-off win, and here’s what we saw from Wagner late Wednesday:

A guy who blamed nobody but himself. Not the umps, not the fates, nobody but the guy who had the ball with a job to do and, for only the fourth time this season, couldn’t do it.

Wagner hated the fastball he threw to Scott Hairston, which became the home run that halved the lead. He could live with the ball Yorvit Torrealba drove into the right-field corner to tie the game: “He hit a pretty good pitch.” And sometimes it happens.

Said Wagner: …

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The Braves are NL East’s best team – why isn’t that enough?

No big names here. Just two Braves on another winning night. (AP photo)

There are no big names in this photo. Just two Braves on another winning night. (AP photo)

Bill Parcells, who has held several jobs and flirted with many more, famously said that in the NFL “you are what your record says you are.” Which I guess explains it. The Braves don’t play football.

The local baseball club entered play Wednesday night with the National League’s best record and the fattest lead in either circuit. They subsequently ceded the NL’s best record to San Diego, which seized on a rare Billy Wagner clanger to prevail in 12 innings, but still. The Phillies lost, too, and that’s the team many still regard as the class of the East.

ESPN’s “SportsCenter” posed the musical question Wednesday: Are the Braves as good as their record? Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer doesn’t think so. On Monday he described the Braves as “a nice team” but contended that “the Phillies, if they play as they can, have nothing to worry about.” Mr. Ford also characterized Brian McCann and …

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Bandwagon alert! Lots of folks really like the 2010 Falcons

A substantive reason to be cheerful: Dunta Robinson (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

A substantive reason to be cheerful: New man Dunta Robinson (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Lots of folks were saying lots of nice things about the Falcons this time a year ago, and that was understandable. The Falcons were coming off an improbable playoff  season and were a feel-good story. Today the Falcons are coming off a 9-7 season in which they were eliminated from postseason consideration with three games to go … and lots of folks are still saying lots of nice things about their chances in 2010.

From Michael Kun of the Washington Post’s NFL blog The League: “I’ll give you a non-playoff team [from 2009] that’s going to go all the way to the NFC Championship game, barring a major injury. The Atlanta Falcons.”

From Andy Benoit, writing for the New York Times’ NFL blog The Fifth Down:

Let’s see: Modest success the previous year; no burden of high expectations; distinct offensive and defensive identity; star quarterback; and improvements in most key areas of weakness. Sounds …

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The view from Philly: First-place Braves are nothing special

The "easy out" celebrates a home run -- against Philadelphia. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The "easy out" celebrates a home run — against Philadelphia. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer still believes the road to the World Series runs through Philadelphia, and maybe it does. A check of the NL East standings, however, reveals that the regal Phillies are six games behind a team that Mr. Ford doesn’t regard as anything special.

Writes Ford:

The Braves are a nice team, really nice in some ways, but the notion that leapfrogging the Braves would require super-human effort is ridiculous. The Phillies, if they play as they can, have nothing to worry about, either from Atlanta or from their alleged co-rivals, the Mets.

Me, I’m a worrier by nature. Were I six games behind the Bad News Bears with 70 games remaining, I’d be getting antsy. More Ford:

The Braves are nothing like the team that so recently dominated the division. Those Atlanta teams were built on great starting staffs, just enough offense and some decent power production in the …

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Which coaching pair is better: UGA’s Marks or Tech’s Pauls?

One of Tech's Pauls, one of Georgia's Marks. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Saints marching in? Tech's Paul Johnson, Georgia's Mark Richt. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Four men, all named after saints. Two led their respective teams to conference championships in their second seasons. One played for a national championship in his fourth season. The other has been in place a little over a year and has stirred enthusiasm where none existed.

For Georgia, two Marks: Richt coaches football, Fox basketball.

For Georgia Tech, two Pauls: Johnson coaches football, Hewitt basketball.

For you, one question: Which pair would you rather have?

It’s not an easy call: Johnson just took his Jackets to the ACC championship, and Hewitt’s Jackets just played for the ACC title. Richt’s Bulldogs haven’t graced the SEC title game since 2005, and Fox’s Hounds — sorry, still can’t resist — finished last in the SEC East.

Were I picking the best pure coach of the four, I’d pick Johnson. Were I picking the coach who has known the most sustained success at the highest level, …

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Venters gets docked and Braves fans vent: Spare me, I say

Prince Fielder gets a hug from Angel Hernandez. (AP photo)

Prince Fielder gets a hug from Angel Hernandez. (AP photo)

I know from my Twitter feed that Braves fans are irate over the four-game suspension dealt Jonny Venters for plunking Prince Fielder — oddly enough, nobody seems all that miffed that Bobby Cox also gets docked a game — but here’s where I play Bad Cop and say, “Come on now. What did you expect?”

We’ll never know if Venters meant to dust Fielder on Saturday — MLB has QuesTek to assess balls and strikes but cannot yet read minds — but these things aren’t about intentions as much as appearances. And you’ll have to admit it looks pretty fishy when …

A player hits a home run and, his next trip up, is greeted by a pitch over his head. (The Braves’ defense of Venters goes thusly: It was a slider, and you don’t send a message with an 84-mph breaking ball.) The plate umpire then warns both teams not to throw at anybody else. And the very next pitch …

Drills the Prince in the back.

The moral of our story: If you’re going to hit a …

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