Archive for August, 2010

Game by game: Here’s how the 2010 Falcons will finish 12-4

"Super Bowl's way," Tom Brady tells Matt Ryan. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"The Super Bowl's that way," Tom Brady tells Matt Ryan. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Falcons will finish 12-4 and win the NFC South. Here’s how:

At Pittsburgh, Sept. 12: You don’t like playing these guys anywhere, especially up there on Opening Day with the Steelers coming off a dud season. But if you have to do it, this is the year. Because Ben Roethlisberger won’t be playing. Falcons 21, Steelers 16.

Arizona, Sept. 19: The great receiver Larry Fizgerald sprained a knee ligament in an exhibition game but is expected back for the regular season. Won’t matter. He no longer has Kurt Warner throwing to him. He has Matt Leinart, who hasn’t done a thing since college. Falcons 30, Cardinals 14.

At New Orleans, Sept. 26: Here’s where the watching world starts to take the Birds seriously. The Falcons nearly won in the Superdome last November at a time when the Saints were unbeaten. This time they’ll render the Saints unbeaten no more. Falcons 26, Saints 24.

San Francisco, Oct. …

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An ugly (and confounding) loss in a shining Braves’ season

One picture. Couple hundred thousand words. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

One picture. Ten thousand words. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Not every game is a diamond. Thursday’s was a lump of coal. The Braves lost to the Nationals on a day when Derek Lowe wasn’t very good and Kyle Farnsworth was Kyle Farnsworth. They fell behind, tried to rally and twice tripped over themselves. Afterward they fumed about an opportunity lost.

“I didn’t freaking bunt,” said Martin Prado, and yes, he really did say “freaking.” Then he said it again: “And I probably cost us the freaking game.”

Prado’s failure defused the second glorious chance. Trailing by two runs, the Braves saw their first two hitters in the eighth draw walks. That brought Prado, who leads the league in hits. He was ordered to bunt. Said Bobby Cox, less than enamored at the line of questioning: “If he hits into a double play, you’re asking me why we didn’t bunt.”

(Actually, no. I wouldn’t have had my No. 3 hitter bunt. But maybe that’s just me.)

For his part, Prado expected the assignment. “It’s a …

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Live from the Braves’ daytime tilt, talking about Huddy’s beard

The man with ants on his face delivers plateward. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The man with ants on his face delivers plateward. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Lost in the frenzy that was Wednesday at Turner Field was this bit of tonsorial business: Tim Hudson has a beard, and you’re asking, “What’s up with that?”

Hudson couldn’t quite say. He just opted to grow one. Had never done it before. Took him three days. Said he felt as if he had “ants on my face” while pitching Wednesday night. Noted that his facial hair contained specks of gray. Did not attach a connection to being fuzzy-cheeked with a rare non-winning (but also non-losing) effort.

While discussing this matter of global importance with the print media, Hudson sounded as if he’d decided to shave. But then television interceded, as television often does. Hudson glanced up and saw himself doing postgame interviews on the big TVs in the Braves’ clubhouse, and he …

Seemed to like what he saw.

(A note about TV: You’ve heard that the camera adds 10 pounds? Well, it can also make facial hair appear …

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Say Heyward! Another walk-off win for these amazin’ Braves

Woot! He did it again! (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Woot! He did it again! (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Just another long and satisfying day in what has become a delicious season. Frank Wren moves heaven and earth to upgrade his infield, and the guy who started it all  Opening Day with a home run on his first swing as a big-leaguer ends Game No. 120 with a single the other way on a 3-0 pitch.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 Atlanta Braves.

Asked if he’d grown accustomed to seeing Jason Heyward come through at such moments, Bobby Cox said: “I’m used to seeing a lot of our hitters come through.”

On Monday it was Melky Cabrera. Often it has been Brooks Conrad. Once, back in April,  it was even Nate McLouth. Wednesday night was Heyward’s turn again, and the 21-year-old went into wise-beyond-his-years mode and watched three pitches, none of them strikes.

Some Braves fans have begun to get antsy over Heyward’s penchant for taking pitches, but it must be noted that another young right fielder of great promise played his way out of …

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Live from the ballyard: The stars keep aligning for the Braves

Six days ago the Braves learned they’d lost their cornerstone for the duration. The trade deadline was already gone, meaning any Braves’ trade target would have to clear waivers. And, these being the Braves, any trade target would need to come cheap.

On Wednesday the Braves traded for Derrek Lee, who’d cleared waivers before Chipper Jones had gotten hurt and therefore couldn’t be blocked by, say, the Phillies. They traded for a first baseman with a great glove who hits in the middle of the lineup and who just happens to be a free agent at season’s end, meaning the Braves are only on the hook for a pittance of his salary before Lee leaves to make room for Freddie Freeman.

All of which leads us to say: This is the Braves’ year.

Said Frank Wren, the general manager: “There have been a lot of things that have happened that have gone well for us. I can’t deny that.”

Chipper Jones gets hurt in mid-August, and that’s one of the worst breaks a team could have. But this particular team …

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Update: The Derrek Lee trade seems very close to fruition

Update, 4:51 p.m.: I’m at the ballyard, and I can report that the Braves expect to announce the trade for Derrek Lee soon.

Let’s say the Braves do land Derrek Lee. Within a week, they would have remade an infield that lost its cornerstone and wound up with this:

  • Derrek Lee, 1B.
  • Omar Infante, 2B.
  • Alex Gonzalez, SS.
  • Martin Prado, 3B.

Let’s note: Two of those weren’t on the Braves’ roster when the season began, and the other two weren’t playing their current positions. All four of them have been All-Stars. Two started on the Marlins’ 2003 World Series champions. (And you’d still have Troy Glaus, MVP of the 2002 World Series, as an option.)

For a team that either can’t or won’t spend big, that’s not a bad infield. It could get you to October, and it could keep you there for a while. And for an infield that just lost Chipper Jones, that’s as much as anyone could reasonably hope this late in the season.

Then again, there’s always the chance that long-rumored McLouth-for-Pujols …

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Update: The Braves DO have a keen interest in D-Lee

Update: I have been given reason to believe the Braves are indeed interested in Derrek Lee and that such a deal could in fact happen.

Another day, another rumored trade. Earlier this week word circulated that the Braves wanted Aramis Ramirez, who’s a third baseman for the Cubs. That was shot down because Ramirez is due to make $14.6 million next season, essentially the same as Chipper Jones, who plans to be back at third base in 2011. (Read Mark Bowman’s nuanced post on MLB.com for the reasons why this rumor never had a prayer of becoming reality.)

But now we move across the Cubbies’ infield. Derrek Lee is the first baseman. He used to be really good. He’s not as good now, but he’s still OK. He also has a bad back.He’s a free agent at season’s end, which means he’d be a rental. (And yet another bridge to Freddie Freeman.)

According to Chicago blogger David Kaplan: “The deal that would send Lee to the Braves has not yet been finalized but MLB sources characterize the trade as …

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Brett Favre again takes us for a ride, ESPN in dutiful tow

If I can be serious about Brett Favre for a moment …

Sorry. I can’t be serious about Brett Favre, not for a nanosecond. Last year he showed up (late) at Vikings camp being driven by the head coach. This year he showed up (late) being driven by the kicker. As ever, the Worldwide Leader in Overkill was tracking his every move, even if his every move couldn’t quite be seen because he was in a moving vehicle with a roof and the cameras were in helicopters.

And I for one am ecstatic beyond reason that Favre will apparently play — I say “apparently” because at this moment he still hasn’t yet stated his intentions publicly, even though a Favre statement of intentions is worthless — again this season. Because I was feeling guilty over my sudden dislike for LeBron James, who up until “The Decision” had done nothing to make me think he was a bad guy, and now my default dislike position has been reset.

LeBron James has been dropped to second on the list. Brett Favre is again the athlete …

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Can Tommy Hanson do as Smoltz and Avery did in 1991?

Tommy Hanson on Monday: Seven innings, one earned run. (AP photo)

Tommy Hanson on Monday: Seven innings, five hits, one earned run. (AP photo)

I’m watching Tommy Hanson, and I’m seeing the young John Smoltz and the younger Steve Avery. I’m thinking of what those two did over the final two months of 1991. I’m thinking Towering Tommy is apt to do something similar.

Smoltz after July 31, 1991: 8-1 with an ERA of 1.49.

Avery after July 31, 1991: 7-3 with an ERA of 2.15.

Hanson since July 1, 2010: 1-3 with an ERA of 1.71.

The incongruous part is, duh, Hanson’s won-lost record. Smoltz, who was then 24, and Avery, then 21, pitched great down the stretch of the great chase of ‘91 and won games. Hanson, who’s 23, is pitching great and somehow not winning. But that’s OK. As long as Hanson keeps doing what he’s doing, the Braves will be fine.

He has gone 44 days without a victory, which says more about the team around him than it does him. He hasn’t yielded more than one earned run in any of his past five starts, which is the job description of a …

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Anybody know any words? Regarding these Braves, I’m out

Even the stoic skipper is getting carried away. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Even the stoic skipper is getting carried away now. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I get paid — way too much, but don’t tell anybody — to write about sports. I’d like to think I know a few words. Regarding the Braves, I’m fresh out. And we’re still two weeks from September.

I realized this last week when I used “otherwordly” to describe this team, “otherworldly” being one of those words you trot out when you can think of nothing else. (It sounds OK, but really: What does it mean? That the Braves are alien beings?) This after four months of tossing around “unlikely” and “improbable” and “outrageous” and suchlike.

And then we arrived at last night’s ending, which came as both a shock and no shock at all. They’d thrown away another game, only they hadn’t thrown it far enough to lose. And sometimes you just have to concede the point: Something is happening here that defies mere words.

Unfortunately, words are all we have on these posts and in the daily paper. And when my …

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