Archive for April, 2011

Leslie leaves UGA, and Mark Fox is (almost) starting over

All hail the head basketball Bulldog. (AP photo)

All hail the head basketball Bulldog. (AP photo)

Even as Georgia was making its (sometimes halting) run toward its first NCAA tournament as an at-large entry since 2002, it was easier to view this team as more a last vestige than a new beginning. Five of the six contributing Bulldogs had been signed by Dennis Felton, who hasn’t coached since January 2009, and now four of those are gone.

Travis Leslie made it official Tuesday: He’s staying in the NBA draft. (Whether he’ll actually get drafted remains uncertain.) Fellow junior Trey Thompkins had already declared himself gone, and here’s where we delve into subtraction. Georgia will will begin its third season under Mark Fox without four of its top five scorers and without its top four rebounders. A team that averaged 68.8 points has just seen 43.4 of those walk out yonder door.

Had Thompkins and Leslie returned, the Bulldogs would have been a Top 10 team next season. Without both, Georgia will do well to finish fourth in the …

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Crazy, man: Why the uninspiring Hawks can win in Round 1

Jeff Teague was among the Hawks' JVs who scared the Heat. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Jeff Teague was among the Hawks' JVs who scared the Heat. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

This is the strangest Hawks’ team I’ve ever covered, and I’ve seen some doozies. It got the head coach it wanted — Larry Drew, who’d been Mike Woodson’s kinder, gentler assistant for six seasons — and has performed as if it wants him to become an ex-head coach very soon.

Example: On March 2 the Hawks surged from 19 points down to beat Chicago. Afterward they spouted the usual this-proves-we-can-beat-anybody platitudes. They lost their next four games.

Another: On April 1 the Hawks beat the Celtics, prompting Al Horford to suggest his team has started to “figure things out.” They’ve since lost five in a row, the latest coming Monday against the star-spangled Miami Heat in a game the Hawks didn’t try to win but almost did anyway.

Did I mention that this is an odd team?

The playoffs begin this weekend. Drew acts as if he doesn’t know what to do with his club, which isn’t surprising. Dr. Jack …

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You say, ‘The Braves stink!’ I say, ‘Hold those horses, folks’

The first 10 games could have gone better for Fredi Gonzalez. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The first 10 games could have gone better for Fredi Gonzalez. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

I know what you’re thinking. And here’s where I, calling on my many years of being too hasty to judge, offer a piece of advice:

Stop thinking what you’re thinking.

The Braves are 4-6 and haven’t hit a lick. They lost Games 2 and 3 of a series against the Phillies and were outscored 13-2 and outhit 23-11. If the next 152 games track a similar course, Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez will have much explaining to do. But this team will hit harder and win more over those 152 games. And how do we know this?

Because we watched something similar happen in this very city only last year.

Through 10 games, the 2011 Braves are hitting .229, which is lousy.  The 2010 Braves were hitting .227 as April ended, and that was a larger sample set (23 games). The 2010 Braves were 9-14 after the season’s first month and looked as dead as a team can look. Four key players — Troy Glaus, Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz and …

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Live again from the Braves: Hey, they haven’t been no-hit yet!

Ubaldo Jimenez (center) celebrates his no-hitter at Turner Field last April. (AP photo)

Ubaldo Jimenez (center) celebrates at Turner Field last April. (AP photo)

The Braves haven’t hit yet. They’re 13th in the National League in batting, 12th in slugging percentage, 15th (of 16 teams) in on-base percentage. And it isn’t Terry Pendleton’s fault! He’s coaching first base this year!

The batting order that was supposed to be armor-plated includes Nate McLouth, who’s hitting .219, and two guys hitting worse. Dan Uggla is at .176, Freddie Freeman at .172.

It was only a year ago that the everyday eight had holes galore: Troy Glaus and Melky Cabrera and Yunel Escobar weren’t hitting, and McLouth wasn’t hitting then, either. And in the season’s 11th game, absolutely nobody got a hit against Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez. Today’s game is the 10th of 2011, so we could be getting near tha time.

Or not. These Braves aren’t going to be futile forever. (Well, McLouth might be. But surely not Uggla.) And today’s opposing pitcher carries an ERA of 20.25. His name is Cole Hamels, and …

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Reports of the Phillies’ demise have been grossly exaggerated

This pretty much characterizes the Braves' offense through nine games. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

This pretty much characterizes the Braves' offense to date. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Anyone who thought this would be easy wasn’t paying attention the past four seasons. The Phillies might have exited spring training in a depleted state, but their clubhouse remains a repository of championship pride and class. And anyone who believes those ineffable qualities count for nothing must have missed those 14 consecutive division titles taken by a team based here.

The Braves didn’t win every blessed year because everything broke right. They won in spite of things going wrong. In 1999 they lost their first baseman (Andres Galarraga) and their catcher (Javy Lopez) for the duration and finished 103-59. They did this in large part because their third baseman did the work of three big men.

Asked if he sees more than a bit of those Braves in these Phillies, that third baseman said: “There are a lot of similarities.”

Then Chipper Jones said this: “They can beat you in so many ways. They …

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From Phil (Mickelson) to Phil(lies): Chatting live off the Braves!

Beachy against the Phils last fall. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Brandon Beachy against the Phillies here last fall. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

When last we met, I was in Augusta watching golf. I have since relocated. I’m at the ballpark for Saturday’s titanic tilt between the first-place Phillies and the third-place Braves. (Standings subject to change.)

The Braves won last night, as you’ve heard. They beat Cliff Lee, which isn’t easy. Today they’ll face Roy Oswalt, who’s no slouch. The Braves will deploy Brandon Beachy, whose first big-league assignment came on 12 hours’ notice last September when he was summoned to face the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park in Game 1 of what would be a three-game sweep for the home side. Not that Beachy was bad that night: All things considered, he was quite good.

He went 4 1/3 innings, yielding four hits, three walks and only one earned run. (Jason Heyward flubbed a ball in the outfield that led to Beachy’s undoing. You might recall that the Braves were making errors hand over fist at the shank of last …

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Again playing in the pine straw, Phil Mickelson rescues himself

Phil Mickelson grips it and rips it on No. 2 Friday. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Phil Mickelson grips it and rips it on No. 2 Friday. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Augusta — A third of the 75th Masters had been played, and the champion of the 74th Masters (and also the 70th, and the 68th) found himself in some danger of not being around for what he would call “my favorite two days of the year.” Phil Mickelson was even par after 24 holes and headed the wrong way.

He’d bogeyed No. 5. He’d bogeyed No. 6. Forget that he’d entered this event as its prohibitive favorite. At issue just past noon Friday was whether he’d make the cut.

Saturday and Sunday at the Masters without Phil Mickelson? It’d be like Phil Mickelson without pine straw.

A Mickelson 6-iron from the pine straw on No. 13 spawned last year’s famous victory, and similar escapes on Nos. 7 and 8 Friday led to the birdies that ensured his continuing presence this weekend. Nothing much happened the rest of his round — he parred the final seven holes — but he’d done what he needed to do without nearly …

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Live from the Masters: Wondering about rain, Rory and Phil

Here's Phil Mickelson, noted horticulturist. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Here we see Mr. Phil Mickelson, noted horticulturist. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Augusta – Back at the press center. Play underway. Thirty percent chance of thunderstorms.

Ian Woosnam has completed four holes. His scores: 4-4-4-4. I’m thinking about posting this pertinent information on foursquare, as soon as I figure out what foursquare is.

Theme of the day, as best I can discern: Can Rory McIlroy, tied for first after Round 1, break 80? (At the 2010 British Open, he opened, as it were, with a 63. He followed that with the aforementioned 80?)

Subplot: Can Phil Mickelson, the overwhelming favorite and the people’s choice, make his move, or does he wait until the weekend? By his standards, Mickelson had a fairly serene opening round — three birdies (two on par-5’s, which should count as only a half-birdie) and one bogey. I’m planning on watching Phil a bit, so I’ll keep you abreast of developments.

And with that I leave you.

By Mark Bradley

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No longer the world’s best, can Tiger Woods still turn tiger?

Tiger Woods tees off in the 75th Masters. (AP photo)

Tiger Woods tees off in the 75th Masters. This shot went straight. Others didn't. (AP photo)

Augusta — At 10:41 a.m. on April 7, 2011, the green-jacketed starter said, “On the tee, Tiger Woods.” The assembled crowd applauded, and one man yelled “Tiger!” rather softly. (A soft yell? Welcome to Augusta National.) The man himself touched the bill of his white cap and then, looking neither right nor left but only dead ahead, sent a big drive down the first fairway.

For the first time since April 10, 1997, Tiger Woods had teed off in the Masters not being favored to win the thing.

That was the year of Tiger’s first Masters victory, and he arrived here ranked No. 1 in the world every time since. He began the 75th Masters ranked No. 1 no longer — he’s No. 7 — and his recent play has been awful by the standards he set and maintained for more than a decade. He hasn’t won a tournament since he wrecked his Escalade and his marriage the night after Thanksgiving 2009.

That said: He’s still …

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Live from the Masters: My main man Tiger Woods has a cough

Here's Tiger, feeling the pressure of playing for the Bradley college fund. (AP photo)

Here's Tiger, feeling the pressure of playing for the Bradley college fund. (AP photo)

Augusta – I walked the front nine with Tiger Woods, and not just because he was my No. 1 pick in the AJC Masters draft. About which, I probably should explain.

The AJC Masters draft is a tradition like no other. The late and much-missed Tom McCollister instituted it at the communal AJC rental house, wherever said house happened to be that year. Esteemed colleague Steve Hummer now serves as the torchbearer and draft poohbah, and he takes this responsibility very seriously.

(Mr. Hummer also cooks, and well. He prepared the steak and potatoes for our crew Wednesday. It’s the best meal I’ve ever had in Augusta, Ga.)

But enough about food. I drew the No. 5 position from the slips in Mr. Hummer’s NBC Sports cap. (The hat is multi-purpose: Mr. Hummer is wearing it as we speak. He’s two seats down, typing away on Mr. Ken Sugiura’s computers, Mr. Hummer’s first two computers — that’s correct; I said …

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