Archive for June, 2011

Brian McCann: A great player who’s an even better teammate

Chipper Jones salutes one of his two favorite teammates. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Chipper Jones salutes one of his two all-time favorite teammates. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

He carried the team at the end of last season, and he’s carrying it again. He’s at worst — at worst – the second-best player at the sport’s most demanding position, and he’s about to play in his sixth consecutive All-Star Game. And yet somehow Brian McCann remains …

Underrated.

“Around here he’s not,” said pitcher Tommy Hanson, meaning within the Braves’ clubhouse. But outside it?

“I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” Hanson said. “And it’s not only his hitting — it’s his catching, too. It’s the way he works with us. He takes a lot of pride in trying to get us through the game.”

Said David Ross, McCann’s understudy: “He gets All-Star votes, but I don’t think he has the reputation [nationally]. He’s kind of seen as a complementary piece.”

He’s more than that. He’s the centerpiece. He’s at worst — at worst — the second-best everyday Brave of the past two decades, and he has …

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Live from the ballyard: Could the Braves really lose to Jo-Jo?

May 23, 2008: Jo-Jo Reyes with two former allies. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

May 23, 2008: Jo-Jo Reyes discusses key matters with former allies. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Jo-Jo Reyes used to be a Brave. He was the ride-along in the last summer’s Yunel Escobar/Alex Gonzalez trade. Lately he has become infamous for going 28 starts without winning, which matched an all-time big-league worst.

The good news: Jo-Jo Reyes starts against the Braves today.

The less-good news: He’s pitching better.

He has, believe it or not, won three of his past four starts, beating two decent teams from Ohio (Cleveland and Cincinnati, duh) and Baltimore. His ERA is a not-that-horrible 4.18. And he has actually been good in interleague competition (3-1 with a 1.79 ERA).

That said … even by Braves standards, it would look pretty bad to lose to a guy who went from June 13, 2008, to May 30, 2011, without winning a start. But the Braves, as we’re aware, often make ordinary pitchers they’re facing for the first time look like Christy Mathewson. And this will be the first time, not …

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NBA draft buzz: Shumpert up, Leslie steady, Thompkins down

Trey Thompkins on his last night as a Bulldog. (AP photo)

Trey Thompkins on his last night as a Bulldog. (AP photo)

Iman Shumpert, Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins have reason to be optimistic as Thursday’s NBA draft approaches. Each of them is projected to go in Round 1 in somebody’s mock draft.

The three local products also have cause to fret. Each is listed as a Round 2 choice in somebody else’s mock draft. The latest in mockeries:

• Shumpert, the Georgia Tech guard, is projected to be taken by the New York Knicks with the 17th pick of Round 1 (link requires registration) by Chad Ford of ESPN Insiders and by the Houston Rockets with the 23rd pick of Round 1 by NBADraftExpress. He’s also tabbed to go to the Portland Trail Blazers with the 21st pick of Round 2 (the 51st overall) by NBAdraft.net. If you’re counting, that’s a variation of 34 places from highest to lowest.

•Thompkins, the Georgia forward, is projected as going to the Boston Celtics with the 25th pick of Round 1 by NBAdraft.net. He’s also slotted to go to the …

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Al Horford for Superman: Should the Hawks make that offer?

Switch the jerseys. Whaddaya think? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Switch the jerseys. Whaddaya think? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Dwight Howard has said he’ll opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Otis Smith, Orlando’s general manager, has said he won’t trade Howard and believes the NBA’s best center can be persuaded to re-up with the Magic. Other NBA clubs won’t sit around and wait. They’ll make offers for Howard.

Should the Hawks make an offer?

They could make a tantalizing one: Al Horford and Kirk Hinrich for Howard and power forward Ryan Anderson. That’s an All-NBA center (third team) with a Florida background who’s under contract through 2016 for a reasonable $12 million per season and a useful guard whose contract expires in 2012. The Magic could make something of that.

Or this: Josh Smith and Marvin Williams for the same two Magic men. That’s two starters — we’ll say for the sake of argument that Williams still qualifies — who are 25 years old and who are under contract through at least 2013. …

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The Marlins hire McKeon. When does a team call Bobby Cox?

When you retire, you have more time for the grandchildren. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

When you retire, you have more time for the grandchildren. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Edwin Rodriguez resigned as Florida’s manager Sunday. The job has been filled  by the cigar-smoking Jack McKeon, who’s 80. What I’m wondering: How long before some team with a vacancy makes a run at a cigar aficionado who’s a spry 70?

“Nobody’s going to hire me,” Bobby Cox said Monday, speaking via iPhone. “I’m too young. I’ve got to earn my spurs first.”

About McKeon, Cox said: “Jack’s full of life and energy. Every time he’s come back — in Cincinnati and with Florida — he’s won.”

Let the record reflect that Robert Joseph Cox did some winning himself — 15 division titles, 16 playoff appearances, five National League pennants, one World Series title. He retired last fall, but he remains one of the most respected figures the game has known. And so I wondered: Has any club issued a feeler as to Cox’s interest in managing again?

“No, no, no, no,” he said. “I’m too busy. They can’t catch up …

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It’s time for the Braves to start hitting the mark. And the ball

This ground-rule double by Freddie Freeman drove in Jordan Schafer. (AP photo)

This ground-rule double by Freddie Freeman drove in Jordan Schafer in the seventh. (AP photo)

Enough with this we’re-better-than-we’ve-played stuff. It’s time for the Braves to play better. They’re getting healthy. (Well, except for Tommy Hanson.) The schedule between here and the All-Star break isn’t oppressive. If there’s an upward move in this club — and surely there is — this would seem the moment.

The Braves have positioned themselves to make the playoffs — they’re tied for the wild-card lead — despite playing nearly half a season with one hand tied behind their backs. This was built to be a good-hit, good-pitch team. It has become a great-pitch, seldom-hit assemblage. It shouldn’t have happened, but it has.

It’s time for it to stop happening. It’s time for the guys who are paid to hit to … you know, hit. It’s time to see if this club can indeed give the regal Phillies a run for the National League East.

Said Chipper Jones, who missed the weekend series against Texas with …

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Live from the ballyard: The skidding Braves need a win (duh)

The NL's pitcher of the month for May needs to stop a June swoon. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The NL's pitcher of the month for May needs to halt a June swoon. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The Braves had a chance to consolidate the gains made on their road trip, on which they went 7-3. They’ve since gone 1-4, their only victory coming on a walk-off balk. They lost a series to the Mets and have lost this one to the Rangers, and now they’re just trying to exercise damage control.

Jair Jurrjens is pitching today, and that’s usually a good thing. He’s 8-3 with an ERA of 2.13. But Alexi Ogando is working for Texas, and he’s 7-1 with an ERA of 2.71. And the Braves, as you know, have a way of making ordinary pitchers look like Walter Johnson. Imagine what they might do against a good one.

The Braves trailed the Phillies by two games a week ago. They’re six behind now, Philadelphia having beaten Felix Hernandez in Seattle last night. They’re still in good shape for the wild card — tied with St. Louis and Arizona for the lead in that category — but that six-game spread between …

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As Rangers arrive, we say: The Teixeira deal wasn’t that bad

Elvis Andrus as a Rome Brave.

Back in the day: Elvis Andrus as a Rome Brave.

The Texas Rangers arrive at Turner Field tonight for a three-game series, and no Braves fan will ever think of the Rangers as anything but the organization that remade itself by renting Mark Teixeira to the local team for a year.

Of the five prospects the Braves sent  to Texas, three are big-league Rangers today. (A fourth, Jerrod Saltalamacchia, is Boston’s No. 1 catcher.)

Teixeira arrived in August 2007, played 157 games as a Brave and was traded to the Angels in July 2008 and signed with the Yankees — doesn’t everybody? — that winter.

For the Braves, the trade was a considered mistake. They knew what they were doing; it just didn’t work. Teixeira’s presence didn’t lift them above the Phillies in either of his partial seasons here. He wasn’t terrible. He was actually pretty darn good. But one year’s rental didn’t yield the desired result, and it came at great cost. That said …

The trade didn’t bankrupt the Braves’ farm system, …

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And it’s another goose egg for the punchless Atlanta Braves

It was hailing at the ballyard, but it wasn't raining hits. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It was hailing at the ballyard, but it wasn't raining hits. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It was business as usual for the Braves’ non-pitchers on a stormy Wednesday that lapped into Thursday, and business isn’t exactly booming. They managed two hits off four Mets pitchers. They hit five balls out of the infield, two of those coming in the ninth inning. They lost 4-0. They were two games behind Philadelphia as of Monday; they’re five in arrears now.

The good news, such as it was, is that the Braves are beginning to get some of their position players back. Jason Heyward returned from the disabled list Wednesday night. (He went 0-for-2 with a walk; his throwing error on Jose Reyes’ leadoff double led to an unearned run, which was all the Mets needed.) Nate McLouth is scheduled to begin his rehab stint at Gwinnett today. Freddie Freeman is set to return to the Braves’ lineup tonight.

The bad news: There’s no assurance Heyward and Freeman and eventually McLouth will galvanize this …

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Now working at Turner Field: The best pitching staff in the biz

Tommy Hanson: He has been great. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Tommy Hanson has been great. But almost every Braves' pitcher has been great this season. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

We’ve been going about this the wrong way. We’ve been too busy gnashing our hands and wringing our teeth — or is it the other way around? — over the Braves’ lack of hitting that we’ve missed a fairly remarkable thing. We’ve missed what has the potential to be …

(Pause for effect.)

The best pitching staff in Atlanta Braves’ history.

These words aren’t rendered lightly. The Braves’ pitching the 1990s and into the new millennium was magnificent: The finest rotation ever ate inning upon inning year upon year, and soon three of those luminaries will be summoned to Cooperstown.The Braves led the National League in ERA 10 times from 1992 through 2004. Fabulous stuff. That said …

The 2011 Braves entered play Wednesday night with a lower ERA than any of the Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz staffs posted. Indeed, this ERA — 3.05 — would match the 1974 Braves for the lowest in …

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