Archive for August, 2011

Kid closer Craig Kimbrel: Best Braves’ rookie I’ve ever seen

Better than Bob Wickman, wouldn't you say? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

He's just a bit better than Bob Wickman, wouldn't you say? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Someone noted that, in the ninth inning of the Braves’ hairbreadth victory over Arizona last Sunday, Craig Kimbrel had hit 100 mph on the Turner Field radar gun. Said Kimbrel, all but snorting: “You mean the pitch that I don’t know how Mac caught?”

Well, yes. The intent was to throw a high hard one and make Chris Young chase it. Kimbrel threw it so hard and high that Brian McCann had to spring from his crouch to keep it from clattering against the backstop, which would have been a revolting development seeing as how the tying run occupied third base. But enough play by play.

The greater points here: Craig Kimbrel isn’t overly impressed with how hard he throws, which is a key consideration for somehow who throws as hard as he throws. He has clambered past the point where velocity is the be-all/end-all and has ascended to a more mature plane. More than just a thrower, he’s becoming a pitcher. …

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The Braves are in a pennant race that’s really more of a stroll

"Hey, rookie. Do me a favor and wake me when it's October." (AP photo)

The Braves will be around in October. But September comes first, does it not? (AP photo)

When is a pennant race not a pennant race? Why, right about now.

The Braves trail Philadelphia by 6 1/2 games with 31 to play. (The Phillies have 34 games remaining.) There’s no pressure on either team. An illustration as to why:

Let’s say the Phillies somehow manage to squander their lead. Let’s say they do finish second to the Braves. To miss the playoffs, Philly would have to blow — pause for effect — a 15-game lead with 34 remaining. Because that’s the margin Philadelphia holds over San Francisco, the second-place team in the wild-card chase.

Not even the infamous Pholdin’ Phils of 1964 did anything resembling that. They wasted a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to go. But they did it by going to a two-man rotation — Jim Bunning and Chris Short — and by losing games in strange ways. (The Phold began on a night they lost to the Reds 1-0 when Chico Ruiz stole home.)

Let’s just take a deep breath …

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I asked, ‘Why no buzz for the Falcons?’ Here’s what you said

The rookie Julio Jones makes a buzz-worthy entrance. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The rookie Julio Jones makes a buzz-worthy entrance. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I’ve been hearing rather less about the Falcons than I thought I might, and much of what I have heard has been negative. So I got to thinking: Where’s the buzz about these Birds? And then I thought, “Maybe it’s just you. Maybe there’s this huge buzz you haven’t heard because you’re off listening to your warped vinyl records.”

So I asked. In a blog post on AJC.com Wednesday morning, I invited readers to tell me if such a buzz existed, and if not why not. And the results were overwhelming — 400 online comments in 4 1/2 hours, dozens of emailed responses, plus Facebook postings and Twitter tweets — and instructive.

From Paul Lipsey via email: “Thought you’d made a wacky assumption this morning, but I see nothing in the first hour of comments to indicate that you’ve made a mistake.  No screeching outrage from the Falcon flock?  I’m flummoxed.”

So that made two of us. The obvious next question: …

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Your help needed: Why aren’t we buzzing about the Falcons?

They're excited. Why aren't we? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They're excited. Why aren't we? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

As you know, I need all the help I can get, and today I’m asking for yours. See, I’ve having this problem. (Many problems, actually, but for today we’ll stick with one.)

It’s about the Atlanta Falcons. I think they’re going to be really good, Super-Bowl-or-thereabouts good. But then, when I listen closely, I hear no buzz about this team.

And I ask myself: Why isn’t there a buzz?

As ever, I have my own ideas, but today I’m soliciting yours. I’m hoping to write something longer later in the day — this will also be for Thursday print — about the buzz, or the lack thereof, and I’d like to incorporate (polite word for “steal”) your thoughts.

Possible factors, at least as I see it:

  1. We’re more focused on college football starting.
  2. We’re caught up in the Braves’ stirring season.
  3. We still haven’t gotten past the Green Bay game.
  4. We simply don’t trust the Falcons to win big when they’re supposed to win big.

Perhaps you’ve …

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Iron-willed Pat Summitt faces the scariest diagnosis there is

Pat Summitt after winning the 2005 SEC tournament. (AP photo)

Pat Summitt after winning the 2005 SEC tournament. (AP photo)

Cancer would be one thing. People of all ages get cancer, and famous coaches are people, too. Jim Calhoun has had it. George Karl has had it. Jim Valvano and Vince Lombardi died from it.

Cancer is bad, but with most cancers you figure you stand a fighting chance. Pat Summitt doesn’t have cancer. She has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, and in her two-minute videotaped statement to Vol Nation she was brave enough to mention the scariest word there is.

That word: Alzheimer’s.

Pat Summitt is 59. She’s among the half-dozen greatest coaches in the history of college basketball. Auriemma, Knight, Krzyzewski, Smith, Summitt and Wooden — there, in alphabetical order, is your list.

She has been the best thing about Tennessee sports for nearly four decades. I met her in 1977, back when she was Pat Head. Already in her third season as the Lady Vols’ coach, she was coming off a silver medal as a player for the U.S. …

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What’s wrong with Jason Heyward? It’s a blip in his BABIP

Perhaps a non-mechanical hug will do the trick. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

A non-mechanical hug might do the trick. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Writing for ESPN Insider, Dayn Perry of FanGraphs asks the question many among us have asked: What happened to Jason Heyward? (Link requires registration.) Using the best data known to man and computers, Perry offers this telling snapshot:

Heyward is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to line-drive percentage (17.8 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2011), infield pop-ups (8.4 percent to 24.7 percent) and batting average on balls in play (.335 to .245). In the case of his declining BABIP, there’s almost certainly some bad luck involved, but the remaining indicators are more troubling.

Additionally, he’s swinging at 44.8 percent of pitches overall, up from 39.4 percent last year; and he’s swinging at 28.7 percent out of the zone after hacking at just 24.2 percent of such offerings. Add it all up and you have a guy who’s hitting fewer line drives and more pop-ups and seems to have lost …

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Can the flagging ACC survive in a football-driven industry?

It seemed like a big deal at the time: Tech after winning the 2009 ACC title. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Georgia Tech celebrates the 2009 ACC title, since vacated. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The ACC has long been the nation’s most prestigious basketball league, but at a time when college football grows ever larger, basketball  counts for less. The almighty SEC figures to try and poach a team or two from the ACC and the Big East and the Big Ten likewise could make entreaties. Is it possible that the ACC could, in the not-so-distant future, cease not just to matter but to exist?

It was in 2003 that the ACC snatched Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East, which appeared bound for oblivion. But the Big East, in a deft bit of damage control, grew to 16 teams and became the nation’s best — as opposed to the most prestigious — basketball league. The ACC, by way of contrast, has reaped next to nothing from its expansion.

Since the ACC expanded to a dozen, only Virginia Tech has finished a season ranked in the top 10 of the final USA Today coaches’ poll, and in that …

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Heat Check: UGA’s uniforms are hot, as in ‘Burn them now!’

Aaron Murray leads Georgia onto the field for its season opener.

Aaron Murray leads Georgia onto the field and boldly proclaims, "Goldar — er, Boise — you're going down!"

The Monday Heat Check begins not with a player or a team but with the latest in fall clothing. Anna Wintour has nothing on us.

Georgia’s uniforms: They’re new. They’re different. They’re horrible. The good news is that we’ll see them for only one game. The bad news is that the game will televised. Heat index: They’re sure to be a hot item at the thrift store as of Sept. 4.

Georgia’s ranking: The Bulldogs are No. 19 in the preseason Associated Press poll, which is pretty darn good for a team that went 6-7. They’re ranked ahead of Mississippi State and Florida, to whom they lost, and Auburn, to whom they also lost and who went 14-0. Heat index: Yeah, but have the voters taken a gander at those Pro Combat duds?

Georgia Tech’s ranking, or the lack thereof: Forty-eight teams drew votes in the AP survey, the Jackets not among them. Heat index: A cold front has settled over …

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A weeklong playoff preview stamps Braves as October-ready

Alex Gonzalez's homer: All that was required. (AP photo)

Who needs insurance runs? Alex Gonzalez after his homer. (AP photo)

We saw a week’s worth of October baseball in August, and what we saw tells us these Braves will be playing for more than a week when October comes. We didn’t just see them win the week. We saw them dominate.

They played seven games. They won six. Four of the victories came by one run. Two, Sunday’s included, finished 1-nil. These were the same manner of games the Braves played against San Francisco last fall, and they weren’t quite good enough — largely because they weren’t healthy enough — then. They’re good enough now.

October baseball is like World Cup soccer. (Hence the “1-nil” reference.) You have to score when you have a chance and keep the other guy from scoring when he gets his. The Braves won Sunday because Alex Gonzalez hit a home run, just as Chipper Jones had hit a home run off Tim Lincecum three days earlier, and because this team is tenacious enough to hold a one-run lead.

Said Fredi Gonzalez, …

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Live from Braves-Snakes, talking about UGA’s new uniforms

Take a picture of that ugly new uniform! (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

For posterity's sake, take a picture of that ugly new uniform! (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

I’ll get around to baseball in a moment, but first I need to say: In the history of sports, no fan base has ever reacted favorably to the sight of new uniforms. (OK, maybe I exaggerate. San Diego fans might have exulted when the Padres got rid of the brown jerseys. And Georgia folks seemed to like the black jerseys against Auburn in 2007. But not the black helmets against Florida in 2009.) Put simply, this is human nature.

People like familiarity. Every newspaper/magazine/website redesign is always met with scorn, even if it’s clearly an artistic upgrade. That Georgia’s Nike-designed Pro Combat uniforms — unveiled at Photo Day in Athens — are a dramatic change, but that’s kind of the point.

Because — more generalization here — players love new uniforms. (Does that mean players aren’t, you know, people themselves? No, but they get to wear the uniforms, as opposed to behold them.) …

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