Archive for April, 2012

You make the call (after the fact): Was Julio Jones worth it?

If they had it to do again ... (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

If they had it to do again … (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The final bill for Julio Jones is about to come due, and already the Falcons have paid a heavy cost. Not only did they send five draft picks — last year’s Round 1 (27th overall), Round 2 (59th overall) and Round 4 (124th overall) selections, plus this year’s Round 1 (22nd overall) and Round 4 (118th overall) — to Cleveland for the right to move up and grab one wide receiver, but they have been pilloried in every corner for their flight of fancy.

(Well, not every corner. I still think it was a reasoned move to take a specific player of vast potential, but I’ll get into that soon.)

After the Falcons lost to the Giants 24-2 on a day in the Meadowlands when the offense didn’t scratch, Kerry J. Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts laid the defeat at the feet of the Julio trade. (Not entirely sure how three rookies — only one of them who’d have been even a first-rounder, and that one only the 27th pick — would have …

Continue reading You make the call (after the fact): Was Julio Jones worth it? »

His team’s hitting, but Jurrjens isn’t pitching – and he knows it

Jair Jurrjens works to David Wright on Wednesday. (AP photo by John Bazemore)

Jair Jurrjens delivers to David Wright on Wednesday. (AP photo by John Bazemore)

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. There can be no baseball without worry. As the Braves finished a splendid homestand, we offer two findings:

1. The offense, for a change, looks really good.

2. Jair Jurrjens does not.

In taking five of six from the Brewers and Mets, the Braves broke double figures twice. They managed 10-plus runs only six times last season, never after Aug. 12. The influence of new hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher already is apparent. Even when Freddie Freeman couldn’t buy a hit, he was (baseball phrase) grinding out good at-bats, and the culmination came Tuesday night — an 11-pitch AB that yielded an RBI double.

Freeman had two more extra-base hits Wednesday afternoon — a double to right and a homer to left — plus a sacrifice fly. Not to get all Zen on you, but this grinding stuff works. If the Braves keep at it, they’ll hit enough to be a playoff team. Provided …

Continue reading His team’s hitting, but Jurrjens isn’t pitching – and he knows it »

Video: What Heyward’s strong start means for the Braves

Continue reading Video: What Heyward’s strong start means for the Braves »

Jason Heyward: Tweaked swing, same mindset, better results

This Heyward homer came Sunday. (AP photo)

This Jason Heyward homer came Sunday. (AP photo by John Bazemore)

Jason Heyward went from being a sure thing at 20 to a source of uncertainty by the time he turned 22, which is the way it can work. Make a great first record and you’re the Next Dylan. Make a lesser second LP and you’re the new Milli Vanilli. Which is why Music Snobs tend to judge an musician by what we like to call the Crucial Third Album.

Through  the first 10 games of a perhaps crucial Year 3, Jason Heyward has hit .375 with two home runs and five RBI’s. And now, for contrarian purposes, we ask: Was a good start really crucial for this player?

Said Fredi Gonzalez, the Braves’ manager: “It’s important for everybody, but more so for him.”

Said Greg Walker, the new hitting coach: “It could have been an issue if he was the kind of guy who panicked.”

There’s the key. Of all the things the Braves liked about Heyward at age 20, outrageous athletic ability was only one. Yeah, he could hit the ball really hard and …

Continue reading Jason Heyward: Tweaked swing, same mindset, better results »

He’s about to turn 40, but Chipper Jones is still a mighty man

The knee needed draining, but the power? It's remaining. (AP photo by John Bazemore)

The knee needed draining, but the power? It's remaining. (AP photo by John Bazemore)

It is not my intent to write about Chipper Jones every day of calendar 2012, but let’s face it: The guy IS  amazing.

Hurts his knee in spring training before he can announce his impending retirement, has arthroscopic surgery, recuperates blurry-fast and is ready to go in the season’s fifth game, hits a home run in his first game back.

Plays two games in Houston (the Braves’ first two wins of calendar 2012), sees his knee swell on the plane home, gets 45 cc’s of gunk drained during Friday’s home opener, then returns Sunday and hits a home run in his first home game of his final season (another win).

The Braves so far: 2-4 when Chipper doesn’t play, 3-0 when he does.

Even in his final go-round, he remains a major presence in the field, in the clubhouse, even in the dugout. You’ll recall that the Braves had men on second and third with one out in the eighth inning of Friday’s tie game. Dan Uggla …

Continue reading He’s about to turn 40, but Chipper Jones is still a mighty man »

Attempting to rebuild the Braves’ offense one at-bat at a time

The Braves' bats are in the process of being uncaged. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

The Atlanta Braves' bats are in the process of being uncaged. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Three and half hours before their second home game of 2012, half the Braves’ regulars were taking swings at pitches lobbed underhanded from a distance of six feet by bullpen catcher Alan Butts. As you’d guess, these soft serves were being driven prodigious distances. And the purpose of this exercise was … what?

Said Greg Walker, the Braves’ hitting coach: “There’s another group doing this in the [indoor] cage, but we’re doing it out here to see the flight of the ball.”

And this matters … why?

Walker: “If you’re getting topspin or a hook, that means you’re missing.”

Every team does the lob drill, but most of them do it indoors, where the flight of the ball is architecturally limited. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Walker had seen the Yankees doing it on the field, and he liked the idea. Which is yet another reason to like Greg Walker: He’s smart enough to borrow from the best.

The …

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A tale too often told: The Braves play as the great Chipper sits

Chipper Jones hit a homer in Houston on his first night back. (AP photo)

He's still got it: Chipper Jones hit a homer in Houston on his first night back. (AP photo)

The last home opener of Chipper Jones’ big-league career brought to mind what should have been his first home opener as an Atlanta Brave. He couldn’t play then, either. The year was 1994, and he’d torn his ACL running to first base in a night exhibition against the Yankees in Fort Lauderdale.

Now as then, it was his left knee. (Not that his right has held fast. He had meniscus surgery on that one last summer.) He wrenched his left knee an hour before announcing in spring training that he will retire at season’s end, and there could have been no grimmer twist of fate: Even in trying to say goodbye, the great Chipper Jones had to say “Ouch” first.

That latest injury — a tear of the meniscus — forced the great Chipper to start his final season on the disabled list. Without him, the Braves lost their first four games. He rode to the rescue in Houston, hitting a home run in his first game …

Continue reading A tale too often told: The Braves play as the great Chipper sits »

Video: On the Braves, the home opener and Fredi’s future

Continue reading Video: On the Braves, the home opener and Fredi’s future »

Take heart, Atlanta: We no longer lead any league in stupidity!

Bobby Petrino: Once a Bird, now just a birdbrain. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Bobby Petrino once was a Bird. Now he's just a birdbrain. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This hasn’t been the easiest time to care about sports around here. The Braves collapsed in September, made no moves of note over the winter and started the new season 0-4. The Falcons didn’t score a point on offense in their playoff loss, made no ripple in free agency and don’t have a Round 1 pick in the draft. The Georgia Bulldogs lost the SEC championship game by 32 points, blew the Outback Bowl and have seen much of their defensive backfield arrested and/or suspended.

And here’s where we cast our eyes toward yonder horizon and espy …

A silver lining.

Our sporting fortunes might not be all that exciting at the moment, but we’ve gotten past the point (at least for the moment) where they’re utterly stupid. For utterly stupid, we must turn elsewhere in the South.

• An SEC head coach wrecked his motorcycle with his girlfriend aboard, and he did it, appropriately enough, on April Fool’s …

Continue reading Take heart, Atlanta: We no longer lead any league in stupidity! »

Urban decay? Sporting News examines a ‘broken’ Florida

The former Florida head ball coach is taken to task by Matt Hayes. (AP photo)

The former Florida head ball coach has been taken to task by Matt Hayes. (AP photo)

The Georgia Bulldogs haven’t had the sunniest of offseasons — and there’s still a whole summer to go! — but Matt Hayes of Sporting News offers a bit of reading guaranteed to warm the Red & Black heart. It’s about Urban Meyer and Florida, and if you happen to hate the Gators this will serve as the feel-good story of the spring.

It commences with a killer anecdotal lead (or lede, as we say in the trade): The Urban Crier, who’s now coaching Ohio State, tells the family of recruit Stephon Diggs he wouldn’t let his son go to Florida because of “character issues in the locker room.”

Writes Hayes: “[Those] character issues … we now know were fueled by a culture Meyer created.”

And then Hayes has at it, detailing — mostly via unnamed sources, we should note — just how the Urbanator created a two-tier system in Gainesville: Either you were a star and a member of his “Circle of Trust,” or you weren’t. …

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