Archive for May, 2012

Pigskin pickin’: Tech wins its division; UGA takes the SEC title

The Honey Badger had his way when last they met. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The Honey Badger had his way last season. But that was then. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Georgia will go 11-1 and win the SEC East. Then it will beat LSU for the SEC championship. And then … well, what destination traditionally awaits the SEC champion? (Hint: It ain’t beautiful downtown Shreveport.)

With that, we commence our annual long-range look at college football, which is guaranteed to please absolutely no one. If I pick your team to do less well than you think it should, you’ll be miffed;  if I pick your team to do better, you’ll gripe about the Bradley Jinx. Which didn’t, I should note, seem to trouble Georgia overmuch last season: The Bulldogs, as predicted, did take the East. And this year, for better or worse, I foresee better.

Georgia Tech will upset Virginia Tech on Labor Day night and will win the ACC Coastal Division. I can’t really believe I’m making this call. (Perhaps you share the feeling.) But before you succumb to an outbreak of whooping scoff, check …

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The Braves are making moves, but the key concern remains

Did someone say Kris Medlen needs to stretch out his arm? (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Did someone say Kris Medlen needs to stretch out his arm? (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

You can’t say the Braves aren’t trying. They’ve summoned Jose Constanza and plugged him into the lineup — batting him ninth, for some reason — and they’ve sent Kris Medlen to Gwinnett to brush up on his long-form techniques, and now they’ve demoted Tyler Pastornicky and promoted Andrelton Simmons. And they have, it must be noted, fashioned a two-game winning streak after going more than a week between victories. That said …

All this motion won’t yield the desired results unless the starting pitching gets better. I know I’m belaboring the point, but in baseball starting pitching is the one point that cannot be belabored.

The Braves just completed a six-game homestand; only once in the six games did a starting pitcher last even six innings, and that came on a night when Tim Hudson yielded seven earned runs in 6 2/3 innings against Washington. Last night Hudson couldn’t hold a five-run lead and …

Continue reading The Braves are making moves, but the key concern remains »

Alas, a four-team college football playoff will be no panacea

Nick Saban advocates the plumb-bob method of determining a national champion. (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

Nick Saban advocates the time-honored plumb-bob method of determining a national champion. (AJC photo by Bob Andres)

Knock me over with a feather. The coaches who work in the league that just filled both slots in the BCS title game have queued up to say they don’t want a new four-team playoff to include only conference champs. From Nick Saban of Alabama, who told reporters: “It’s just like politics and self-interest. Somebody wants to create a circumstance that’s going to help their situation or conference. That’s not in the best interest of college football.”

This from the coach whose team won the national championship without winning its division. (No self-interest there!)

I don’t blame the SEC coaches. Their league plays the best football. There’s a chance a four-team playoff, if seeded according to merit, might include not two but three SEC teams. Which might not be fair to the other conferences, but who said even a four-team playoff will be fair?

The Big Ten, never a …

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Video: On the sliding Braves and their shoddy starting pitching

Continue reading Video: On the sliding Braves and their shoddy starting pitching »

A cold truth revealed: The Braves’ pitching isn’t good enough

Tommy Hanson after being pulled in the fourth inning Monday. (AP photo by David Goldman)

Tommy Hanson after being pulled in the fourth inning Monday. (AP photo by David Goldman)

Even as we celebrated the Braves’ embrace of the Good At-Bat and the Sustained Rally, an ominous note went unheard. They were scoring so many runs and winning so many games that we — well, some of us — didn’t grasp that the only way they were winning so many games was by scoring so many runs. But the offense has begun to wane, as offenses will, and we’re forced to confront a rather stark reality:

The team that believed it had great starting pitching doesn’t have very good starting pitching.

The Braves awoke on Memorial Day, the first checkpoint of the baseball season, with the 13th-best ERA for starting pitchers in the 16-team National League. On cue, Tommy Hanson went out and threw … well, you couldn’t call it a game, him being gone after recording 10 outs (while yielding 12 baserunners). He left with his team down 5-0, and soon it would be 6-nil and another game was gone, the eighth in a …

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These NBA playoffs: Less about excellence than about health

This happened in the very first game of these playoffs. It set a tone. (AP photo)

Derrick Rose was lost in the very first game of this postseason. Thus was a tone set. (AP photo)

On Feb. 21, San Antonio saw an 11-game winning streak end at Portland by the score of 137-97. But the resounding part wasn’t the 40-point margin: It was the message sent. The Spurs hadn’t used their two best players, and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker weren’t hurt.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters: “I can’t run our guys into the ground.”

Then this: “That’s what’s going to happen if you want to put some money in the bank for later.”

We know now that the NBA’s post-lockout regular season, in which 66 games were jammed into four months, served to make a mess of this postseason. Should it come as a coincidence that Popovich’s team has sailed unbeaten through two rounds, while the Chicago Bulls, who tied San Antonio for the regular season’s best record, were gone after six games? Should we be surprised that all that seems to matter in these playoffs is health, or the lack …

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Is the ACC doomed? Hardly, and here are the reasons why

OK, so it isn't football, but it's still an off-tackle dive play. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

OK, so it isn't football, but it's still an off-tackle dive play. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Let’s be clear: The ACC has work to do. But that’s not nearly the same as being doomed, which is how some have characterized the conference after the double hit of Florida State’s (apparently overstated) flirtation with the Big 12 and the announcement of the SEC/Big 12 New Year’s Day bowl. As a public service, we attempt to distinguish flaming hyperbole from colder reality.

The ACC needs to tie itself to a big new bowl. This part is true. Indeed, this is essential. The chance of the champions from the SEC and the Big 12 being omitted from the presumptive four-team BCS playoff is small; the chance of an ACC titlist not making the final cut is rather larger. (No ACC team has played for the BCS title since Florida State in 2000, which was so long ago that Mark Richt was the Seminoles’ offensive coordinator.)

To be considered viable, the ACC cannot have its champ landing in, say, the …

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Video: On the SEC, the Big 12 and their confusing bowl game

Continue reading Video: On the SEC, the Big 12 and their confusing bowl game »

Numbers suggest Minor hasn’t been quite as bad as all that

A kick of the leg, a flip of the wrist ... but what's the xFIP? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A kick of the leg, a flip of the wrist … but what's the xFIP? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

In the light of Mike Minor’s latest strange outing — he yielded five hits in six innings, but four were home runs — I thought I’d pass along some data presented by Red Reporter in its preview of the Reds-Braves series. (Warning: If your eyes glaze over at the mention of sabermetrics, cease and desist reading.) My two favorites:

That Minor has a left-on-base percentage that’s off the charts, and not in a good way.

That Minor, who now carries an ERA of 6.97, has, at least according to one key stat-geek metric, pitched almost as well as Brandon Beachy, whose 1.33 ERA leads the majors.

The metric in question is xFIP, and it stands for expected fielding independent pitching. Here’s the simple definition — actually, it’s not all that simple — from the really useful site FanGraphs: “ Fielding Independent Pitching measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time …

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The SEC’s new bowl with the Big 12? It mightn’t be so big

In other news, Herschel Walker just challenged Mike Rozier to an arm-wrestling match.

In other news, Herschel Walker just dared Mike Rozier to arm-wrestle him. (AJC special photo)

Beginning in 2014, the champions of the SEC and the Big 12 will meet annually in a New Year’s Day bowl. That’s provided both champions are available, which neither figures to be. Which is why I’m a little confused about just how big this Big Game really is.

I’m less confused about the motivations for such a move. They are, as ever, money and power. Even if the actual conference champions won’t be playing in this game, it will still bear the imprint of the SEC, which in college football has become the only league that matters, and the Big 12, which by pairing with the almighty SEC is hoping that some of the glow is transferable.

If you’re the Big 12 and you were losing high-profile schools teams left and right — Colorado to the Pac-12, Nebraska to the Big Ten, Texas A&M and Missouri to the, er, SEC — that’s a major consideration. Recent rumblings about Florida State considering a move …

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