Our weekly Heat Check begins with baseball’s hottest team, and no, I don’t mean the Mets.
BRAVES: On July 5, the day the season’s second half officially began, manager Fredi Gonzalez assessed his team’s first half as “just OK.” They’re 24-9 since. They went 4-2 last week but managed to slide 4 1/2 games behind Washington, which went 6-1. Which leads us to say: No big deal.
There are two wild cards this season. Even if there were only one, the Braves are two games ahead of Pittsburgh, and the Pirates probably won’t hold up much longer. Baseball Prospectus gives the Braves only a 17.1 percent chance of winning the National League East but a 91.1 percent chance of making the playoffs.
The rest of August will be intriguing. Over the next 2 1/2 weeks, the Braves will play three games in Washington, three here against the Dodgers, four against the Giants and seven (four here, three there) against the Padres. Only San Diego is under .500, and the Padres are 17-12 since the All-Star break. Heat Index: After Aug. 26, the Braves’ schedule could not be more inviting. They’ll have only six remaining games against plus-.500 opposition.
FALCONS: Looked good in taking a 14-0 lead against the Ravens in the exhibition opener. Looked bad in getting outscored 31-3 thereafter. But it would have been a lot more worrisome had it been the other way around. Let’s face it — once the real season begins, nobody who played in the second half of that game is apt to see significant time.
Fans are a-dither about Akeem Dent’s concussion, suffered while playing on punt coverage. But a non-third-down linebacker will often have to do duty on special teams. This isn’t college, where you’ve got 85 scholarships. Heat Index: OK, middle linebacker is becoming an issue, but all teams have issues. And the rest of the team is shaping up nicely.
HAWKS: They didn’t trade for Dwight Howard. Good for them. The quickest way to oblivion would have been to lose Al Hoford in trade and then see Howard leave next summer as a free agent, with his buddy Josh Smith possibly in tow. Heat Index: Have I mentioned lately that Howard is also overrated?
GEORGIA BULLDOGS: They were leading the SEC championship game 10-0, whereupon the Honey Badger seized the game. LSU announced Friday that Tyrann Mathieu had been booted off the squad. Given that the Honey Badger played defense and returned kicks, and given that LSU wound up routing Georgia (and not just Georgia) essentially by playing defense and returning kicks, this would seem a major blow to a major contender in both Georgia’s conference and the whole U.S. of A. Heat Index: Have I mentioned lately that I think Georgia will again play LSU for the SEC title?
GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS: From reading esteemed colleague Ken Sugiura’s report on the Saturday scrimmage, I note that Tech coaches were pleased with the offense and pleased with the defense. I also note that Tech missed its only field-goal try. Heat Index: So much for special-teams coordinators, huh? (Kidding! I’m kidding!)
NBC: After being ripped for its Olympics coverage for 16 days, the Peacock apparently said, “You think what we’ve done so far is terrible? Try this!” And then it cut away from the end of the closing ceremonies to air a commercial-free version of “Animal Practice,” a new show that apparently stars both humans and, er, animals. Yes, NBC did air The Who’s performance in its late-night slot, but still … Heat Check: I’m officially joining the chorus. #NBCfail.
By Mark Bradley