How Atlanta used its 1990s blueprint to build emergent Baby Braves

the Braves play the New York Mets on my phone while cruising in mild traffic from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta to Cobb County, Georgia, home of the Braves and a fantasy world of their own creation. My car was piloted by an amiable Jamaican woman, and we were discussing the dark storm clouds overhead when Charlie Culberson struck lightning.

Culberson’s two-run walk-off shot against Seth Lugo sent the big crowd at SunTrust Park into a frenzy, and Culberson’s teammates pounded him on the back and pulled on his jersey amid the group dance around home plate.cheap official nike nfl jerseys

“Good for them,” she said. She pulled into the driveway of my hotel, located on the edge of The Battery, the still-sparkling, mixed-use development that the Braves moved into and have lorded over since last season. It sits in a pocket of land between two major freeways, some woods and busy Cobb County Parkway, about 12 miles from downtown Atlanta. I did not step foot outside of The Battery until I departed nearly a week later. The Braves developed all of it, some on their own, some with partners. It’s a self-contained village in a place that did not exist five years ago. Like I said, it’s their fantasy land.

The dramatic win kicked off the biggest homestand for the Braves in at least four years. Atlanta entered the eight-games-in-seven-days challenge in first place in the National League East. But the division rival New York Mets were in for four games, hitting Atlanta on a runaway locomotive destined for oblivion. After New York limped away, the perennial NL East favorite Washington Nationals arrived.46

Chances were that by the end of the week we would know a whole lot more about the group we’ve taken to calling the Baby Braves. Culberson’s unlikely blast got things rolling, though that night Atlanta dropped a rain-delayed second game that didn’t get started until after 10 p.m. ET.

Every season, teams emerge as contenders that we had not expected to emerge. That is a literal statement. During the divisional era, an average of 5.6 teams per season have added at least 10 wins to their total from the prior campaign. There is more than one team this season on track for such an improvement, but of those, perhaps the most compelling is the Atlanta Braves, who through Sunday were on pace for 92 wins. That would be a 20-game leap from last season. The last time Atlanta made a 20-game year-over-year jump was 1991, which kicked off one of the most successful eras any franchise has had in any sport.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

The Baby Braves label is not a perfect fit. After all, not only is the current Atlanta roster a mix, but also much of its early success is due to breakout performances from players who have been around for a while. The Braves’ average team age (28.7 when weighted for playing time) ranks 13th in baseball. Still, youth fuels this team — of that there can be no doubt. At one point in May, the Braves had the three youngest players in the majors on their active roster. That, and its alliterative allure, made Baby Braves an acceptable enough moniker, even though the Baby Bombers label that has been hung on the New York Yankees strips it of any originality.

Feet back on the ground, Didi Gregorius rediscovers his power

Whenever the New York Yankees manager sees his shortstop making subtle yet firm, controlled turns of his feet while still uncoiling the rest of his body into his patented long and violent swing, Boone knows there’s a chance the baseball will travel far and out of reach of any defender’s glove.

On Tuesday night in a 3-0 win over the Washington Nationals, Gregorius blasted two such baseballs, dropping them well over Yankee Stadium’s outfield wall.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

For a hitter who has spent the better part of the past month struggling to get anything to fall — let alone any home runs — the solo shots to right and right-center were clear signs that some semblance of the Gregorius who stormed out with a monster April to open the season might be back here in June.

“When Didi is at his best, he really is — the way I would say it — he’s into the ground. His feet really drive into the ground,” Boone said.

Balance is primarily what Boone is referring to. Even on some of the shortstop’s hardest swings, his feet have a way of staying planted in the ground that allows him to hit the ball with even more authority. The more grounded his feet are, the better his balance is. The better his balance is, the more likely it is that he gets a base hit.45

In the opener against the Nationals, Gregorius went 2-for-4 with his two home runs. One came off a hanging 75 mph curveball that he knocked into the Yankees’ bullpen, and the other was a 361-foot shot that landed in the second deck seats down the right-field line. The homers were his first since May 23, which until Tuesday night had been his only home run since April.

Often in recent weeks, Boone has seen Gregorius’ in-swing balance fail him. That, combined with some poor luck that saw him hit numerous balls right at defenders, sent Gregorius into a slump that made his April nothing but a distant memory.

“I was hitting the ball hard and [wasn’t] getting the success that I want, and that’s base hits and to get on base for the team,” Gregorius said.

“Actually said something to [hitting coach] Marcus [Thames] in batting practice. I just thought it seemed even crisper,” Boone said. “He had a really good batting practice. The ball was really jumping off his bat.”cheap official nike nfl jerseys

The Yankees’ hope is that baseballs continue to leave Gregorius’ bat. Now that the hits are starting to fall, he says he believes better days at the plate are coming.

“We’ve been working in the cage and doing the same thing we were doing,” Gregorius said. “We’ll try to put some extra work in there, and try to help the team.”

Nick Saban’s open-door policy a factor in Alabama’s draft success

Alabama coach Nick Saban knew what he wanted when he coached in the NFL — first as a defensive assistant with the Houston Oilers and Cleveland Browns, then as head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2005 and 2006.

He has spent the past 11 years as a college head coach making sure he provides that information to the league he left behind. NFL talent evaluators crave information; Saban’s policy at Alabama helps them obtain it.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

He has maintained an open-door policy for scouts, a philosophy that can help recruiting, keep college players sharp in practice and, yes, lead to more information for NFL teams. It also can help underclassmen decide if they’re ready for the NFL.

“I know it’s a lot easier when you have that policy than when you don’t,” Saban said. “When I was in the NFL and I wanted to go see a player and work out players, places that had a policy that embraced that, you were always looking forward to going there. Places that didn’t, you almost didn’t want to go sometimes. It was counterproductive for the player.”

The Crimson Tide has ruled the NFL draft since Saban became their head coach in 2007. Since then, Alabama leads all schools with 77 draft picks — five more than runner-up LSU (which did not have a similar policy, but does now). And the Tide leads all schools with 26 first-round picks — 15 more than LSU and 10 more than Ohio State. The Washington Redskins have drafted four players from Alabama in the past two drafts, including three in the first two rounds.40

Alabama’s talent, more than anything, attracts attention. The Tide’s elite players annually vie for the top spot among the recruiting rankings. Alabama’s 2017 class had 24 players rated with four or five stars by ESPN Recruiting Nation. Players go to Alabama knowing the NFL is a possibility.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

“When you go to college, you’re there to develop in your career and develop off the field and develop on the field to play at the next level,” said Saban, who has won five national championships at Alabama. “To not embrace that and help the players do that is counterproductive.”

Redskins’ defense will benefit from quarterback Alex Smith

I don’t know that there’s one stat I’ll be looking at to judge Smith. It’s easy to say wins and losses, but when Kirk Cousins was here, I’d always say you can’t judge one player that way (even at this position). There are many other factors involved.

Passing yards is another one, though if Smith doesn’t throw for 4,000 yards, is that necessarily a bad season? What if it’s because the Redskins also can run the ball consistently (for a change)? With Cousins, he had to throw for a lot of yards because there wasn’t a consistent rushing attack. They were overly reliant on the quarterback; I’ll also say they remain firmly convinced Jay Gruden’s offense can help many quarterbacks throw for 4,000 yards. We’ll see.

But I’ll go to the one I know you want me to mention: turnovers. Smith has long been known for not turning the ball over. In fact, in the past five years combined, he’s thrown only 33 interceptions. In 17 fewer starts, Cousins threw 19 more picks (but only seven fewer touchdowns). We know Smith takes care of the ball, but this stat can have a tremendous impact on both sides of the ball. It’s about field position. I wrote about this in February, but here’s the stat: Last season,cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale Washington allowed the opposition to start 23 drives inside its territory, which ranked 29th in the NFL. The Patriots allowed only five such drives (and two were kneel-downs at the end of a loss). The Redskins allowed the most drives to start inside their own 30.
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That was not all on Cousins by any means. But if this stat gets turned around, the Redskins will improve. During Smith’s five seasons in Kansas City, the Chiefs allowed a combined 72 such drives. It’s no coincidence they made the postseason four times and finished with a winning record all five years. Their defense was good for his first four years, but last season the Chiefs ranked 15th in points allowed and 28th in yards. They were not great by any means. They won 10 games. Taking care of the ball (and having some offensive playmakers) mattered. One Redskins staffer earlier this offseason pointed to this stat and Smith’s win-loss record in the past seven years (69-31-1) and said it was no coincidence. He pointed to his ability to take care of the ball as a main reason. He’s played with some excellent defenses, too. But he helps them out by not committing turnovers.

Clearly, Chris Thompson and Derrius Guice will be on the roster. They’ve used Rob Kelley as their No. 1 back in the spring (for what that’s worth). But coach Jay Gruden always has liked him, and they believed Kelley was doing a solid job before his ankle injuries kept slowing him down. And do you get rid of Samaje Perine after one season? To me, he showed enough that he could be a viable backup. But I also felt the Redskins were caught when Thompson went down because nobody else on the roster could do what he did. That doesn’t mean you must carry that guy on the active roster. If they’re on the practice squad it’s OK, considering they might not be active anyway on game day.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Between Byron Marshall and Kapri Bibbs, they have possible third-down options behind Thompson. If they believe undrafted free agent Martez Carter can develop (they like him, yet thought he needed to get in better shape), then he could be placed on the practice squad and developed. That way you get four backs on the roster and a fifth who would be in your system should anything happen. Last season they didn’t even have one on the practice squad when Thompson was hurt.

Astros outlast Rangers after A.J. Hinch argues for balk call

The Houston Astros scored the winning run against the Texas Rangers on Sunday when manager A.J. Hinch successfully argued that the Rangers’ Keone Kela had balked with a runner on third, even though the call hadn’t originally been made on the field.

With runners on second and third and the count 1-2 on the Astros’ Evan Gattis, Kela made a quick pitch to Gattis that was called a ball. After he made the pitch,nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal  Hinch came out of the dugout to point out that the pitch was illegal and should have resulted in a balk. The umpires convened and agreed, calling a balk that allowed George Springer to score from third base. Rangers manager Jeff Banister then came out to argue and was ejected from the game.

The score was 7-7 at the time with Springer scoring the eighth and eventual winning run as the Astros held on for the 8-7 victory.24

The umpires ruling falls under MLB Rule 8.01, which states “pitchers may disengage the rubber after taking their signs but may not step quickly onto the rubber and pitch. This may be judged a quick pitch by the umpire. When the pitcher disengages the rubber, he must drop his hands to his sides.”

“It’s clear as day what happened. It’s a weird play and it caught everybody off guard, including the umpiring crew,” Hinch said after the game.nfl nike jersey cheap”It’s an illegal pitch with a runner on third. And Kela does that all the time with nobody on, so I think he was so focused on the hitter he decided to do a quick pitch, which you can’t do — it’s a balk. So once they convened I could overhear a little bit of the conversation and ultimately they got the game right.”

Olney: Could the Mets really deal Jacob deGrom to the Yankees?

Jacob deGrom has faced 12 batters with the bases loaded this year, and of those, nine have struck out and zero have gotten hits. There have been times when pitching coach Dave Eiland has visited the mound and deGrom has said flatly that he’ll get out of the jam, his words sounding nothing like a boast and everything like recitation of fact.buy nike nfl jerseys cheap

So deGrom is everything that the New York Mets really need right now, in their worst of times, in his dominance and his leadership. But given the current challenges of the organization — the gray-beard age at the major league level, the lack of depth at the top of their farm system — they owe it to themselves to welcome offers from other clubs for deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, to at least understand what’s possible.23

And lest there be any doubt, deGrom would be the most sought-after commodity in the market, and because he’s 2? seasons away from free agency and could potentially lead a team to three postseasons, the offers from contenders would probably surprise the Mets. They could reasonably ask for two elite major league ready prospects, and two high-end guys from the lower minor league system. If Syndergaard demonstrates that he’s healthy before the All-Star break, he could generate similar interest.

But the Mets won’t know for sure unless they go through the process of engaging other teams, setting a stratospheric price and then waiting to see if somebody is especially motivated. The Mets should talk to deGrom and Syndergaard and give them the same kind of heads-up that Tigers general manager Al Avila provided for J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander and others last year: Look, your name is going to be in the rumor mill, and a lot of it is going to be false. nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal Don’t believe anything until we tell you, and we’ll keep you in the loop if something gets really serious.

And yes, the Mets should welcome offers from the Yankees, who may well be capable of producing the best offer because they are highly motivated, with a chance to win the World Series in the immediate future, and because they have the best farm system. The old-school philosophy has always been that you don’t talk trade with your rivals, including the team that vies with you for backpage attention in your city.

Warriors’ Steve Kerr: ‘Everything was harder’ for Kevin Durant in Year 2

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said it hasn’t always been easy for Kevin Durant to blend his talents on the team, and this was a harder season for the Finals MVP than his first with the Warriors.

“Last year was the honeymoon,” Kerr said Monday on the ESPN podcast The Lowe Post. “It seemed like he was engaged all year last season. Whereas this year everything was harder, everything was more difficult. Not only was that true as a group but for individuals.

“I thought it was a harder season for Kevin. Maybe the novelty of joining a new team had worn off. Maybe he won the Finals MVP and we won a championship and then you’re right back at it, and it’s like, ‘Oh wait, now you’ve got to climb the mountain again,’ it doesn’t end.”cheap nfl nike jersey

Kerr acknowledged that there was sometimes a stylistic conflict between Durant’s game and Stephen Curry’s game, but said that there was never any tension between the two.16

But Kerr said he had lunch right around the All-Star break to reconnect with Durant, who had been drifting, the coach said.

“It hasn’t always been easy for him — even though he makes it look easy — it hasn’t always been easy for him to blend into the team and blend his talents into the style that we have had here for many years,” Kerr said.

“Kevin is very vulnerable, I think it is one of his great qualities. He’s a real human being, he’s not like a machine, he’s vulnerable like we all are, what makes him coachable. But it also means that there are going to be some ups and downs and he’s going to have some angst, and if you don’t get that in the open you’re never going to get through it.”nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Kerr said he had similar meetings with most of his players throughout the season. He said keeping players motivated and focused after winning championships can be difficult.

“I think maybe there’s a feeling with some guys that when you win a championship that solves everything but it doesn’t solve anything, ” he said. “It gives you a great moment and it gives you a ring and it gives you fodder for people’s talk about your legacy. What’s your legacy?

Suspended Cowboys DE Randy Gregory expected to meet with NFL

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory is expected to meet with NFL officials, potentially including commissioner Roger Goodell, this week in New York regarding his reinstatement, according to multiple sources.

Gregory’s attorney, Daniel Moskowitz, who helped former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington gain reinstatement last year, declined comment.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

Gregory, who has missed 30 of the past 32 games because of suspension, filed the reinstatement application within the past two weeks.15

Last week, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said the proceeding was in the league’s hands.

“We don’t have anything to report differently, other than that I know he’s wanting to move forward with the appeal,” Jones said. “I don’t really have anything new to report on that front other than that. I know he’s done the application process, but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t had the actual appeal. It’s in the league’s hands.”

The NFL’s substance-abuse policy states that once the reinstatement paperwork has been filed, “all individuals involved in the process will take steps to enable the commissioner to render a decision within 60 days of the receipt of the application.”

There have been instances of the timeline being extended because not all of the steps have been completed in time.

Gregory fell to the Cowboys in the second round of the 2015 draft because of off-the-field issues during his time at Nebraska. Jerry Jones was willing to take the chance on Gregory and hoped a support system that helped other players through the years would help Gregory.cheap nfl nike jersey

Gregory played in 12 games as a rookie in 2015, missing four with an ankle injury. He ended up in the NFL’s substance-abuse program in 2016 and was initially suspended the first four games of that season. Another failed test led to an additional 10-game suspension, but he was able to return for the final two regular-season games and recorded the first — and so far only — sack of his career.

Roddy White: No-brainer that Julio Jones should be top-paid WR

Close friends and former Atlanta Falcons teammates Julio Jones and Roddy White have spent plenty of time together this offseason, including a recent trek to Los Angeles and multiple visits to the Carribean.

During those trips, White insisted neither discussed Jones’ contract situation that is tied to his absence from the Falcons’ offseason workouts.new nike nfl jerseys cheap

“Two rich people don’t talk about money,” White said with a laugh.

At the same time, White understands there is a reason for Jones to be a bit perplexed about his contract situation despite having three years and almost $35 million left on his deal.

A quick glance around the league shows seven receivers who average more than Jones’ $14.25 million per year, led by Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown at $17 million per year. When Jones signed a five-year, $71.25 million contract extension in August 2015, he received $47 million guaranteed — the same amount of guaranteed money Jarvis Landry secured after being traded to Cleveland from Miami. Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans tops all receivers with $55 million guaranteed as part of a five-year, $82.5 million extension he signed in March. Jones is set to make $10.5 million in 2018, 12th most among all receivers.

Naturally, the market value increases as the salary cap increases. But on paper, White firmly believes Jones has a valid argument for a revised contract and raise.6

“It’s a tough situation, especially for him because he just signed a deal three years ago,” White said, “but the numbers would tell you he’s way, way, way outplayed being paid the amount of money that they’ve given him.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

“A lot of times, you don’t want to rub people the wrong way. On the other hand, when people look at the numbers and start stacking them up against people that are making more money than him, then it verifies that he should be paid a lot more money. Yes, he deserves to be the highest-paid [receiver]. I think he does, based on performance. For me, that’s a no-brainer.”

White, the Falcons’ all-time leading receiver who went through a contract saga with the team, has mentored Jones over the years and is willing to serve as an adviser now — if needed. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he expected Jones to be present when the Falcons held their three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday. Players who skip mandatory minicamp are subject to maximum fines of $14,070 the first day, $28,140 the second day, and $42,215 the third day.

Winning TD catch fuels Chris Godwin’s offseason momentum

It wasn’t just the play of the game in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-24 win against the New Orleans Saints in Week 17 last season — it was the play of the season. And if what the coaches and players at the Bucs’ organized team activities are saying is true, there should be many more of them in wide receiver Chris Godwin’s future.

On first-and-10 at the 39-yard line with 15 seconds to go, quarterback Jameis Winston hit Godwin along the right sideline. Cornerback Ken Crawley draped himself all over Godwin’s body the last 10 yards, but Godwin still managed to dash his way into the end zone, giving him his first NFL touchdown catch.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

“For me, it was kind of just a big [weight] off my shoulders,” Godwin said. “Like when you first get into the league, you have milestones that you want to get to, whether it’s first catch, or first touchdown — I’m just thankful it was able to come my first year.”

The week before against the Carolina Panthers, he’d been stopped 1 yard shy of the end zone and wide receivers coach Skyler Fulton still puts in the tape of it to remind him.5

“I give him a hard time that Bobo [Wilson] got a touchdown before he did,” Fulton said, laughing. “But ultimately, it just gives you confidence. You go out and make plays like that on an NFL stage in a pressure situation, at the point we were at in our season … it’s just another step of maturity and confidence. Now when we get to a similar scenario — that’s nothing to him, he’s done it before, he knows he can do it.”

The play did wonders for his confidence. It has carried into 2018, and he has had arguably one of the best offseasons of any Bucs player.

“It’s kind of like a night-and-day difference, just how comfortable I am. Coming in, like I have my routine that I do every day, it just allows me to come out here and play a lot faster,” said Godwin, adding he learned a lot from the different matchups he had with opposing cornerbacks.new nike nfl jerseys cheap

“I think the biggest difference is that in college, you may have like four really good guys that you go against,” Godwin said. “And in the NFL, every week, you have a guy that’s in the top 1 percent in the world at what he does. So it’s just understanding that and coming prepared every day to get better and really compete on every single play.”