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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.”

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.

Max Scherzer’s surprise single, mad dash beat Braves

The Atlanta Braves have been living a charmed existence during the first couple months of the 2018 season. A 34-23 start, a long stay in first place, a rebuilding plan that has come together ahead of schedule, frightening injuries to foundation players — Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. — that turned out to be much less serious than initially feared.

Then, with the National League East favorite Washington Nationals visiting SunTrust Park for a big, four-game series this weekend, there was this: The Braves missed Max Scherzer’s turn through the rotation.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

As it turns out, though Atlanta won’t have to face Scherzer’s filthy repertoire on the mound this weekend, they were beaten by him anyway. Scherzer’s pinch-hit single in the 14th inning sparked a two-run rally as the Nationals outlasted the Braves 5-3 on Saturday and moved within a half-game of Atlanta in the NL East.36

Scherzer’s hit off Braves reliever Miguel Socolovich with one out in the 14th was far from a screamer. Statcast gave Scherzer’s knock an exit velocity of 83.8 mph. But it got the job done.

“I’ve hit in big situations, so it’s the same thing,” Scherzer said. “You go up there, you have to get in the box and have pre-pitch thoughts and, for me, try to hit it up the middle. I’m not going to be hitting the ball out of the ballpark. I know that. I’ve got a high school swing. I know it. But, hey, it’s good enough just to get a ball in play, and sure enough, something happens.”

It was Scherzer’s first career pinch hit in his third appearance in the role. Overall, the three-time Cy Young winner is a .194 career hitter with one home run. This season, he stole his first career base, something Washington manager Dave Martinez thought might have been on his ace’s mind as he led off first base.

Instead, after a Michael Taylor fly out, Wilmer Difo hammered a drive to right-center that reached the fence. Off on contact, Scherzer raced around the bases to score standing up, while Difo slid into third with a go-ahead triple. Difo then scored when Cobb County, Georgia, native Spencer Kieboom singled him home.

“It looked like [Scherzer] was going to try to steal as well, and I was like, ‘Oh, boy,'” Martinez said. “Then all of a sudden, he goes first to home, and I’m holding my breath. But he was flying. I said, ‘You can run.’ He said, ‘I can do it all.’ Kudos to him. He picked us up.”

As a starting pitcher, Scherzer bats on a semi-regular basis. Still, it had been a while since he’d gone first to home.

“A couple of years ago,” Scherzer said. “I got it. I know how to run the bases.”cheap nfl jerseys nike china

According to Statcast, Scherzer’s mad dash around the bases took 10.89 seconds, giving him a sprint speed of 26.9 seconds. The league average is 27 seconds, and if Scherzer had enough instances to qualify, 26.9 seconds would rank 10th on the Nationals, just ahead of outfielders Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper.

Cubs strike out season-high 24 times vs. Mets, still win in extras

The irony for the Chicago Cubs is that even though they’ve been reducing their high strikeout games at the plate, every so often they get into one that makes the history books. It happened again Saturday, in their 7-1, 14-inning victory against the New York Mets.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Cubs’ MLB-season-high 24 strikeouts were the second-most in a win by any team since the mounds were moved to their current distance in 1893. According to Elias, the Cubs are the third team since that same year to have multiple 20-strikeout games in the same season, as they also struck out 20 times on March 30 against the Miami Marlins.nike cheap nfl jerseys

Mets starter Jacob deGrom accumulated most of the whiffs on Saturday, with 13 in his seven innings of work.

“He was unbelievable,” Albert Almora Jr. said after the 4-hour, 53-minute game. “It’s been a while since I faced a pitcher like that. Everything was moving away from my barrel. His fastball had some late life, his slider was sharp, and he threw me one of the nastiest changeups I’ve ever seen.”35

Almora struck out three times but was the hero, as he hit a two-run double to right-center in the 14th inning to break a 1-1 tie. The Cubs scored six runs total in the 14th, tied for the fourth-most in that inning in the past 30 seasons. It was all part of a crazy night in which the teams combined for a 2018 major-league-high 39 strikeouts, yet the Cubs also had 17 hits.

For the Cubs, Mike Montgomery pitched six innings of two-hit ball, and reliever Luke Farrell pitched five innings in relief as the game went into extras.

“I’m a lot chippier and happier right now because we won,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Had we not won that game with all those opportunities, it would have been difficult … We just have to move the ball. We started chasing again tonight.”

Maddon asked reporters if anyone had struck out so much in a win, forgetting that the New York Yankees beat the Cubs last season when both teams struck out more than 20 times. Part of the reason the Cubs were stuck on one run for so long is that they struck out five times with the bases loaded alone.

“When you get guys like this [deGrom], the secret for me is when you get a chance to score with an out, move the baseball,” Maddon said before the game.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

The plan failed miserably against deGrom, but the Cubs hung in there, taking the first three games of the series while accumulating 45 hits. Even with all those swing-and-misses, it worked out.

White Sox’s Welington Castillo suspended 80 games for PEDs

Chicago White Sox catcher Welington Castillo has been suspended 80 games for violating the league’s joint drug agreement, Major League Baseball announced Thursday.

Castillo is being banned for using erythropoietin (EPO), a performance-enhancing substance.cheap nfl jerseys from china nike324

“I was recently notified by Major League Baseball that I had tested positive for EPO, a substance that is prohibited under MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement,” said Castillo via statement. “The positive test resulted from an extremely poor decision that I, and I alone, made. I take full responsibility for my conduct. I have let many people down, including my family, my teammates, the White Sox organization and its fans, and from my heart, I apologize. Following my suspension, I look forward to rejoining my teammates and doing whatever I can to help the White Sox win.”

Castillo, 31, from the Dominican Republic, is hitting .270 with 6 home runs and 15 RBIs for the White Sox this season. He was behind the plate for Wednesday’s 11-1 win over the Orioles, going 1-for-5 at the plate.

“The Chicago White Sox were saddened and disappointed to learn of the suspension of catcher Welington Castillo for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program,” read a statement from White Sox GM Rick Hahn. “Welington has apologized to the team and his teammates and has taken full responsibility for his actions. He understands that he has negatively affected the team and has fallen short of the expectations we have of our players. The White Sox fully support Major League Baseball’s policy and its efforts to eliminate performance enhancing substances from our game.“cheap nfl jerseys nike china

It’s the second notable MLB drug violation this month. Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano received an 80-game ban after testing positive for furosemide, a diuretic that is not a performance-enhancing drug but is viewed as a masking agent and is on MLB’s banned-substance list.

Rays to again start relievers in series vs. Orioles

The Tampa Bay Rays are taking their bullpen “opener” theory to the next level, starting relievers in all three games this weekend against the Baltimore Orioles.

The Rays used Sergio Romo as an opener in two games last weekend, starting the veteran reliever Saturday and Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels. Romo, who had never started a game before, pitched an inning Saturday before ceding to traditional starter Ryan Yarbrough. He went two innings Sunday. The Rays split the games.cheap nike jerseys nfl

“Hey guys, I’m starting again,” a smiling Romo told reporters Thursday. “It’s fun. We’re trying to win ballgames. I’m going to try and do my best to make them look like geniuses.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash explained last week that the move allows a reliever like Romo to get the first shot at a lineup’s heavy hitters, giving the would-be starters an advantage on their second and third times through the lineup.323

“We’re not trying to do anything that’s cute,” Cash said. “We’re trying to do something that’s right for us to win games.”

Last Saturday, Romo struck out the side in the first inning, dispatching Angels third baseman Zack Cozart, center fielder Mike Trout and left fielder Justin Upton. On Sunday, in his two innings, he struck out Trout, Upton, Jefry Marte and Chris Young before giving way to Matt Andriese in the third.

“It was weird. It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion,” he said. “It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

Like the Angels, the Orioles have heavy-hitting right-handers at the top of the lineup in Trey Mancini, Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.

The Rays, already thin in the starting pitching ranks, lost right-hander Jake Faria to an oblique injury on Tuesday. He is expected to be out at least six to eight weeks.cheap nfl jerseys from china nike

Nathan Eovaldi, who hurt his surgically repaired right elbow in his last spring training start, is expected to join the rotation next Monday or Tuesday after coming back from a procedure to remove loose bodies in the elbow that has undergone two Tommy John surgeries.

Addison Russell stays focused as Machado rumors swirl

Even though the calendar says it’s way premature for any serious trade rumors, it hasn’t stopped people from talking about the idea of Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado ending up in a Chicago Cubs uniform. It would undoubtedly mean their current starting shortstop, Addison Russell, would have to be on the move.

“I really don’t pay attention to all that,” Russell said on Saturday, a day after reaching base five times in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. “I like this team. I like this organization. I like this ball club.”

It’s something a player usually says in July,cheap nfl jerseys wholesale  as the rumor mill heats up, but considering the Orioles are already double-digit games out of the AL East race — and Machado is clearly not re-signing with them as a free agent next winter — it has given rise to early rumors.276

“I’ve been in a trade once,” Russell said. “The Cubs have stuck with me when I went through a lot of things. It would be sad if I ever had to leave, but I’m very thankful to the Cubs for giving me an opportunity to play. As far as trade rumors, if it happens, it happens; I don’t pay them any attention. The only time when I even hear about them is the media bringing it up to me.”

Russell got off to a slow start in 2018 after a bad year last season. Off-field problems and injuries combined to basically wipe out his 2017 campaign. His name was brought up in trade talks during the winter, according to sources familiar with the situation, but the Cubs never moved him. He’s just 24 years old, with some untapped potential, but he’s no Manny Machado.

Either way, there are so many variables at play with the Orioles star, it’s almost impossible to handicap this early what it would take to get him and who would be interested. cheap nfl replica jerseys For now, Russell can increase his trade value and help the Cubs if he continues to hit like he did on Friday, when he went 4-for-4.

“I think he’s arriving,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve seen his at-bats get better. He’s fouling some tough pitches off and getting to his next pitch. I just like his on-base percentage. That tells me he has his strike zone in order. He has a lot of talent at the plate.”

Nationals’ Juan Soto, 19, homers in first start; ‘special,’ Bryce Harper says

Making his first start for the Washington Nationals on Monday, the 19-year-old outfielder went deep in his first at-bat against Padres starter Robbie Erlin, helping propel Washington to a 10-2 win over San Diego. Soto’s three-run, opposite-field shot came on the first pitch from Erlin and traveled an estimated 422 feet before landing over the wall in left-center.

“I didn’t think it was going to go out of the park,” Soto said. “I just run hard, the same I do in the minor leagues. Then I heard the noise, and I know it was gone.”where can i buy nfl jerseys cheap

Upon returning to the dugout, Soto received a curtain call from the crowd at Nationals Park.

Before getting called up this past weekend, Soto was hitting .362 with 14 homers in 39 minor league games across three levels. Despite those numbers, his promotion was a surprise, given that he had only 31 at-bats above Class A. But after utility man Howie Kendrick tore his Achilles on Saturday, the latest in a rash of injuries that has severely depleted Washington’s outfield options, Soto got the call, making him the youngest player in the majors.275

That wasn’t the only thing that stood out. While taking batting practice before his first start, Soto was the only member of the Nationals wearing a helmet, a choice he made expressly for the purpose of getting accustomed to the single-flap ear helmet worn in the majors instead of the dual-flap model he used in the minors. By the time first pitch rolled around, he seemed more than comfortable.

In addition to his second-inning homer, Soto singled in the sixth and came around to score on a Michael A. Taylor triple. In his other two plate appearances, he grounded out to shortstop and lined out to right field, both times putting the ball in play with two strikes.

Afterward, Soto’s teammates sang his praises.

“He’s a special player,” said Bryce Harper, who hit his NL-leading 14th home run on Monday and who, replica nike nfl jerseys before Soto, was the last MLB player to homer as a teenager (Sept. 30, 2012). “We’ve seen that throughout the minor leagues, and we saw that in spring training as well. So we’re all just excited for him to be here and excited for him to help us out and super proud of him and just got to keep it going.”