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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.

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.”

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.

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.”

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi brace lifts New York City FC past Orlando City

Rookie Ismael Tajouri-Shradi scored two goals as NYCFC remained unbeaten at home with a 3-0 victory over Orlando City FC on Saturday night at Yankee Stadium.

Tajouri-Shradi made it 1-0 by converting New York’s first scoring chance in the 35th minute. Trailing the play, he went into the box, took the pass from Anton Tinnerholm and released a nifty left-footed shot after defender Donny Toia fell to the ground that sailed into the far side of the net.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Tajorui-Shradi’s big night helped NYCFC improve to 6-0-0 at home and beat Orlando for the second time this season.

He added his seventh goal of the season by converting a rebound off a free kick by Maximiliano Moralez in the 78th minute.

It was the second career two-goal game for the 24-year-old, who was born in Switzerland to Libyan parents. He also tallied twice on March 24 in a 2-2 tie at the New England Revolution.

Moralez made it 3-0 in the 87th minute after Orlando was unable to clear the box twice, just moments after David Villa hit the crossbar with a left-footed shot.

NYCFC is outscoring opponents 18-2 in six home games this season.48

NYCFC improved to 8-3-3 on a night when Villa was not in the starting lineup. No reason was given for Villa’s absence at the start, but he warmed up briefly on two occasions around the 22nd minute and the 52nd minute before entering the game in the 65th minute.

Orlando played without leading scorer Dom Dwyer for the third straight game with a lower-body injury. Dwyer, who was seen at training this week, missed his sixth game this season, and Orlando dropped to 0-5-1 when he sits out.cheap official nike nfl jerseys

Orlando, which lost its fourth straight game, was unable to convert five corner kicks and missed a golden opportunity to tie the game on a penalty kick in the 48th minute when Sacha Kljestan hit the right post with his right-footed shot.

New York’s Sean Johnson made two saves and notched his 48th career shutout. It was his fifth shutout this season.

Alan Gordon, Aleksandar Katai lead Chicago Fire past San Jose Earthquakes

Alan Gordon and Aleksandar Katai scored as the Chicago Fire defeated the hapless San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 on Saturday at Toyota Park, winning at home for the just the second time in five matches.

Gordon put the Fire on top in the 29th minute as he ran to the far post and jumped over San Jose defender Jimmy Ockford to head Luis Solignac’s cross from the right sideline past Earthquakes goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell. Johan Kappelhof also received credit for an assist on the goal.nike cheap nfl jerseys

Katai added to Chicago’s lead four minutes into the second half, taking a nifty pass from Brandt Bronico on the head run to beat Earthquakes forward Florian Jungwirth into the box before lobbing a shot over the head of the hard-charging Tarbell and into the far side of the net.47

Gordon and Solignac had great chances to add to the lead in the 57th minute, but each player had shots cleared off the line by San Jose defenders after they got past Tarbell.

San Jose cut the Fire’s advantage in half in the 74th minute when Danny Hoesen rushed into the zone to receive a pass from Chris Wondolowski and boot it into the goal, as Chicago keeper Richard Sanchez had no chance to respond.

Katai had a chance to ice the match in the 85th minute, but his hard shot from inside the 18-yard line was parried wide by Tarbell.

San Jose has won just once away from home in eight matches in 2018 and has just one victory in its past 12 outings. The Earthquakes dropped their third straight game and extended their winless streak to four matches.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

The Earthquakes outshot Chicago 14-13 and each team had four shots on target. San Jose also earned advantages in blocked shots (6-3), crosses (25-10), total passes (481-433), possession (53 percent to 47 percent) and duels won (51-47), but had little to show for its good work.

San Jose returns home to host LAFC next Saturday while the Fire stay in the Windy City to host New England, also on Saturday.

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.

Why Kirk Cousins is primed for a career season with Vikings

Just over a month after signing a historic fully guaranteed $84 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, Kirk Cousins was already getting down to business.

Down in Atlanta, where he spent part of the offseason,cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale  Cousins met up with Vikings wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and running back Mack Brown in April to sling the ball around with the players he’ll share a field with this fall.

Cousins labeled the session “productive,” and that’s aside from the always-beneficial extra reps a quarterback can get in with his receivers.

“More than just the football,” Cousins said. “Just to get to know one another a little and build somewhat of a foundation before we started with the whole crew.”

As Cousins and the Vikings begin OTAs this week, Minnesota’s new QB will continue to build upon the chemistry he started to form with his pass-catchers before the voluntary offseason program began. He has all the pieces in place to be on the cusp of something great this season with a career year while solidifying his status as a franchise quarterback.

Cousins knows having strong chemistry with the playmakers around him leads to success, the likes of which he experienced during the best year of his career in 2016 with the Washington Redskins.

He reached his first Pro Bowl surrounded by a strong supporting cast. At the forefront was his receiving corps, highlighted by DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder.310

Jackson established himself as one of the NFL’s top vertical threats dating back to the start of his career in 2008 and helped Cousins become one of the league’s most productive deep-ball passers that season. He made 39 of his 94 deep-ball attempts (passes that traveled 20 or more air yards) for an NFL-best 1,359 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in 2016. Regularly at the other end of those passes was Jackson, who averaged 17.9 yards per catch and became Cousins’ favorite vertical threat.

In the midst of Cousins’ career year, Crowder had one as well as a reliable target in the slot who caught almost 68 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns in 2016.cheap nfl nike jersey

When his supporting cast was at its best in Washington, complete with a dynamic tight end duo and an exemplary group of pass-catching running backs, so was Cousins. Without Jackson and Garcon last season and a rash of injuries to his crop of playmakers (not to mention the dire state of the offensive line), Cousins struggled. He was labeled by some as a system QB, incapable of being the difference maker his team needed.

Sweden beats Switzerland to retain world ice hockey title

Sweden capped a victorious run through the ice hockey world championship by edging Switzerland 3-2 on Sunday in the final after a penalty shootout to successfully defend its title.

Forward Filip Forsberg scored the decisive goal in the shootout to give Sweden a third world title in six years, and 11th overall.

Sweden won all 10 matches at the tournament.

”We wanted to win the gold medal, and here we are,” Sweden forward Viktor Arvidsson said. ”It’s unbelievable, especially for Filip (Forsberg). He’s a great player,wholesale nfl jerseys supply  one of our top players. It’s unbelievable to win with my teammates.”

Arvidsson, together with Nashville Predators teammates Forsberg and defenseman Mattias Ekholm, joined the Swedish team during the tournament after the Predators were eliminated from the NHL playoffs.

”We had the puck a lot,” Arvidsson said. ”They did a great job defending.”299

Sweden outshot Switzerland 38-27 but could not get the puck past goaltender Leonardo Genoni.

Switzerland finished runner-up for the third time after 2013 and 1935. It has never won.

”We battled hard … all the tournament long,” Switzerland defenseman Mirco Muller said. ”Once you look at the bigger picture, it’s huge for Swiss hockey. But right now, there’s a disappointment. We definitely had our chances.”

Switzerland stunned Canada 3-2 in the semifinals after a 3-2 upset against Finland in the quarterfinals.

”They were close to winning the whole championship. So, credit to them,” Sweden forward Magnus Paajarvi said.

Forward Nick Bonino scored the winner on a rebound during a power play in the final period. Anders Lee and Kreider added empty-net insurance goals to give the U.S. its third bronze in six years.

”It’s important for the team but it’s also important for USA Hockey,” U.S. captain Patrick Kane said. ”Now, we can build up off this level and try to keep being better and better.”where can i get cheap nfl jerseys

Kane had an assist in the game to finish the tournament with 20 points for eight goals and 12 assists, the first player to do so since 2008.

”Obviously I’m here to produce and try to create offense and make plays out there,” Kane said. ”Overall, I’m happy … it was a fun tournament and a great experience for me and I hope it will help me with my career going forward too.”