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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.”

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.”

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.

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.