Has the MLB Season and Now Post Season Become a Joke? My Ideas to Improve the Sport

I usually save these type of blogs for the end of a season but I don’t think I can sit on this blog any longer.  As most of you already know, I am a big time fan of baseball.  Again, as most of you already know, I’m a big fan of the Atlanta Braves.  So maybe I come into this blog with a hint of bitterness mixed up with a hint of bias but all the same I come into writing this blog with the idea in mind that the game of baseball can improve and needs to improve.  I’m not just talking about the game needing to implement instant replay – that’s a given.  No, I’m looking at the overall game… from leagues, to divisions, and from divisions to schedules, and from schedules to regular season which leads to post season.  Now this isn’t my first journey into this, as I mentioned before, I must go through this at the end of every season.  If you dig through my blog you’ll come across some pretty whacky ideas I’ve tossed out there and even some realignment talk with divisions.  So, let’s jump right into it again…

Instant Replay – yes please
What more do I even need to say about instant replay needing to be in baseball?  Too many close calls that just aren’t being made… and no.. it’s not that the umpires are not seeing them – these guys are just making the wrong call at the wrong time.  Don’t get me wrong… the umpires usually get it right more often than not but… The infield fly rule and then the missed call in the Yankees game is enough for me to say that you need to give managers a flag…heck..a bright red ball… that they can throw out on the field to challenge at least 1 play a game and if they get the challenge right they earn a second.  Baseball needs replay.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

The joke of a 1-game decides it all “playoff game”

The baseball season, 162 games, of a grueling marathon with hills, mountains, and valleys. For 8 teams the regular season is well worth it because you get locked into a post season spot by winning your division (I’m not a fan of this, don’t worry I’ll get to it).  For four other teams 162 games, this past season and possibly for many more seasons to come, all c0me down to game 163 – win or go home. I can’t begin to say how bad an idea this is and how unrewarding this is to teams – players, owners, workers, etc.  You’ll see many people say this because its true about baseball – the game is a game of series. We have 2 game series, 3 game series, and 4 game series throughout the full season of baseball.  So the idea that you decide who the better team is in one game doesn’t hold water and I don’t care what Joe Torre thinks about that – its dumb and makes no sense.

Basketball, the NBA, is a game that’s also played in series. NBA teams play teams within their division only 4 times which makes up the series.  They will then face other teams not in their division varying in 2 – 4 games.  Their playoffs, while too long in my opinion, does not employ a one and done situation.  Only in football do you see sudden death playoff games where guess what? That’s how they play during the season – there are no series!

So, here we have baseball that adopts a suicide game to put more emphasis on winning the division because the feeling was that there was no importance of winning the division because you could “always get into the playoffs as a wildcard”.  I’m not sure where that idea came up and, in fact, it would seem the opposite even more so now that another team has been added to the wild card mix.  Sure, you don’t want to have to play a “one game decides it all game” but, you would certainly welcome having two extra opportunities getting into the postseason should you not be able to win your division.

Being a wild card team and winning it all should be tough

I have always felt that being a wild card team in the MLB was made to be too easy on those teams – even when it was only 1 wild card team.  What was so hard about being a wild card team? Going on the road for the opening 2 games of a series? As of late, there’s no real thing as ‘home field’ advantage in baseball – not like you see in football.  Just take a look at this post season where teams that had ‘home field advantage’ early on was put out.  I thought the road to a world series was just too easy for the wild card team and that there really wasn’t much of an advantage to winning a division or even having the best record in a league – you don’t gain much.  So they (the big wigs) decided to come up with “the wild card game” and here’s where I said… “Oooooooo, 1 extra game”.  That’s not tough on these guys who play 162 games a season!

Here’s my fix.  I don’t mind the 5th team being added to the mix, even though its still dumb, you could have the first wild card team up 8 games on the second wild card team and get knocked out of postseason play. Simply set up for the two wild card teams to play a 3-game series with no off day at the top wild card team home stadium.  After the 3-game series, the wild card team would then travel to play against the number 1 team overall the very next day and I don’t care if this game takes place on the opposite coast – oh well! Some would say… “well that’s awfully tough on the wild card teams because they’ll have to leave out immediately following their last game”.  To them, I would simply say, hey that’s tough but that’s the cost of being a wild card team – it should be tough!  The four other teams would get 3 days of rest – that’s what they got this year anyway.

The one concern some may have is that the other teams would have gotten rusty… I counter that by saying the wild card teams, in theory, should be pretty tired so no excuses – absolutely none.

Crowning top 6 teams also means “divisions” need to go

I say this all the time and I believe it even more now… It’s time for the 3 divisions to go in baseball or at least how the concept of divisions work right now.  Unfortunately we can’t go back to the days of no interleague play because that would be a quick and easy fix.  With the Astros joining the American League next year, for the first time ever, we will see interleague play happen on a regular basis throughout the season next year.  No, this doesn’t mean that all teams will play each other.  It simply means that the interleague schedule won’t only occur for a certain few weeks out of the season but all season.  So, for those that wish for interleague to go away (that includes me) we can think again because it’s practically here to stay now that both leagues have the same amount of teams (15 NL and 15 AL) which makes the crossover of league play mandatory.  I do wish there was a way, and there probably is a way, that the number of games against inner division opponents could drop.  Why?

The Washington Nationals had the best record in baseball playing against a pretty strong division – the Braves finished in 2nd place with 94 wins (crazy). Could you imagine what either team would have done had they played in a division like the AL Central?  I don’t believe there’s a completely fair process in place to teams when it comes to saying who the top 12 teams are in baseball (6 per league).  I would personally like to see the 18 games against inner division teams shrink or preferably see the divisions scrapped all together for just two leagues of 15 teams.  All 15 teams in the league would place each other about the same amount of times while still having the interleague play.  I’m sure there’s a mathematician out there that can figure out how this could work – I simply don’t have the patience for it.

The six teams with the best records in each league would then move on to post season.  The two lower teams would play in the wild card series immediately following the season and then the playoffs would move on from there.  In my mind, this removes the thoughts and ideas of “those guys played in a weak division” which gets brought up a lot at the end of the season.  In my mind, this would truly give us the top 6 teams there is in baseball.

This is probably just part 1

Chances are we are going to revisit this topic again at some point this off season.  Mostly because it burns a hole in my head at the improvements we all know need to come to baseball but baseball refuses to make. So, the only way I can stop the hole from burning in my head is to simply blog about it.  So… fellow baseball fans… got any thoughts on how the game of baseball can improve? Thoughts on my ideas?

 

 

Atlanta Falcons are 6-0. Yet I’m Still Very Cautious and Want More??? How About You Falcons Fans

I can’t tell you how many times I have read about the Falcons being 6-0, undefeated, or the only undefeated team in football.  The message was loud yesterday directly following Matt Bryant’s game winning field goal kick but, grew even louder after the Texans fell from the ranks of the unbeaten. My feeling after yesterday’s game was that of no satisfaction.  I say again – not satisfied.  By no means does that mean I was not happy for the win because I am but, at the same time I am keeping my feelings and emotions in check after yesterday’s win and with the Falcons being the only undefeated team in the NFL.  Am I being a sour puss or negative nancy? Maybe…

Yet there is a condescending tone aimed towards fans, like me, who are not jumping all over ourselves and foaming at our mouths because the Falcons are 6-0.  I guess I can understand why some fans are so excited and happy about the record but I would caution those fans..

Lessons Learned

Two years ago, during the Falcons 13-3 season, I went around nearly every week touting the Falcons and touting about how the Falcons were the best team in football.  As we all know, the Falcons managed to get home field advantage and then lose to the Packers in the 2nd round of the playoffs that season. For me, the lesson about the win loss record does not really matter when it comes to NFL was reconfirmed.  I was so caught up in being 13-3 and “the best team in the league” that attention to detail was lost.

6-0 Is what it is. Enjoy it for now but don’t get caught up

The word thrown around now is cynicism.  It’s a word used to describe a fan as myself that sit, watch a game, and point out the obvious struggles of a team (specifically my teams).  I watch all of my sports teams in the same manner – wanting to see them play to the best of their ability on a game by game basis.  Not for them to be 100% perfect on a game by game basis but for them to play solidly.  The Falcons are 6-0 but very easily could be 3-3 or at best 4-2.  In their last 3 games against mediocre and inferior teams it took the Falcons finding ways to win the games.  Cam Newton did not lose the game but the Panthers surely could have wrapped that game up.  The Falcons, however, won that game because they executed a last minute drive like no other.  It took a 17 point 4th quarter effort for the Falcons to beat the Redskins and yesterday if not for Asante jumping a route on a very gutsy play who knows where that game was headed.  The key word in those 3 games is that the Falcons still WON those games as I’m sure a lot of fellow fans would point out but, I would still point out that there is still a lot of room for growth with this team all around.  If you’re a fan that is blindly drinking the ‘red kool-aid’ and feel that this team is perfect the way it is then you could be in for a rude awakening.

I am happy that the Falcons are not so caught up in their 6-0 record and see that there is a much larger goal in front of them and that they can get even better.  Coach Smith has come out and said that there is plenty of room for growth.  A lot of the players have humbly admitted that they could easily have 3 losses on their card.  Even the much maligned running back (in my eyes) Mike Turner came out and said this after the Falcons won their 6th game against the Raiders yesterday – “But we’re looking at something beyond just winning right now. We’re trying to be special and special teams don’t play like that.”

Concern for the Offensive Line and Lack of Running Game

I went into this season with a major concern for the offensive line and for the running game of the Atlanta Falcons.  I feel the offensive line gets a lot of blame at times (rightfully so) but there are several times where I feel Matt Ryan let them down as well as Mike Turner and the other running backs.  Offensive lines are going to get beat, that happens, and so much gets said about those guys that I’m not going to bother with them on this entry.  In yesterday’s game against the Raiders Mike Turner had 11 carries for only 33 yards.  Any elementary school student can do the math and tell you that Turner only averaged 3 yards per carry in yesterday’s game.  Matt Ryan on one scramble gained half the yards Turner gained in 11 carries.  Quizz, who is supposed to be the change of pace back, has done little with his opportunities and yesterday was no big help as he had only 2 carries for -2 yards.

What is the confidence level in the Falcons running game nowadays? This concerns me because no 1-demensional team is going to win the Super Bowl.  There has to be a balanced attack on offense.  In previous games the lack of a run game was covered up because there would be the 1 big run against a tired defense from Turner or, Matt Ryan and the receiving core would have stellar games.  Matt Ryan, while he was off yesterday with the 3-picks, still had a somewhat decent day but would have benefited tremendously from a running game.  The problem is, the Raiders stayed on the field just as long as the Falcons did yesterday offensively which meant that their defense didn’t get as tired as the Redskins or Panthers the week prior which made for tough sledding on the ground for Turner.  You then take into account more short yardage situation and the Falcons just are not able to pick up short yardage on the ground anymore.  Turner, on his burst into the end zone after Ray Edwards returned a fumble to the 2 yard line, came up short when he landed sideways going into the end zone and Snelling (leaving his feet) really did not have a chance to score after the O-line got crushed at the line of scrimmage.

We can look back to the second week of the season where the Falcons had a hard time closing out the Denver Broncos because they could not rely on Mike Turner, Quizz Rogers to run the clock out.  You’ve got to wonder what kind of confidence the Falcons have in Turner.  My guts are telling me that the coaching staff have little confidence in the rushing attack right now – that’s very bothering to me.  I don’t believe having Matt Ryan throw the football 40+ times a game is a winning formula for this team down the road. Turner seems to agree – “I’m not sure why it’s going like this,” Turner said. “It’s great to be 6-0 and everything. But we can’t just assume we’re always going to be able to get an interception or a last-minute field goal every time. At some point we’re going to have to run the ball. We’ve got to be able to knock it in [the endzone].”

There is some truth to the “weak schedule” hate

A lot of fans have heard this one and while it is annoying there is some truth to the comments about the weak schedule the Falcons have played so far this season though you can’t do anything but play the schedule you’re given.  Of the 6 teams the Falcons have faced so far this season only the San Diego Chargers have a record over .500 (3-2).  After that, the Redskins have a .500 record at (3-3).  The rest of the teams – Chiefs (1-5), Broncos (2-3), Panthers (1-4), and Raiders are now 1-4 after yesterday’s loss.  You can’t really do anything about that if you’re the Falcons but win those games and that’s what they have done – while in a manner that I have not like so much.  I understand that every week in football can not and will not be blowout victories but, you would like to see the Falcons not play down to inferior opponents which is what they have done their last 3 games – yesterday they appeared to have very little interest in the Raiders until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.

Will we learn more about the Falcons in the coming weeks though?
Eagles (3-3), Cowboys (2-3), Saints (1-4), Arizona (4-2), Bucs (2-3), Saints again (1-4), Panthers (1-4), Giants (4-2), Lions (2-3), Bucs again (2-3).

As you can see… if you look at wins and losses the schedule down the stretch is not all that impressive which is why I am not a huge fan of the “weak schedule” hate even though it may be true.  My concern with the Falcons is that they simply go out and play solid games – not come out and play flat and down to their opponents.

I got something to say – I am cautious and do want more

My expectation level for the Falcons is still the same as it was coming into this season – cautiously optimistic.  I do feel that the Falcons are a team that can make the playoffs (I think that much is a given), I do feel the Falcons are a team that can win in the playoffs (that’s not a given but I believe they can even more so now than ever), and most importantly I do feel that the Falcons are a team that can win the Super Bowl.  The last statement is why 6-0 does very little for me nowadays. Yes, I am very happy that this team continues to find ways to win ballgames.  Having that trait to be able to win games in any matter of fashion is very valuable to a team being able to win it all.  However, I’ve been there and done that (not 6-0 but 13-3 and have the best team in football during the regular season).  I simply want more than just being able to boast about this team being undefeated or being the last team that’s undefeated.  I want more than just being about to say we are the best team in the league during the regular season.  As a caller said into the one of the local radio stations…. we (fans and team) want that Lombardi trophy!

#BravesFam. My Reaction to the “Infield” Fly Game and Thoughts On MLB Overall. How do you feel?

If you’re looking for a… bashing blog on the umpires this is not the blog to read.  After a full night to stew over what was a travesty of a call, in the Braves vs. Cardinals 1 game “playoff series”, I have resolved to writing a blog (its been a while, yes I know) to get some thoughts on the event off my chest.  Going to delve into how I think MLB handled this situation and, also into how I feel the MLB should go about next year improving what was a whacky system to boot.

Just in case you missed the bad call there’s the video for you above.  I know the call was bad and you probably know the call was bad so I am not going to go so much into how the call was bad because plenty has already been said.

My frustration

Some “Braves fans” were perched on their high horse (or throne) last night scoffing at the fans that were trashing the field after the wrong call.  I listened to Joe Simpson, color commentator for the Braves on FSS, go out of his way by saying how embarrassing the trashing of the field was for the fans of the Atlanta Braves.  Joe bothered me, and anybody sitting on their throne bothered me when they could sit and scoff at the person tossing trash out onto the field.  If I was in attendance last night there was a good chance I would have thrown a powerade bottle onto the field myself.  Why?

I tweeted this exact statement last night right after this incident:

This tweet expresses exactly why it bothered me that some fans would come out and scoff at others for displaying their frustrations and, also why there were quite a few Braves fans upset at Joe Simpson.  Again, I say, I would not have been ashamed at throwing something out on the field.  Why? Every penny I earn I work hard for.  The tickets to that game last night were not cheap – I promise you that you couldn’t find no $1 tickets to that game last night like it was a regular season game.  People had to spend a good bit of money on some expensive tickets to only see an umpire make a terrible call, not reverse the call, and yeah I will say it – cost a team the game!

Now, some fans will say… “hey Leo, what about those errors the Braves committed?”.  My response to them or hey…if its you that may have said that and reading my blog…

Chipper Jones committed an error that led to 3 runs scoring in one inning.  Why could McCann not drive in 1…2…3….or 4 runs after the blunder by the Cardinals out in left field? Why not??? You tell me! Why not? Sure, its also possible that McCann could have grounded into an inning ending double play but the point here is the opportunity was clearly taken away – NOT – by players on the baseball field but, a guy who can make a “judgement” decision on a fly ball a good 80 feet out into the outfield.

Who can forget Ron Gant being lifted off of base and being called out in the 1991 World Series?

I, as a fan, can easily hold Chipper, Uggla, and Simmons responsible for their errors that allowed runs to score.  In fact, to go a step further, I can be upset about those errors and eventually let those errors go had the Braves indeed gone on to lose the game without the infield fly ruling ever occurring.  The problem here, again, goes back to an umpire.  This goes beyond the ballplayer who has control of the ball game. I, as a fan, can see them and feel like I too have some kind of control of the ball game (if you feel me), but an umpire making a judgement call – a bad one at that – there is just a feeling of absolutely no control and when you know the ruling on a bad call is not going to change what else can you do as a fan?  This is not the first screw up by an official and neither will it be the last but, at some point officials need to be held accountable and the MLB didn’t come close to holding the official accountable.  It was what was not said last night that still bothers me today.

No apology from MLB

Jim Joyce, after blowing a call at first during a perfect game attempt by Armando Galarraga, came out the next day and admitted that he was wrong and apologized to Armando.  Joyce is the first ever umpire or game official I can ever recall coming out after a game and pointing the finger at himself and basically telling all of us that he screwed up.  Immediately following the wild card “playoff game” Joe Torre had the opportunity on behalf of the MLB to come out and simply apologize to the fans of not only Atlanta but to the fans of baseball about the mistake in call.  What did Torre do?  He did everything from mocking when fans booed during game at plays at first or pitches not close to the plate to even telling everybody at the press conference that he “disallowed” the protest basically meaning…. “no protest guys, are you kidding me?”

So, if the Braves fans trashing the field was “classless” (as some chose to describe it) I will say that the way MLB and especially Joe Torre (MLB VP?) chose to respond to this situation was as classless as it was gutless and cowardly.  Joe Torre literally sat behind a table, with the smug look on his face, and said without blinking that he thought the call was right and even went on to say how he enjoyed the concept of a 1-game playoff that NOBODY (not even the players) will admit to liking.

You see, this is not only a problem in baseball but it’s also a problem in the other major sports.  These “high ranking officials” of these games that little kids gather in parks and play have all migrated to the dollar signs.  They see it as… “no matter what we do the fans are going to come back” – see the NBA strike last year and see the replacement refs that muddied up the game of football.  This is as bad and as wrong as it gets.  Something that should be fun, intense, and passionate – being a fan – is taken for granted by the high ranking officials because in their minds there is absolutely nothing fans can do and that they will eventually be back.  There were no apologies about the NFL or NBA strikes.  There were no apologies to the fans about the replacement refs.  There will be no apology to the Atlanta Braves fans that witnessed a completely bad call.  John Schuerholz is able to come out and apologize to the MLB about how a “minor sect” of Braves fans reacted last night but MLB is not able to come out and apologize to the fans that was paying $50+ a piece to witness that game – yeah…ok.

What can we do??? Nothing???

When the fans littered the feel with beer bottles, cups, and other kinds of trash last night there was no ounce of blood in me that cringed and thought “how horrible is this? how embarrassing is this?” None.  What else can fans do to show their displeasure other than not show up?  Am I saying that fans should always trash a field after horrible calls? Absolutely not.  Fans pay money for expensive tickets they not only expect for good quality play from their team but they also expect that other members that make up the game (officials) do their best to call the game properly. Last night I think the MLB failed the Atlanta Braves fan base.  Not only because the call was incorrect (yes it was) but, also because they decided to turn their nose up to the Atlanta fan base, step over them, and continue moving on which is fine… I guess we are used to that down here.  Chipper Jones, future HOFer and 19 years of employment to MLB by way the Atlanta Braves didn’t even have his own commissioner come to his retirement ceremony.  Good job Bud Selig, incredibly good job.

So am I shocked by any of this? No, not at all.  I’m not shocked that the ruling wasn’t overturned.  I’m not shocked that the protest was “disallowed”.  I’m not shocked that there was no apology to the Atlanta Braves fan base.  Not shocked… simply frustrated, bothered, and disturbed.

Tis the season again. Football time. Pre-season Predictions #Falcons

Something I’ve been doing for a very very long time now (as I’m sure most of you do this too) is try to predict the outcome of the season for my team (the Falcons). I’ve only had this blog a couple of years but I’ve been actually blogging my predictions going alllll the way back to the days of MySpace! So here I am again, predicting what I believe will be the outcome of the season with other miscellaneous predictions along the way.  I try my best to put bias aside and be as logical as I can when it comes to these predictions because that’s the best way to do these things in my opinion.  Last season, I said the Falcons was locked in for 10 wins with a 5 game swing either way when it came to wins and losses and settled for the Falcons having a 12-4 season (being a 2nd or 3rd seed).  In the end, they went 10-6 (didn’t do well in those 5 swing games) and ended up being the 5th seed even though they had the 4th best record in the NFC.

Am I going to be as bold as I was last season with the predictions? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m going to be as bold as those fans who are already predicting a ring for the Falcons.  I’ll do my best though… and here we go.

Week 1 @ Kansas City Chiefs
I’ve already heard and read about how dominating the Falcons offense will be in this game.  About how Matt Ryan is going to get to play with his weapons and put up huge numbers this game.  The ‘breakout’ day that Julio will have.  As nice as all of that sounds I would say… no so fast my friends.  This game, to me, has the feel of the opening day game from a season ago against the Bears.  Arrowhead is a very tough place to play and the Chiefs, like the Falcons, are a different team in their building.  The fans are going to be absolutely nuts.  Sure they’ll be missing their star linebacker Tamba Hali this game but the return of hometown product (my High School alma mater by the way) Eric Berry, along with Charles at running back and there’s really no telling what to expect from the Chiefs.  When you also toss into the mix new coaching for both teams this game has toss up wrote all over it to me.
Prediction: Toss Up (evenly down the middle)

Week 2 vs Denver Broncos
Historically, Peyton Manning owns the Falcons.  The Broncos also seem to do really well against the Falcons historically. I’m not looking at any numbers right now but I’m willing to bet you that Peyton has never loss to the Falcons.  Denver boasted a really good defense last year and with the addition of Peyton (IF he’s close to the guy he once was) it should make for an interesting Monday night prime time game.  A match up of two playoff teams from a year ago as well makes the match up more intriguing.  Falcons, in the Dome, a different kind of animal and no matter how many games you have played under center can prepare Peyton for the noise he’ll hear opening night in a dome after missing a full season.  With both defenses I still believe this could turn out to be a game where both teams put up close to 30 points. Not sure Denver will be so heavy on the run as they were a season ago and the same could be said about the Falcons.  Should be a good one.
Prediction: Toss Up (slightly leaning Falcons)

Week 3 @ San Diego Chargers
I do not like this match up. I don’t like where this game is on the schedule.. I just don’t like it. Late Monday night duel with the Broncos followed up by a trip out west to the Chargers – a team I feel will be drastically better this season.  Will it be a blowout? I don’t believe so but for now I’m leaning more to the Chargers winning this game solely on this being a tough game to play after a Monday night game a week earlier.
Prediction: Loss

Week 4 vs Carolina Panthers
My first locked in win of the season comes against the Panthers.  I’m not going to say it will be a step back season for the Panthers because nobody expected them to be as explosive as they were this past season. I think teams are going to be better prepared to face them this year and I still don’t believe they’ve done enough defensively to contain what should be a Falcons offense that knows what its doing at this point of the season.  I look for the Falcons offense to really get to clicking and bounce back after a tough loss and lock in a win here.
Prediction: Win

Week 5 @ Washington Redskins
Without question I believe the Falcons will see RGIII.  The problem here for RGIII is that… while as unique as he is… the Falcons will have just come off facing Cam Newton the week prior.  The Falcons also seem to play very well against athletically gifted QBs and since Mike Smith’s arrival this team also owns rookie QBs.  I like the Falcons in this one.
Prediction: Win

Week 6 vs Oakland Raiders
A team that struggles on the road gets welcomed into the dome where when they last played the Falcons beat them easily 35-10 going on to clinch the division (that was back in 2004).  Not much has really changed since then.  Sure, the Raiders have been a lot better in recent years but placing hope in Carson Palmer who will be questionable and still struggling with playing on the road is not how you want to come into the GA Dome.  I look for the Falcons to win this game.
Prediction: Win

Week 7 Bye
So coming into the bye week I have the Falcons starting off this season locked in with 3 wins – 1 loss – and 2 toss up games.  Could be very interesting. The Falcons last 3 games coming into the bye week should be wins. The first 3 games though are tough games to me. It’s possible the Falcons could only win 1 out of 2 of those games.. maybe even as far as start off the season at 0-3.  Though I think saying the Falcons will be 4-2 is more plausible (they are capable of being 3-3 as well).

Week 8 @ Philadelphia Eagles
I’m not sure how most fans feel about this game but I will mention right away that I am tired of seeing this match up.  For whatever reason (probably because of Vick) it’s almost like the NFL has built this game into the schedule as a rivalry game.  That said, the Falcons with Mike Smith at the helm are undefeated when coming out of bye weeks I believe. The problem coming out of the bye week this season is that you’re on the road in Philly.  I honestly can’t remember the last time the Falcons won a game in Philly.  It has not mattered who was starting at QB – McNabb, Kolb, doesn’t matter the Eagles have pounded this team over and over again in Philly.  Will this be a pounding?  I don’t think so, not off the bye week though I don’t like the Falcons chances.
Prediction: Loss

Week 9 vs Cowboys
This is one of those games that when I look at it on paper I think… “this will not be a fun one to watch”.  I say that in the sense that this game could get sloppy very fast. Historically, this is another team that the Falcons do not play well against.  Both teams to me are evenly matched and I do believe its going to come down to both team’s defenses and both team’s QBs.  Which defense will make the other QB crumble (both QBs are capable of crumbling in these big kind of games).  The one good here is that this is a home game and Matt Ryan has been really good at home though he and the Falcons in the past 2 years have shown that they are capable of being beat by good teams at home (pointing to the Packers and the Saints).  No, the Cowboys are neither of those two teams but they are good enough to make me say that this game is a toss up game.
Prediction: Toss Up (and slightly lean to the Cowboys)

Week 10 @ New Orleans Saints
As always this will be one of those back and forth, edge of your chair, nail bitter type of games.  Saints are going to come out with a chip on their shoulders in this heated rivalry game.  The interesting thing about this particular game is whether or not the Falcons are riding low after losing 2 straight or riding high after winning an exciting game against the Cowboys.  The Falcons, under Mike Smith, rarely go on losing streaks so if by any chance they are on one coming into this game I think you’ll see the Falcons pull off the win.  Though, I don’t see them on a losing streak coming into this game.  I’ll say this game is a toss up though I’m leaning to the Saints – like them in their place though the Falcons proved 2 years ago that they are fully capable of going into that building and beating them.
Prediction: Toss Up (slightly leaning Saints – home field)

Week 11 vs Arizona Cardinals
I don’t like saying that there are easy wins in any season but there is no reason that the Cardinals should be able to come into the GA Dome and win a game. It would be inexcusable for the Falcons to drop this game.
Prediction: Win

Week 12 @ Tampa Bay Bucs
I’ve heard analyst try to sell the Bucs as a ‘sleeper’ team.  I’ll believe it when I see it.  I simply think that the Falcons are better in ever facet of the game against this team.  Will this be a better Bucs team this season? Don’t make me laugh.  Well… the Falcons will surely make us laugh as they’ll blow the doors off the Bucs for two of the easier back to back wins they’ve had in recent years.
Prediction: Win

Week 13 vs New Orleans Saints
The Saints are one of the few teams that come into the Dome and can pick up wins.  This year will be different.  After running over both the Cardinals and the Bucs the Falcons offense will be impressive again in what will be another back and forth crazy affair between these two rivals.  Not to mention this is also a Sunday night prime time game.. so yeah.. .crazy back and forth game that will come down to the wire.  It’s another toss up between these two rivals but I’m leaning the Falcons because they are at home and in the dome
Prediction: Toss Up (leaning Falcons)

Week 14 @ Carolina Panthers
This is another one of those games that I just don’t like on the schedule.  In what will be a very tough Sunday night prime time game it could easily be a trap game for the Falcons.  This all comes down to whether or not the Panthers are still playing for anything or have given up.  I don’t believe a team with Cam Newton on it will be out of it.. they’ll be playing for something.  This too is a rivalry in which the Panthers, by now, are tired of getting beat in.  I think they’ll knock the Falcons off after the Falcons are riding high from their win over the Saints the previous week.
Prediction: Loss

Week 15 vs New York Giants
Most fans
will be thinking revenge come this game after only scoring a measly 2 points against the Giants during last year’s playoffs.  The Falcons are usually a team that crush opponents when it comes to seeking revenge though this game is a bit too late in the season to me for them to solely go in with revenge on the mind.  This could be a game between two teams competing to make the playoffs if neither is winning their division at the time (if you believe most experts they’ll be competing for wild card spots).  Close game on a Sunday afternoon… I felt the Falcons was better than them last season though the Giants got hot at the right time.  The Giants are a team that historically play better at the end of the season but I question how into this season they will be coming off that Super Bowl. Will it be a repeat of the season they had coming off their last Super Bowl? I’ll lean to the Falcons. They’ll be in Atlanta and they don’t usually play well in Atlanta.
Prediction: Toss Up (leaning solidly to the Falcons)

Week 16 @ Detroit
It seems the Falcons always end up playing Detroit in Detroit and this time it will be on consecutive seasons.  There’s going to be some bad blood here between these two teams too… if you remember the Falcons and (don’t hate me for saying this) the crying they did after playing against Suh and the Lions.  How good will the defense be at this point of the season?  This should be a shootout but something is telling me that the Falcons are going to win this game.  The Lions have some really high expectations placed on their shoulders and so it will be interesting to see if they meet those expectations this season.  It’s a prime time game for the Lions to add on double to the pressure. Will Stafford still be healthy? Falcons beat them last season in Detroit and will do it again this season.
Prediction: Win

Week 17 vs Tampa Bay Bucs
I don’t really have to say much here.  Falcons will close out their season with a win.
Prediction: Win

Overall

Let’s see what I ended up having the Falcons do here.  I have the Falcons locked in for 7 wins so far this year.  Not so as high a number as last season and no surprise there.  As I mention in my previous blog this is a tougher schedule, to me, than it was last year.  8 teams on this schedule played at least .500 football last season while four of the teams played under .500 (Chiefs, Panthers, Washington, Tampa).  I have the Falcons locked in to lose in only 3 games which means there are 6 more games out there in which I feel are toss up games (meaning either team can win the games).  To make the playoffs the Falcons need to win at least 10 games so I like the idea of needing to 3 of those toss up games to get in.

Toss Ups… Chiefs (many believe the Falcons will win this game), Denver (I’m leaning Falcons), Cowboys (leaning Cowboys), Saints (two times leaning both ways), Giants (leaning Falcons).

Ooook…. let’s see.

I’ll stick with where I am in the toss up games and say that the Falcons go 4-2 in those toss up games.  I predict the Falcons go 11-5 this season.  Just edging out the Saints (who may even finish with the same record) to claim the division and be one of the top 4 seeds in the NFC this season.  Falcons 2012 – 11-5. What say you Falcons fam… and if you tell me 16-0…. please don’t tell me 16-0 :\

Atlanta Falcons Pre-Season Expectations For Regular Season

It’s that time of the year again where some fans start transitioning from their – off-season of no sports to watch to listening to the pop of the pads of football players.  The trash talk will slowly start to fill the air of your twitter timeline and radio airways as preseason will lead over to the regular season.  For a guy like me, who doesn’t really have an off-season from sports, because I’m into baseball I tend to be really chill about the start of professional seasons.  It allows me to be able to sit back and take in everything I hear said from players and coaches without being so over excited and exuberant that I get to a point of being blinded by expectations.

The bar has been raised to such a high level for this Falcons team and the expectations can’t be any higher for most Falcons fans.  In fact, I can’t think of the bar ever being raised this high except for two different times……. (In my lifetime anyway) – The season following the Super Bowl in 1998 and the 2005 season (the season after Vick and the Falcons went 11-5 and lost to the Eagles in the NFC Championship game). Fans drowned in their extremely high expectations those seasons.  The season after the Super Bowl was a train wreck starting from the point where Jamal Anderson injured his ACL against the Cowboys in Dallas.  The 2005 season, when the Falcons only managed to finish at 8-8, could be pointed to as the beginning of the end for the Vick/Mora era.

So here we are again in 2012 with the expectations being just as high.  After coming off a season where the Falcons struggled against .500+ teams and then only managed to score 2 points in a playoff game my mind begins to wonder are the expectations being set too high for this football team?  Should we temper our expectations on what this team will accomplish this year?

I’m not going to make any predictions on this particular blog for wins and losses for the season (that will be my next Falcons blog). I am going to take a look at some of the x-factors that I believe will shape how this season will turn out.  X-Factors that the Falcons will need to have go their way and step up.  X-Factors that could lead to doom and gloom for Falcons fans everywhere and then after that…  I will take a quick peek at the schedule.

The Falcons X-Factors

When thinking about X-factors fingers will immediately point at Matt Ryan, the new coordinators Mike Nolan, and Dirk Koetter.  In my mind, very easy targets to point to as x-factors for this upcoming season.  Play calling is key to how a team performs and, the quarterback position is quite possibly the most important position in all of sports.  So I am going to let those x-factors be because those 3 are pretty much given and everybody will be talking about those 3 guys.  Let’s look at some other factors that will not get much attention but should get some attention because they are very important keys to the season.

Coach Mike Smith’s style

Without a doubt, since his hire, the Falcons have been a winning organization.  However, my one concern that I have had with Coach Smith’s coaching style, since coming to Atlanta, really came to light last season.  At times, he’s too conservative and it kills his football team.  Mularkey and Brian Van Gorder got their fair share of the blame for the dumb play calling that took place last season but the whole scheme of the team still falls on one man’s shoulder and that’s the head coach.  He has the last say for when to play up pace, when to ease off the gas, when to step down on the other team’s throat, or when to let up.

With his new coordinators in place I wonder what the overall style of this team will be.  Will we continue to see a conservative offense that picks its spots?  Will we see a defense that play a “bend but don’t break” style of defense?  Most indications have been that the defense will be a lot more aggressive which I like already.  When Smith was a DC with the Jaguars they were a rough, tough, in your face defense which I thought he would bring to Atlanta but he never took over as the play caller for the defense.  With Nolan, he will probably be a bit more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball.  Offensively I’ve heard everything my ears have wanted to hear from Koetter and its been to the ears what a Christmas tree is to my eyes.  Coordinators can say what they want to do with a team but to reiterate this again… it ultimately falls back on Mike Smith’s shoulders.

I still believe that this the Falcons offense will be a “manage the clock” style offense that will pick its spots instead of being an offense that unleashes its weapons on teams and runs them out of the building.  The Falcons are no longer that baby-like team that had to be coaxed along the way when Coach Smith first took over as head coach.  I’m ready to see him take the reigns off on this team offensively and let them loose on teams.  That, to me, is an important key on this season.  Does Coach Smith have it in him to let this offense go?  Could he ever let his team blow another team away or would he continue to play the “manage the clock” “field possession” game that he has done since joining the team.

The offensive line (Peter Konz and new fullback)

I am surprised that I don’t hear much talk about the Falcons offensive line.  How is this offensive line going to perform is my biggest question for the offense and probably with this team. The offensive line as a unit is a major key to what will separate this team from being mediocre to being great offensively.  Peter Konz, from Wisconsin (a school known for producing good lineman) was drafted to come in and make an impact and for a rookie lineman that is tough and should he end up winning the starting job is going to make what’s already an interesting offensive line more interesting.  Adding a rookie to a line that struggled quite a bit last season makes me cringe a lot and I really don’t want to be cringing about the play off the offensive line this year.  There’s also the return that a lot of fans are dreading in Sam Baker, who many of us thought would not be back this season.  The Falcons have confidence in him… I for the most part do not have confidence in him.  Don’t want to see him getting pushed around as he did last season – especially coming from Ryan’s blind side.

There’s been very little talk about Bradie Ewing (fullback) who the Falcons drafted to be the replacement of Ovie Mughelli but, he or whomever the Falcons use in that role of fullback is going to be a major contributor for the running game and to this offense.  After Ovie got hurt the Falcons turned to Snelling to play the fullback position, not his natural position, and the running game slowly went downhill.  Bradie Ewing was highly hailed as one of the best fullbacks in college not that many fullbacks are even left in college, that said, being a fullback is what Ewing does and the Falcons will need for him to do it well.  Michael Turner, who had lost a few steps last season, has always done better running behind a fullback during his tenure here in Atlanta.  Just think about all of those important 4th and shorts that the Falcons struggled to convert and you will realize that there was never a fullback on the field.  Turner is a big back but it’s always fun to see a fullback punch the line and open up holes.  Hopefully Ewing steps up in a big way for the Falcons because they will surely need him in the backfield – especially if the Falcons want to continue being a run first offense.

Honest Abe, The Beer-man

A lot of the talk on the defensive side of the ball orbits around Spoon and new Falcon Asante Samuel.  My biggest questions about this defense is still up front on the defensive line.  We’re talking about a defensive line that hasn’t been able to get pressure on a quarterback since the days of Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith (think about how long its been since those 2 guys played in a Falcons uniform).  Abraham, Edwards (who for whatever reason nobody is choosing to talk about) and Biermann are the ends who we expect to apply some kind of pressure to the opposing QB.  The only problem has been… if Abraham doesn’t do it… nobody does.

Abraham has been doing what he does for years along the defensive line but I put him down as an x-factor not because of age or anything like that but because teams are going to go into this season again thinking – “double 55, don’t worry about the other 3 on the line”.  That’s an all important key in two different ways when you consider -Nolan (being a better DC) will scheme in ways that will bring pressure from other places.  This defensive line needs for Abraham to wreck things up front and if Nolan can show teams that we are capable to getting to your quarterback in different ways it will free up Abraham to do nothing but seek the QB.

The beer man last seasons was mostly used as a pass rusher. I’m interested in what exactly Kroy Bierman’s role will be on this team this season.  If Edwards, by some miracle, can be capable at the other DE position with creating pressure on QBs I think it would allow for Kroy to sometimes switch to an outside linebacker position in a 3-4 set and allow him to use his speed rush to get to the QB from a stand up position.  In my own dream world I would like to see Kroy line up outside of Abraham in a 3-4 set and see teams try to block both of those guys rushing from the same side of the field.  In my own dream world that would mean Ray Edwards is actually a decent DE and is able to also create some pressure with those two guys rushing from the other side of the field.  Keep your eyes on that… I’m no coach but it would not surprise me at all if we see the Falcons do it.

Last but not least… special teams (kickoff coverage) Field position

You can’t have a blog about keys to a football team without mentioning the special teams.  The Falcons special teams has always been decent but last year the new kickoff rules tortured this team.  Weems couldn’t get going on with kickoff returns (which really hurt this team in my mind) and does anybody remember how awful it seemed the Falcons were at kickoffs last year?

I sat back and watched other kickers launch footballs out of the end zone on kickoffs and then I watched Matt Bosher struggle repeatedly with kicking the ball only 2 or 3 yards deep into the end zone and at times.  It would bite the Falcons in the butt by giving other teams good field position and those good returns against the Falcons always seem to come at the most inopportune time.  Field position is so important in the game of football and while the Falcons have it figured out in the punting game (Bosher turned out to do a real good job of punting) you just have to hope that the Falcons are not giving up good field position on kickoffs when at this point the NFL has it set up for everybody to start at the 20.

Looking at the schedule

This is my first time really taking a look at the schedule and the thing that sticks out to me right away when glancing at the schedule is just how many solid teams the Falcons will be going up against this season when compared to last year’s schedule.  By no means, should this schedule be taken lightly and by no means is this a pushover schedule.  The teams that make up the Falcons schedule this season went a combined 102-106 last season.  There’s only four teams on this schedule that had a record under .500 last season (Kansas City 7-9, Carolina 6-10, Washington 5-11, and Tampa 4-12).  The other 8 teams that make up the schedule played at least .500 football or better.

Last season, for the Falcons, it was feast time on the teams under .500 as they went 7-1.  Feast turned to famine against teams that were .500 or better as they went 3-5 in those 8 games.  What I also failed to mentioned was that 2 out of the 3 games the Falcons did win against .500 teams they beat the Eagles (Falcons knocked Vick out of the game which many say led to the win) and then they beat the Titans (yes, the Titans actually finished last season with a winning record).  Other than that, the Falcons beat only 1 of the playoff teams they faced last season in the Detroit Lions – easily their best win last season.

This season, the Falcons have to go out and beat these teams capable of playing .500 football or better.  We don’t know who will make postseason or who will have a terrible season right now but the potential is there this season that the Falcons will play 9 opponents capable of making the playoffs.  I’m going to dig more into the schedule in my next blog when I’m ready to predict the season but I will say this now… It’s going to be important that the Falcons win all of their games against Tampa and Carolina.  Don’t want to give up any wins against those teams.

My expectations

I’m going to keep my expectations with this team tempered.  I’m in the minority when compared to most Falcons fans who already have the Falcons penciled in to play in New Orleans next February.  I am not saying that I don’t believe the Falcons can go all the way – if that was the case there would be no reason for me to look at games and cheer on my birds.  Though I am saying that I still believe the Falcons have a lot to improve on and to prove this season. My expectations for this team will remain at these two points:  Make postseason is number one.  Number two, win at least one game in the postseason – that is all that I ask of the Falcons.  After that, let’s see what happens.

On paper, many people have the Falcons ranked as a middle of the pack team.  Last season, they were slightly better than a middle of the pack team and just did make the postseason.  Going to be an interesting season to say the least.  I will check them out for a little bit in their preseason game tonight.  If I’m the Falcons, I don’t hold too much back… lets see what you’re working with.  How are your expectations this season for the Falcons?  Do you have the bar set extremely high, tempered at a medium setting, or do you have low expectations?

How I Grade the Atlanta Braves At The Halfway Point. Your thoughts #BravesFam?

In last night’s 5-1 loss to the Cubbies the Braves officially crossed the true halfway point of this 2012 season. It’s been one roller coaster of a ride for this team as well.  As fans, we’ve some of the highest of highs and some of the lowest of lows.  It is that time of the season however where I like to kick back and grade where I feel the team is at this point in the season.  Just by looking at the team play I would guess off the top of my head that they are an average baseball team but we’ll see…

Letter grades
A – Excellent
B – Above Average
C – Average
D – Below Average
F – Failing

Though I’m sure you already knew how a letter grade system worked but just in case

Starting Pitching

Going into this season I had pinpointed the Braves starting pitching as the biggest question mark/IF of the season.  There were a lot of questions surrounding this starting rotation.  Both Hanson and Jurrjens were coming off season ending injuries.  There were the questions of starting two rookies in the rotation with Delgado and Minor. To top it all off there was the question about whether or not Huddy would be able to return and be in top pitching form coming off of the surgery he had during the off-season.   The only pitcher I did not truly question coming into this season was Brandon Beachy, who got off to a great start but unfortunately we know he’s done for the season.

Thus far, all of the IFs that needed to trend in the right direction have trended in the wrong direction for the Braves starting rotation.  The best starter in the rotation right now is probably Hanson who has a 9-5 record with a 3.70 ERA.  However, I see Hanson’s numbers and I’m actually kind of surprised by the numbers.  He has a lot more wins than I felt he would have just by looking at him – that’s not a good thing.  I don’t even want to mention Delgado and Minor who have both struggled – Minor quite possibly is the worst pitcher on the staff (Delgado’s issues have been mostly run support issues).  Huddy is typical of the way this team has played this season – he’s up and down.  Jurrjen’s who has looked good since his return from the minors was well… as I just mentioned shipped off to the minors because he pitched so poorly.

The one number I truly turn to when I think about how poorly the starting pitching has been is the number of quality starts made by the starting pitching.  The Braves rank 27th in quality starts with only 32 quality starts made out of 81 games.  The average number of quality starts for NL teams is 45.   Take a look around the division and the Mets (55 – lead the MLB), Phillies (49) , Nationals (51), and even the Marlins (53)  are all in the top 10 in quality starts!  A couple of the teams in the division struggle to score runs which is why their records are not as good as the Braves but it goes to show… If the Braves only had the average number of quality starts for an NL team they’d possibly be tied with the Nationals for first place in the division and have one of the best records in baseball.

Letter Grade: (D) – Changes have to be made to this starting rotation.  If this rotation stays as it is for the 2nd half of the season the Braves might as well call it a season and prepare to go deer hunting.

Bullpen

Possibly the biggest disappointment of the whole team is this bullpen.  The only person that has lived up to expectation has been Kimbrel who has performed even better than he did last season – that’s saying a lot.  O’Flaherty has been… solid …. though not as shutdown as he was last season.  When the next guy on this list is possibly your 2nd or 3rd most consistent guy in the bullpen it says a lot about the bullpen – Chad Durbin.  Durbin, outside of the first few weeks of the season has been solid.  Durbin was not supposed to come in and pitch in the situations he’s pitched in recently.  I will not sit here and bash Venters, I just can’t do it.  Mostly because it would be pointless… There’s is nothing more that I can say about Venters that has not already been said.

The one person this bullpen is missing right now is Vizcaino who went down a season ending injury when pitchers and catchers reported.  I felt he was the one guy that (should anything have happened to Eric or Venters) could step in and pitch in a set up role or maybe even close games.

There were no question marks surrounding this bullpen coming into the season.  Most fans were debating about what the nickname should be for O’Flaherty, Venters, and Kimbrel.  Now?  Most fans cringe at anybody coming out of the bullpen that is not named Kimbrel.  That’s a very frightening position because that bullpen grows more and more important the later the season gets.  Something has to happen with this bullpen and that something I believe is Venters.  Venters has to get it turned around.  If not, the Braves (I don’t believe) will make a major move for relief pitching which means it could be a long 2nd half to the season.

Bullpen grade: (C) – If not for Kimbrel this letter grade would be just as low as the starting pitching.  Though, I will say that if Venters was removed from the equation the bullpen might not be as bad as it seems but that said the Braves need Jonny to return.

Infield Offensively

The infield (McCann, Freeman, Uggla, Chipper, Simmons) offensively makes you scratch your head at times.  I’ll take what Simmons, Chipper, and Freeman are doing right now.  Uggla got off to a great start but for about the past month he has looked more like the guy that started here at the beginning of 2011 than the guy who finished 2011 and started 2012 hot.  McCann has not been the all-star we know him to be, offensively, since that rib cage/oblique injury he had last season. A .229 average, with 9 homers, and 35 runs batted in is not McCann-like.

Overall that starting 5 on the infield is batting .267 with 39 homers and 172 runs batted in.  Give or take a few more homers from McCann and maybe 10 more runs batted in…. I actually like these numbers offensively on the infield.  Especially since you didn’t really know what to expect from Simmons offensively and add in that he’s only been up for a month.  Chipper, when he has played, has played as well as anybody on the infield offensively.  He has a better average than both Uggla and McCann and has driven in just as many runs as both Uggla and McCann.

Infield offensive grade: (C+) – weighed down by the under performing of both Uggla (recently) and McCann (all season).  Have two get those two guys to perform to their expectation.  If they do, then this offense will be extremely scary.

Infield Defensively

I felt that the defense on the infield was already pretty solid when Pastornicky was playing at short but when Simmons was called out… the infield defense was stepped up another notch.  He’s made a few errors on the infield but everybody makes an error now and then – the same could be said for all of the defense.  For the most part, the infield defense has been as solid as it gets.  Freddie Freeman just last night showed why he is one of the best defensive first basemen in the game and should win a gold glove.  In my mind the Braves have two golden glove players on the infield in Simmons and Freeman.

Infield defensive grade: (A) – nothing more needs to be said.  If only the team could perform as well as the defense.

Outfield Offensively

The Braves outfield has been as good as it gets offensively.  They truly do carry the team when it comes to the offense.  All 3 guys are at the top of the order and they are at the top of the order for a reason – because they are producing.   It’s been a long time since I said that about a Braves outfield offensively.  How about this? The Braves trio of outfielders (Prado, Bourn, Heyward) are batting .300 with 25 HR and 106 runs batted in.   When you take in the fact that Bourn is your lead off hitter and Prado bats second… JHey batted 6th or 7th most of the season with few chances to knock in runs… those numbers are GREAT! Not only that but those three guys have a habit of staying on base – .361 OBP.

At this point you’re just hoping that Heyward can stay hot and that… knock on wood… the injury bug stays away from the outfield.  Had Heyward played like he has for the past month and a half at the start of this season there’s a chance, in my mind, that the Braves could have 3 all-stars in the outfield.   They should have 2 in the all-star game right now if it were up to me.

Outfield Offensive Grade: (A-)  I have always had a hard time giving out A’s to an offensive category but Bourn, Prado, and Heyward have been so good offensively in this first half that they made it hard on me to give them anything less.  Biggest question is whether or not they can keep up the kind of effort they have given in this first half.

Outfield Defense

Just like the infield, the Braves outfield has been very solid defensively.  They catch nearly anything hit in the air that they can get to and Heyward has been showing off a cannon this season.  There have been a few bobbles, a few slip ups, and some lost balls here or there but that happens to all outfields.  The defense out there has been as solid as you’ll find.

Outfield Defense Grade: (A) – they’ll get no complaints out of me.

Bench play

The Braves, at this point, only have one true player off the bench right now and that’s David Ross.  He’s a solid role guy off the bench and, with no arguments from me, the best  back up catcher in the game.  That said, the rest of the Braves bench…. Juan Francisco (yikes),  Jack Wilson (he’s still employed with the Braves?),  Eric Hinske, Matt Diaz has not really performed well this season.  Off the top of my head I can’t think of one moment where a pinch hitter has come into the game late and had a big hit, can you?  Don’t get me wrong… these guys do an adequate job when they are called on to start an game here or there but when it comes to coming off the bench during a game and contributing… they just don’t perform well.  Something as simple as getting down a bunt becomes a cover your face moment with the guys off the bench.

Bench Grade: (?) I honestly don’t even know what to grade our bench and that’s a bad sign at the halfway point of a season.  They haven’t proved that they can come into a game and pick up big pinch hits or maybe come into a game and steal a base.  The way this bench is constructed right now I’d figure they would be doing more.  Hinske has looked clueless at the plate for most of the season though he’s started to turn it around somewhat.  Juan Francisco…. he’s trying to hit everything out the park…

I’ll give the bench a (D) – A below average bench at the moment

Managing

I start this off by saying that I have been one of the Fredi Gonzalez’s biggest supporters… Lately, he’s made more and more troubling decisions that has put his team in a troubling position.  Last week, when the Braves faced the Nationals, it was time to make a change to the rotation yet he pitched both Minor and Delgado in back to back starts against the team with the best record in the NL.  It’s been decision like that one that have made me wonder what he’s thinking.  I’ve been sitting on my couch and… in my mind… out managing him as a manager.  When guys should run.  When the Braves should play small ball, etc.  That should not happen.  The guys calling the game (Joe Simpson, Tom Glavine, and even Murphy) have also, at times, out coached the guy sitting in the dugout.

Fredi, has to give his team a chance to win games.  Last night, for example, he goes to Venters out of the pen in a 1-run game with men on base and Venters lets the game get further away.  There were better options in that situation and nobody sitting in the stands or at home should see those options before him.  If this team is to gain some kind of consistency it all starts at the top and Fredi simply has to do better.

Fredi’s grade: (C)  He’s tried to shake things up at times but there have been a lot more times where he’s shook his team out of a rhythm.  He’s had some game where he has made some incredible decisions but again… there are a lot of games where he’s been the opposite.

Overall:

So, tallying it up here and… let’s see…. I’ve handed out 3 A’s (two to the infield and outfield defense and 1 to the outfield offense).  There were 3 C’s and 2 D’s also added in.  Hmmm, let’s say that averages out to a possible C+ or B-.

A C+ sounds just about right for a grade on this team thus far in the season.  They, as one of my followers said last night to me, are very consistent at being inconsistent.  That’s never the phrase you want to go by as a sports team but that’s exactly what the Braves are at this point.  They have shown that they are capable of beating anybody at any time but at the same time they are fully capable of going 2-4 against one of the worse teams in baseball.  It’s never too late though, as the Cardinals showed last season.  The Nationals have a 6 game lead on the Braves… if the Braves could manage to cut it to a 4 game lead heading into the all-star break then you are definitely in the race.  I think they are still in the race now but again…

Braves need better pitching… a lot of really, really good pitching is needed if they are going to make a run.  They’ll also need their manager to do a better job at giving them a chance to win games as well.  I still feel the Braves will be there at the end….. HOPEFULLY.

Its A New Day For Hawks Fans? How are you feeling Hawks fam?

By now all Atlanta Hawks fans know 3 things.
1. ) Joe Johnson will no longer dress for the Atlanta Hawks
2. ) Marvin Williams will no longer dress for the Atlanta Hawks
3. ) His name is Danny Ferry

I could sit right here at my office computer and type up a very broad summary of how Joe Johnson became the franchise player of the Hawks.  I could tell you that he played a huge role in turning this franchise around and at the same time crippled it in a couple of way with crippling the original Atlanta Spirit Group ownership and then crippled the team when he agreed to his huge contract (though I don’t blame him for either).  I could also go on and on about how it many people heralded the drafting of Marvin Williams, who was the next hottest commodity in his draft, behind Bogut (though most of us will like to act like that wasn’t the case).  I could summarize how much of a bust Marvin Williams actually became over the 7 seasons he spent in a Hawks uniform.  Not going to do that though… we all know the story so no use in rehashing and beating dead horses.

Though I will stop for a moment to give credit where its due

I remember when Joe first arrived to the Hawks there was absolutely nobody in the league that wanted to play for the team – not even its worst player would want to play for this team.  I believe Joe’s run here as a Hawk was successful.  No, the team did not win a championship during his run here but he turned a team that was at the bottom of the barrel and a joke of the league to a team that at times teetered on the edge of being the all important “elite team”.  So I give credit where its due and I believe Joe deserves a lot of credit.  I know that at the end of his run here he was a very big divisive split to the Hawks fan base and he lost a lot more fans after he basically told them that they didn’t matter after a playoff game BUT all of that being said… He did what he was initially brought here to do.

What this move says about the ASG

The Atlanta Spirit Group is the joke of this town and they’ve earned every last joke that has been said about them.  From their harsh split with Belkin, the losing of the Atlanta Thrashers, handing Joe one of the most ridiculous contracts you’ll see in sports, even to selling the Hawks to a pizza guy that couldn’t afford the team… they have earned the stripes given to them by this community.

Within the last two to three weeks we have started to see a different kind of ownership from the Atlanta Spirit Group.  If this was a few years ago they probably would have allowed Rick Sund to continue on in his role even though he was considering retiring or taking his talents elsewhere.  When they made the move a few weeks ago to bring in Danny Ferry it was hailed by practically everybody, not only in this city but also around the NBA.  There have not been many times in the past decade that this Hawks team has been praised for a move.  If not being laughed at by NBA analyst and other fans they are usually being scolded.  Yesterday, for the first time in a long time the Hawks was the talk of the league and not because of some petty in house fighting but because the aforementioned Danny Ferry made 2 extremely good moves.  No matter the sport, I like to read newspapers in other cities to see what they are saying about on of the teams I cheer for and yesterday when I did this I could find not one negative critic of the moves Ferry made.

This actually looks incredibly good on the ASG and it says a lot about the possible changes they have began to make psychologically as owners.  Where they have been so content to stick with a core, that was not going anywhere fast, they finally moved away from being just content and happy with being a 1 or 2 and done team.  That core was very special to the ASG and they balked at any ideas of ever breaking the core up so to see them allow a trade in which the main cog of the core is now gone says a great deal.

This also says a lot about Josh Smith

The core had to be blown up.  I said it last year and even the year before that… The core was done and there was just no more room for them to grow – they had plateaued.  So, we all knew going into this off-season that major changes needed to be made and that the change would most likely happen to the core.  Most of us figured that the obvious move would be Josh Smith who no longer wanted to be a part of the organization.  The Hawks wasn’t going to move Joe because nobody was dumb enough to take on his contract.  Al Horford has always been the golden boy to this organization so nobody figured he’d be one that they would move.  Somewhere along the way the impossible became a possible and Ferry found an owner that would take on Joe’s contract – unreal to me still right now. That says a lot about Josh.  It tells me that Ferry and the Hawks believe there is greater value in Josh who was clearly their MVP last year and in my mind has been an MVP for a couple of years.

Right or wrong move? Better or worse

IF there was one move that needed to be made it would be the move to get rid of Joe Johnson’s contract.  Joe’s contract is really the undoing of him as an Hawk.  If Joe Johnson isn’t making the money he is there is still a possibility that he’s on the team.  Business wise and financially this was a very smart move for the Hawks – the right move.

Are the Hawks going to be better now for the move? There’s really no telling with this team.  I’ve seen some already say the Hawks are no better than 8th seed as they are currently built.  I wouldn’t be that drastic about their playoff seeding just yet because you have to let things play out.  If there are no more moves made I believe the Hawks still have a good enough team to compete as high as the 5th seed.  Just take a look at the standings from this past season – yes I understand it was a compacted and rushed season.   That said, the 8th seed this year finished 9 games behind the Hawks.  How many games worse are the Hawks without Joe Johnson next season?  How many wins would Joe add to the team?  Those are legit questions in my mind.  The game planned against the Hawks will definitely be different without Joe being around but if the team remains as it is right now and no more changes are made I still believe that a team composed with Al Horford and Josh Smith can compete.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out on the floor though.  The fans can longer sit back and blame Joe for playing ISO ball or holding the ball too long.  I think we’ll also get to see if Coach Drew really does have a plan for a motion like offense now.  I’ve said in the past that I believe he needed to have players that could fit what he wanted to do offensively.  I’m not an expert but it did not ever really appear that Joe fitted with an motion offense like scheme – he needed the ball in his hands.

I don’t see a bad coming out of  the moves from yesterday.  No team should never be as strapped as the Hawks were when it came to being able to make moves and changes to upgrade a roster.  Prior to yesterday, the Hawks was the team that could basically do nothing while other teams were able to go about improving their roster.  That’s bad for a team and that’s bad on business.  The biggest question at this point is whether or not the Hawks will be able to get guys to play here.

Dreamers are dreaming big

I’ve always found it very hard to believe that Dwight would come and play in Atlanta.  Most of that due to the finances of the Hawks.  Well, that hurdle has clearly been cleared and now every fan and analyst has painted a huge target on the back of the Hawks as a landing spot not only for Dwight Howard but for Christ Paul as well.  If that were to ever happen then it would be a new day in the city of Atlanta.  The city,  usually watches more basketball than any other city – ratings proves this when compared to other city.  Now, most of those watching basketball in this city are probably tuning in to a game not being played in this city but if the Hawks were to land Chris Paul and Dwight those are the kind of fans that will then hop on the Hawks bandwagon and tune into games as well as head down to Philips.  Philips Arena would not have to worry about attendance any longer because fans in this city will go to games so long as they have a star to go and watch – nonetheless 2 legit stars.

Those are still mere dreams.  I am a dreamer but that is still a dream that I, as a long time fan of Atlanta sports, have a very hard time seeing come to fruition.  Maybe it happens and maybe it doesn’t but I tell ya what…

For the first time in a long time…. It is very good to be able to dream again as an Atlanta Hawks fan.