Free Baseball: Patient Braves fashion dramatic comeback to beat the Giants in extra innings

giant bravesOn a muggy night in Atlanta, the Braves opened a three-game series with the visiting Giants at 7:10 pm– actually a bit before then, by our watches– Monday. Atlanta’s starter, Mike Foltynewicz must’ve missed the memo, though, because he spent about an hour of game time serving batting practice to the San Francisco hitters, who responded by bombing fly balls to the deep reaches of Turner Field, netting them three homers to left, one to center, and a 6-0 lead by the fourth inning.

The rain that fell amidst the sunshine– likely the prompt answer to a desperate prayer from Foltynewicz, who, unbelievably, was sent back out to pitch the fifth and sixth innings– seemed to cool the Giants’ bats and, eventually, nurture the opposite effect for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Jace Peterson’s three-run homer halved the Giants’ lead, and (remember this name) Adonis Garcia’s follow-up double chased San Francisco starter Matt Cain. A Nick Markakis RBI single scored Garcia, and the Braves ended their productive sixth inning having trimmed the Giants’ six-run lead to two.

Atlanta would edge even closer in the next inning, thanks to a solo shot from the once and prodigal BABIP king Chris Johnson, but a two-out rally in the top of the ninth allowed the Giants to extend their lead to 7-5.

Two San Francisco relievers later, the Braves were down to their final out, trailing by two with no men on. Johnson kept his team alive with a hard-hit single, and A.J. Pierzynski’s third hit of the night landed in the outfield seats, tying the game and sending it to extra innings. Continue reading

Chris Johnson, BABIP Darling: Can You Believe Again?

My latest post at Banished to the Pen looks at the unfolding season of the Atlanta Braves’ third baseman, Chris Johnson, and asks whether it’s time for another reevaluation of the narrative about his offensive value.

The full post is available here.

Upton Abbey – Episode 8 – Director’s Commentary

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I have been running this Upton Abbey feature on this site since April. Brendan helped me with the name, and I created the headline graphic that has accompanied each post. Readers with a careful eye have noticed that that graphic includes B.J., Justin, and Kate Upton.

The folks at Sports Illustrated are dedicated fans of this series, and they’re using the cover of next week’s issue to acknowledge ALDLAND’s influence on their work:

While the SI editors have not expressly acknowledged this site by name, I did begin receiving free copies of the magazine in the mail a few weeks ago, which is good enough for me.

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The Braves begin the playoffs tomorrow night, when they host the first game of their divisional series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. L.A. had a great second half to their season, while the Braves spent September looking to regain their rhythm. Another thing they spent September doing was vigorously enforcing baseball’s “unwritten rules.” Brian McCann and Chris Johnson took the lead on this Quixotic initiative, and Braves fans certainly have to hope that their team can drop what is less than a non-issue and return their focus to the task at hand. The Dodgers look to be in a good spot right now, and late-September’s Braves will have a hard time beating them.

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Previously
Episode 7 – Dessert Seized
Episode 6 – I Can See Clearly Now?
Episode 5 – Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner
Episode 4 – A Three-Course Meal
Episode 3 – Hosting Royalty
Episode 2 – Lords of the Mannor
Episode 1 – Beginning, as we must, with Chipper

Upton Abbey: Episode 7 – Dessert Seized

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There will be extra baseball in Atlanta this year. The Braves clinched the NL East title over the weekend, ensuring themselves a postseason berth. With a few days left in the regular season, their potential playoff opponents include the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates(!), and Dodgers.

The good news: Jason Heyward is back in the lineup sooner than expected– thirty days after a New York Met fastball broke his jaw. In the last twenty-two games Heyward played before the injury, Atlanta was 18-4. They were 13-13 in the twenty-six games without him. Heyward may not be fully healed, but the team needs him back in the lineup, and bringing him back for these last few regular season games was the only way they could allow him to get back into playing mode before the playoffs begin.

Heyward_Braves_baseballThe odd news: As part of its remodeling effort, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution began offering a live, online feature for Braves games called Gametracker. It’s similar to ESPN’s online Gamecast product. Gametracker is a nice way to keep track of Braves games, but it seems odd that, as of last week, it would think relief pitcher Luis Ayala plays for the Orioles. First, Gametracker only tracks Braves games. Second, while Ayala did appear in two games for Baltimore this season, he’s appeared in thirty-five for the Braves, the team he joined in April of this year.

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Finally, third baseman Chris Johnson has been having a nice year at the plate. Way nicer than anyone expected or really can explain, in fact. One concern entering the playoffs is that, with the offense sputtering and his awareness of his potentially fluky success and the increased importance of that success to the team’s success, Johnson will start to overthink his plate appearances and squelch his offensive proficiency.

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Previously
Episode 6 – I Can See Clearly Now?
Episode 5 – Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner
Episode 4 – A Three-Course Meal
Episode 3 – Hosting Royalty
Episode 2 – Lords of the Mannor
Episode 1 – Beginning, as we must, with Chipper

Upton Abbey: Episode 6 – I Can See Clearly Now?

upton abbey bannerYesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Dan Uggla, Braves second baseman, would be placed on the disabled list in order for him to undergo Lasik eye surgery:

In the midst of the worst season of his career, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla will have Lasik eye surgery that will keep him out of the lineup for at least the next two weeks.

Uggla was placed on the 15-day disabled list and Tyler Pastornicky was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett and will start Tuesday night’s game against the Phillies at Turner Field.

Uggla will have surgery in two or three days, and the Braves think he’ll be able to recover quickly, play in a few minor league games and return to the active roster in 15 days or shortly thereafter.

“It was a mutual decision,” said Uggla, who ranks second among Braves with 21 home runs and leads the team with 62 walks, but has the lowest average (.186) among major league qualifiers and most strikeouts (146) in the National League. “Obviously I don’t want to go on the DL whatsoever, but at the same time you’ve got to do what’s best for the team right now.

“I’ve been struggling pretty bad and battling with the contacts and grinding with those things day in and day out. I think the best thing to do is just go ahead and do it now.”

The full story is available here. Uggla can be a lightning rod for criticism, and the fact that his home runs and walks are up at the same time he has baseball’s worst batting average (supplanting teammate B.J. Upton) and is leading the National League in strikeouts sounds to me like a very Uggla season. With the team continuing to be beset by seemingly critical injuries (and succeeding in spite of that), the question is whether Lasik– which sounds a bit dog-ate-my-homework-esque– can help Uggla.

The idea here is that Uggla’s having trouble hitting the ball because he’s having trouble seeing the ball, and that having corrective eye surgery would improve his ability to see, and therefore hit, the ball. That AJC story includes an apparent testimonial from Uggla’s teammate, catcher Brian McCann, who battled vision problems and is having a great season at the plate this year.

But a 2005 study found “no statistically significant or practically significant difference . . . between the presurgery and postsurgery means on either on-base percentage, batting average, slugging percentage, or on-base plus slugging of any major league baseball players.”

Fangraphs’ Chad Young thinks there’s good reason to believe that study is flawed, however. His article raises three primary issues with the study: 1) it fails to account for player age; 2) it does not place player output in historical context; and 3) it utilizes rigid, narrow sample windows.

Young attempted to crunch the numbers himself in a way that addressed the flaws he saw in the study’s methodology, leading to a number of conclusions, including: a) offensive contribution increased significantly in the year following surgery, and b) players in Uggla’s age range saw an increase in offensive contribution, while older players saw a decrease, something Young attributes to age independent of eye surgery. In other words, “when we account for age and league context, the picture gets quite a bit rosier. Maybe the way I am looking at the data suggests I need the surgery more than Uggla does, but I am not ruling out the possibility that we will see noticeable gains once Uggla can see.”

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Uggla may be having trouble seeing the game right now, but we certainly did not, as our last trip to Turner Field found us in what may be the best seats I’ve ever had for a baseball game.

rockies braves august 2013I have yet to see the Braves lose in Atlanta this season (a streak that will be put to the test again tonight), and this particular game was the most emphatic victory yet. Continue reading

Upton Abbey: Episode 4 – A Three-Course Meal

upton abbey bannerWe are long overdue for a visit with the Uptons. How about a dinner date? (They’ll probably make Chick-fil-A if you ask nicely and are willing to wait until the third inning.)

Appetizer: Team status small talk

Right now, Atlanta is in first place in the NL East, holding a seven-game lead over the Washington Nationals. They also are the only team in their division with a positive run differential. (Only the Cardinals (+106), Tigers (+76), Red Sox (+75), and Reds (+63) can best the Braves +57 mark.) That’s all the more impressive considering …Keep reading…

Upton Abbey: Episode 3 – Hosting Royalty

upton abbey bannerI attended my first Atlanta Braves game last night, with the then-AL-Central-leading Kansas City Royals in town for the first of two games in thirty-six hours.

Getting to Turner Field via public transportation is easy, particularly considering Atlanta’s bad reputation for transit. The park itself is nice and clean, with three escalators ferrying us to the top level, where we were sitting. Originally constructed as part of the 1996 Olympic complex (it cannot in any way be overstated how much Atlanta loves the ’96 Games), it does not show its age, even if the third escalator broke down while we were on it, bringing to mind Mitch Hedberg’s bit. But let’s not dwell on the notion of being too lazy to take the stairs on one’s way to sitting and watching three hours of baseball. Instead, let’s note that Turner Field has roving Chick-fil-A vendors and a nice view of the downtown skyline.turner field 4-16-13With a seating capacity of roughly 50,000, it actually is bigger than Comerica Park, but even sitting in the top section, I felt closer to the game than one might at some technically smaller parks, and there didn’t look to be a bad seat in the house.

It was good that we were closer to the game, too, because Continue reading

Manic Monday

This was a rough weekend for most of ALDLAND’s teams, with Michigan State pulling another no-show, this time against extremely beatable Nebraska, and Vanderbilt blowing two opportunities to beat #8 Arkansas. Clemson’s offense forgot to show up and remind Georgia Tech that the Tigers don’t have a defense, and our own Magalan and commodawg went head to head for Georgia’s come-from-behind victory over the heavily penalized Florida Gators at the annual Cocktail Party game in Jacksonville.

The Florida-Georgia rivalry played out on Sunday, too, when the Lions met the Broncos in Denver. Georgia grad Matthew Stafford, along with Georgia Tech grad Calvin Johnson, led Detroit in a dominant victory over Florida grad Timothy Richard Tebow’s Denver team, the only bright spot of which was Knowshon Moreno, running back and Georgia alum.

Elsewhere in the NFL, the Rams got their first win, shocking New Orleans with Sam Bradford on the bench, the Dolphins came from ahead to stay winless, and the Colts lost to an underperforming Titans team. Watching Chris Johnson this year, one understands why he held out for a big payday at the start of this season.

Mark 2011 as the year the Lord took on NFL player contracts

It is said that the Lord works in mysterious ways, but this summer, He has been stepping out a bit more, seemingly bearing a new cross for those who praise Him. The Almighty has tackled public works projects before– the Great Flood, liberation of his people from bondage in Egypt, urban renewal in cities like Sodom and Gomorrah, descending to Earth in human form, etc.– but this campaign feels different, perhaps because of its apparently limited, if no less public, scope. Mark 2011 as the year the Ancient of Days took on high-profile NFL player contracts.

Yahweh’s first target was in the Arizona desert, where He helped Larry Fitzgerald secure an eight-year, $120 million deal with the Cardinals. After Fitzgerald’s new contract became public, Chris Johnson, holdout running back for the Tennessee Titans, praised the Everlasting Father for His accomplishment: “Congrats to Larry Fitzgerald. God is good.” Indeed.

Luke, the Gospel writer, tells us that there is more rejoicing in Heaven when one sinner repents than there is for ninety-nine other righteous people who need not repent, and so it should come as no surprise that the Wonderful Counselor would take the case of the once-disgraced, now-redeemed Michael Vick (f.k.a. Ron Mexico). Just this week in the City of Brotherly Love, Vick signed what his head coach called “a beautiful contract,” which may or may not be worth $100 million. In response, Vick said, “I want to thank God for the opportunity that I’ve been presented.” And so we can assume he did.

Numerically, if there’s a digit more biblically favored than four or seven, it would have to be three, and so we should expect Elohim to be involved in at least one more blockbuster deal before the season starts next week, and the smart talents are on Johnson himself. Johnson believes the Titans should compensate him on a scale comparable to the highest-paid players in the league, and not merely as the highest-paid at his position as the team has offered to do. On Wednesday, Johnson said, “I like to thank everyone who have me in their prayers thru my situation, it’s much needed.” It just might be.

Can the Holy Spirit reach this man on behalf of Chris Johnson?

The Weekend Interview: Chris Johnson

After heading north of the border for last week’s interview, it only seemed right to turn things around and seek some warmer weather and talk to a current– if temporarily, but willfully inactive– player named Chris: Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Arguably the league’s fastest and best running back since the Titans drafted him out of East Carolina University prior to the 2008 season, Johnson currently is holding out from this year’s lockout-compressed training camp in the hopes of securing something around $30 million in guaranteed money.

This isn’t CJ’s first contract dispute either. 2009 was a record-setting year for him (2,006 rushing yards, 2,509 total yards, 14 touchdowns, 5.6 yards/carry), and he demanded a restructured contract before the 2010 season, and the Titans ultimately gave in. Johnson’s prediction that he would shatter Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record (2,105 yards) by rushing for 2,500 yards in 2010. Instead, he had 1,364 yards on the ground (1,609 total), well short of the record and his personal goal, though still good numbers.

For this imagined interview, I agreed to meet Johnson for lunch at McDougal’s in Nashville…  Keep reading…