- Created on 23 May 2013
Coming off an extra innings win Tuesday night, Braves' Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he wanted to send out his 'B' squad to see if they could complete the series sweep of the Minnesota Twins. It would be safe to say after Atlanta's 8-3 victory, its 'B' squad can compete with most major league lineups.
Gonzalez gave Jordan Schafer, Ramiro Pena and Evan Gattis the start in the series wrap up against the slumping Twins, who are on a seven-game losing steak.
The Braves bench players batted in five of Atlanta's eight runs, including a grand slam from Gattis, the National League Rookie of the Month.
The 27-year-old rookie had the green light to swing away at a 3-0 pitch and sent a 90 mph fastball over the right field fence to extend the Braves' lead to 8-0.
"The way [Gattis] swings the bat I wanted to give him some RBI opportunities and a chance to give us four runs," said Gonzalez. "He did just that,"
Gattis has played only 37 games but already ranks second on the team in home runs (10) and second in RBI (27).
"I was a little surprised he gave me the green light on a 3-0 pitch considering the game was still tight, It shows that [Gonzalez] trusts me," said Gattis.
Atlanta extended its winning streak to six games and the Braves bench players played a big role, hitting a combined 4-for-9.
"We got a good bench. We gave [Andrelton] Simmons the day off and Pena came in and had a couple of good hits," said Gonzalez. "We played good today."
Pena, who substituted for Simmons at short stop, had a solo homer in the third and finished the day 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
"I try to do my best every time I get an opportunity but it took me time to learn how to not play every day," said Pena, who is hitting .286 with eight RBI. "It was tough for me in the beginning but I feel good right now."
The issue facing the Braves' lineup is finding playing time for the highly productive bench. Jordan Schafer has played only 31 games, yet is hitting for a .309 batting average. Schafer, who started in left field to give Justin Upton the day off, also has two triples on the season with six stolen bases and ranks first on the team with a .434 on base percentage.
Everyday players like B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, and Jason Heyward are all hitting below .200 and have combined for 126 strikeouts on the season.
"Everybody on the bench is playing great," said Pena. "It's good for our ball club to have people that can come in and play."
Gonzalez may make some changes in the next few days to give Gattis and others more at bats.
The Braves welcome a much needed day off Thursday after a stretch of 17 games in 18 days then travel to New York to begin the road series with the New York Mets. Atlanta holds a 27-18 overall record pushing the National League East lead to 4.5 games.
- Created on 22 May 2013
With two recent injuries to the Atlanta bullpen, the last thing the Braves could afford was a lengthy rain delay. But that is exactly what they got in a 5-4 victory in extra innings against the Minnesota twins.
What appeared to be a sunny game at Turner Field quickly gave way to a 10 minute downpour on the 28,663 fans in attendance, followed by an hour-long rain delay, which included two brief power outages.
Atlanta's two big lefties Johnny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty are likely to miss the rest of the season due to Tommy John surgery and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez announced before Tuesday's game that he is unsure when injured relief pitcher Jordan Walden will return to the roster.
Despite the injuries, the Braves still bolster one of the best pitching staffs in Major League Baseball. Atlanta leads MLB with a collective 2.64 ERA and ranks sixth in the majors with a .223 opponents' batting average.
But with the string of injuries, the Braves need their starters to go deep into the ball game, but after the delay pitcher Tim Hudson went just five innings. He had 5 strikeouts on 81 pitches and gave up two earned runs.
"For [Hudson] to give us five innings after that delay was a tremendous feat," said Gonzalez. "As a coach, sometimes you need to do what's best for your player and not risk any injury."
After Hudson left in the fifth, the Braves' Anthony Varvaro took over and pitched a solid two innings, giving up just one hit with two strikeouts. Varvaro, who will likely anchor the bullpen with rookie left-hander Luis Alvilan, has pitched five straight scoreless appearances dating back to May 13.
Alvilan did not fare as well, however, and the Twins broke through against he and right hander Cory Gearrin to take the lead in the eighth as Minnesota scored two runs on three hits.
The Braves needed some late inning heroics to cover for the bullpen's mishap. With two outs in the ninth inning Evan Gattis hit his third pinch hit home run to tie the game and Freedie Freeman had the walk off RBI in the 10th to give Atlanta the win.
"Varvaro pitched great for us; the eighth inning got a little sideways but Gattis tied it up and we battled for the win," said Gonzalez.
As has been the case seemingly all season, Gattis's teammates were singing his praises as well.
"I think it's unbelievable what [Gattis] is doing," said Freeman. "I think that's three or four times he has put us ahead to win it."
Atlanta recently called up relief pitcher Cory Rasmus from Gwinnett to help the roster. Starting Pitcher Brandon Beachy was sent to Gwinnett for a rehab assignment.
After finishing the series against the Twins, the Braves will travel on a five-game road trip to face the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.
- Created on 21 May 2013
If the WNBA's general managers are accurate prognosticators, the Phoenix Mercury will be taking part in a parade in October. The Mercury, with No. 1 overall draft pick Brittney Griner in the fold, collected 33 percent of the votes as the team most likely to win the WNBA Finals presented by Boost Mobile in the 11th annual WNBA.com GM Survey, just days before the beginning of the 2013 season.
The defending Western Conference champion Minnesota Lynx, led by a quartet of All-Stars, was voted as the most fun team to watch (25 percent). These results marked a reversal from a year ago when 83 percent of GMs tabbed the Lynx as eventual champions and 55 percent had cited the Mercury as the most entertaining team.
The complete results of the exclusive survey are posted on WNBA.com in advance of WNBA Tip-Off 2013 presented by Boost Mobile, when the defending champion Indiana Fever and reigning WNBA Finals MVP Tamika Catchings visit the San Antonio Silver Stars Friday, May 24 (8 p.m. ET).
Among the other key contests set for opening weekend are two nationally televised games on Monday, May 27 (Memorial Day), when the "3 to See" will be on full display. Coverage tips off on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. (ET) when Skylar Diggins and the Tulsa Shock host the Washington Mystics. That game will be followed by Griner and the Mercury hosting Elena Delle Donne's Chicago Sky on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. (ET).
The Sparks' Candace Parker, the Fever's Catchings, and the Mercury's duo of Griner and Diana Taurasi figured prominently in a number of categories. Parker, who led all vote-getters as the choice for MVP (42 percent), also was selected as the player with the greatest hunger to win a championship in 2013 (30 percent). Now in her sixth WNBA season, Parker was the only player to receive votes as the best player at all three frontcourt positions, ranking as the No. 2 power forward (36 percent) and center (17 percent), and as the No. 3 small forward.
Catchings, the league's regular season MVP in 2011, was this year chosen by GMs as the best leader among players (67 percent), the toughest player (64 percent), the top power forward (46 percent), and the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year (42 percent).
An overwhelming favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year honors (75 percent), Griner was voted as the player acquisition that will make the biggest impact (42 percent). She also shared top honors in two categories with a pair of WNBA MVPs, Taurasi (2009) and Catchings (2011). Griner tied for the lead with Taurasi as the player who forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments (25 percent apiece), and along with Catchings was viewed as the player a team would sign first if starting a franchise today (25 percent each).
In the backcourt, the GMs saw Taurasi as the top shooting guard for the fifth straight year (50 percent), and Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen was named the best point guard (67 percent). At the forward spots, the versatile Catchings (46 percent) was selected as the No. 1 power forward and shared the top spot among small forwards with Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry (33 percent apiece).
Connecticut's Tina Charles captured the vote as the top center (67 percent) and also was selected as the league's best rebounder (50 percent) and the player with the best post moves (58 percent).
Ten players received votes as the league's most underrated player, with Indiana's Briann January and Washington's Ivory Latta sharing the top honor (17 percent each).
The New York Liberty's Cappie Pondexter was deemed the best at creating her own shot (58 percent) and her crossover dribble was voted as the most effective individual offensive move (55 percent).
The coaching category included a variety of winners. San Antonio's Dan Hughes was selected as the coach that best develops young players (58 percent) and Indiana's Lin Dunn was voted as the best manager/motivator (42 percent) and the coach who runs the best defense (33 percent).
Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve was given the nod as the coach who runs the best offense (42 percent) and Washington's Mike Thibault was considered to be the coach that makes the best in-game adjustments (33 percent).
The Seattle Storm, despite preparing to play the season without injured All-Stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird (the player voted by GMs as the best leader in each of the past five surveys), came out on top in a pair of categories for a second straight year.
Seattle was once again voted as the team with the best home court advantage (58 percent) and Storm head coach Brian Agler was named the best head coach in the last two minutes of a close game (50 percent).
Additional leaders in the WNBA.com GM survey included:
Tulsa Shock – team that will be most improved (33 percent), edging Washington and Phoenix (25 percent each)
Lindsey Harding signing with Los Angeles – the most surprising move of the offseason (44 percent)
Nicole Powell and Candace Wiggins each joining Tulsa – most underrated move of the offseason (20 percent apiece)
Kara Lawson, Connecticut Sun – active player who would make the best head coach (42 percent)
Toni Young, New York Liberty – most athletic rookie (42 percent)
Tayler Hill, Washington Mystics – "sleeper" rookie most likely to be a success (25 percent)
Stephanie White, Indiana Fever – the best assistant coach (33 percent)
- Created on 22 May 2013
On May 22, 1988, the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics met at the Boston Garden for the deciding game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. What ensued was one of the greatest playoff duels in NBA history.
Today at 8:30 a.m., on the match-up's 25th anniversary, the Hawks will release an oral history account of this legendary game exclusively on www.hawks.com, featuring commentary from Dominique Wilkins, Larry Bird, Mike Fratello, Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge, Bill Walton, Steve Holman and more who were at the Garden that day.
Wilkins and Bird put on an unparalleled performance to fight for a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Wilkins scored 16 of his game-high 47 in the fourth quarter, while Bird hit 9-of-10 shots in the fourth for 20 of his 34 points.
To read the complete oral history of Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, visit http://www.nba.com/hawks/features/nique-bird-oral-history.
- Created on 21 May 2013
What was supposed to be a sunny afternoon end to a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday was anything but.
After more than an hour of watching the rain come down on Turner Field and a full hour and 42 minutes after the game was scheduled to start, the Atlanta Braves took the field against the Dodgers to the delight of a little more than two-thirds of the 48,000-plus who had paid to see the game that day. They responded by almost instantly starting the wave.
In the sixth inning there was another rain delay – this one for 33 minutes – and with the Braves down 2-1, another half of the stadium found its way to the exits. Unable to hit the long ball and watching helplessly as starter Mike Minor gave up what was looking like just enough to lose – three hits for two runs - it was beginning to look like another shoulda-had-it for the NL East leaders. But when the rain broke and the Braves took the field again they were a different team – literally and figuratively.
Minor gave way to Anthony Vavano, who pitched a perfect seventh and set up an eighth inning in which Chris Johnson, Ramiro Pena and Jonathan Schafer could knock the ball around and change the game. Atlanta scored four runs on three hits, a walk, an error and a sac fly to clinch the game.
It turns out, the Bravos can play small ball.
"With a rain delay and getting tired a little bit later, you have to keep concentrating on the game," Pena said. "Everybody did a great job from the beginning (of the eighth), and I think everybody put something in that inning."
They can also rely on their pitching, even when their pitcher doesn't have his top pitch. On Monday, with the slumping Minnesota Twins (18-25) in town for the start of a three-game series, Julio Teheran delivered a decisive eight-inning 'W' without the use of his best pitch – the change-up - in the two teams' first meeting in Atlanta since the 1991 World Series.
''I decided to just compete with my other pitches,'' Teheran said. ''I know my fastball is good, my two-seamer, so I just tried to command my curve and my slider.''
Teheran pitched 8 1-3 and Dan Uggla lifted a three-run shot to propel the Braves to their fourth straight win. It was the first time in a long time the Braves took charge of a game early and led throughout.
So far this season, whether it's big bats or small ball, ace pitching from the starters or a saving grace effort from a bullpen running on fumes, Atlanta has been able to pull whatever rabbit out of whatever hat necessary. In a world of extreme analytics and advanced saber metrics, the Braves are making themselves tough to pigeonhole.
They're also tough to beat, especially at Turner Field where Freddi Gonzalez's team is an impressive 13-5. That's big considering the Braves have played three fewer home games than any team in the majors so far this season.
Attendance at The Ted has been middle of the road this season – Turner Field ranks 13th in attendance in the majors, averaging a little more than 30,000 fans per game – but the Braves play so far has been exemplary.