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Top 50 albums of 2017, according to DOB

Top 50 albums of 2017, according to DOB

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

My kitchen and den-turned-makeshift-office overflow with albums and CDs this time each year during what’s become an arduous one-man task of sorting through a couple hundred records purchased in the past year, playing a majority of them once or twice more – on the kitchen CD player or den turntable — then determining which make the cut and how they line up in my annual Top 50.

Same rules as always: No genre limitations, no restrictions other than an album must be available on vinyl or CD, and boxed sets, live albums and reissues aren’t eligible (though I must say, terrific Prince, Radiohead and R.E.M. expanded and remastered reissues this year tempted me to bend that rule). Oh, and the album had to be released in physical form during 2017. That came into play with Run the Jewels 3, which was digitally released last Christmas Eve but not physically released until Jan. 13.

Obviously, any best-albums list is highly subjective; one of the things that makes music so essential and wonderful is how it makes us feel, and that’s a personal thing having nothing to do with widespread appeal, number of units sold or critical reviews. So this is nothing more than one man’s list of the best albums that came out in 2017.

And I don’t have to worry about giving a better-than-deserved ranking to a record as a favor for a band giving me a cover story like some corporate magazines do, or to thank a promoter for sending me product, etc. Because I’m a sportswriter doing this on the side. I buy the records, play them, rank them. Period.

Did I miss some great albums? No doubt. Can’t hear them all, and I’d go broke trying to buy more.

Also, I buy what I want to hear or what I’ve heard or read about in other places that seems like it’d be up my alley. So, while I also buy tons of old used vinyl – my obsessions are 1960s and ‘70s country, blues and soul – my new-album purchases mostly lean toward Americana, “alternative” rock (whatever that is these days), country music that you don’t hear on country radio, retro-sounding soul/R&B and provocative hip-hop — I’m admittedly quite the snob in the latter category and tend only to like rap artists with a political or otherwise compelling message. I also buy some metal, jazz and reggae.

And my top 50 list reflects my leanings.

So let’s get to it. This time it was a little easier for me to pick my No. 1 than in soe recent years, when two or more albums were worthy of the top distinction and picking one over the other might have come down to how I felt that day. Not this time. I’ve known since the April day when I first played Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” it was the best I heard this year and that it would take a remarkable album to unseat it.

The ones that came closest to Kendrick were the aforementioned Run The Jewels album; my man Jason Isbell’s “The Nashville Sound,” which was the third consecutive highly acclaimed release from a guy I consider one of the two best current songwriters under age 60 (the other is James McMurtry); Atlanta-based band Algiers’ second heavy and timely album, and Brand New’s “Science Fiction,” the first album in eight years by the Long Island band and supposedly their swan song. If it was, to say they went out on a high note would be a vast understatement. It’s a terrific album.

Run The Jewels 3

But like I said, one album towered above all the rest for me, and it was by the 5-foot-6 outrageously talented rapper and songwriter from Compton, Kendrick Lamar. I’m not one to throw around that “musical genius” label without restraint, but one could argue it applies to Kendrick, who reigns above all current hip-hop artists and has taken the genre to another level by releasing four epic albums in a six-year span including three that I consider masterpieces – “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City: in 2012, “To Pimp A Butterfly” in 2015 and now this one. Damn, indeed.

Kendrick lost me a little on his 2016 album “untitled unmastered,” which I thought was very good but not as great as his previous two. But on this year’s “DAMN.” he comes across as not just the brightest guy in the room, but also the boldest, most entertaining and most innovative.

For me, the hip-hop bar was set awfully high in the 1980s when Public Enemy changed the game with its first couple of vital, relentless albums. I listened to others like Schooly D, Eric B. & Rakim, Run-DMC, Boogie Down Productions, Beastie Boys and Nas up through the 1990s. But after the Beasties and Tribe Called Quest shut it down, and Biggie and Tupac were shot down, and Wu-Tang Clan and Nas slowed down, my hip-hop purchases became less frequent.

But in Kendrick, here’s a 30-year-old who has picked up where the legendary rappers left off. He’s that good.

Like Chuck D and Nas, he’s artistic and political, profane and profound, thoughtful and fierce. On “DAMN.”, Kendrick is hard but also a little humble. And he shows again that he’s the best in the rap game and among the best there’s ever been.

DOB’s Top 50 Albums of 2017

  1. Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.”
  2. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit “The Nashville Sound”

    Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

  3. Run the Jewels “Run the Jewels 3”
  4. Brand New “Science Fiction”
  5. Algiers “The Underside of Power”
  6. The National “Sleep Well Beast”
  7. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings “Soul of a Woman”
  8. Vince Staples “Big Fish Theory”
  9. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile “Lotta Sea Lice”
  10. Waxahatchee “Out in the Storm”
  11. Joseph Huber “The Suffering Stage”
  12. The War on Drugs “A Deeper Understanding”
  13. Slowdive “Slowdive”
  14. Colter Wall “Colter Wall”
  15. John Moreland “Big Bad Luv”
  16. Valerie June “The Order of Time”
  17. Allison Crutchfield “Tourist In This Town”
  18. Jaime Wyatt “Felony Blues”
  19. Tyler Childers “Purgatory”
  20. Julien Baker “Turn out the Lights”
  21. Turnpike Troubadours “A Long Way From Your Heart”
  22. Protomartyr “Relatives in Descent”
  23. Mount Eerie “A Crow Looked at Me”
  24. Father John Misty “Pure Comedy”
  25. Gregg Allman “Southern Blood”
  26. The Steel Woods “Straw in the Wind”
  27. Nicole Atkins “Goodnight Rhonda Lee”
  28. L.A. Witch “L.A. Witch”
  29. JD McPherson “Undivided Heart & Soul
  30. Lorde “Melodrama”
  31. St. Vincent “Masseduction”
  32. Spoon “Hot Thoughts”
  33. Jason Eady “Jason Eady”
  34. Chuck Prophet “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins
  35. Kevin Morby “City Music”
  36. Jake Xerxes Fussell  “What in the Natural World”
  37. Mark Lanegan Band “Gargoyle”

    Open Mike Eagle “Brick Body Kids Still Daydream”

  38. Afghan Whigs “In Spades”
  39. Converge “The Dusk In Us”
  40. The Big Moon “Love in the 4th Dimension”
  41. Dalton Domino “Corners”
  42. Open Mike Eagle “Brick Body Kids Still Daydream”
  43. Lilly Hiatt “Trinity Lane”
  44. Robert Plant “Carry Fire”
  45. Aimee Mann “Mental Illness”
  46. Oxbow “The Thin Black Duke”
  47. Paul Weller “A Kind Revolution”
  48. Big K.R.I.T. “4eva is a Mighty Long Time”
  49. Chris Stapleton “From a Room: Vol. 1” and “From a Room: Vol. 2”
  50. Lee Baines III & the Glory Fires “Youth Detention”

Best of the rest:

Beck “Colors”; Brother Ali “All the Beauty in this Whole Life”;  Mark Eitzel “Hey Mr. Ferryman”; Grizzly Bear “Painted Ruins”; Curtis Harding “Face Your Fear”; Ray Wylie Hubbard “Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There as Fast as I Can”; Vijay Iyer Sextet “Far From Over”; Jay Som “Everybody Works”; King Krule “The OOZ”; LCD Soundsystem “American Dream”; Laura Marling “Semper Femina”; Migos “Culture”; Zephania Ohora “This Highway”; Angaleena Presley “Wrangled”; Margo Price “All American Made”; Priests “Nothing Feels Natural”; Queens of the Stone Age “Villains”; Jesse Royal “Lily of Da Valley”; Strand of Oaks “Hard Love”; Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives “Way Out West”; Tinariwen “Elwan”

Full article @ Top 50 albums of 2017, according to DOB

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

Braves denied permission to interview Dayton Moore, but stay tuned

Braves denied permission to interview Dayton Moore, but stay tuned

Yes, the Royals have denied the Braves permission to interview Dayton Moore about their general manager job, but that doesn’t mean the door is closed on any chance of Moore returning to run baseball operations in the city where he began his front-office career.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed a report by’s Jerry Crasnick that the Braves were denied permission to interview Moore, who signed a Royals contract extension of undisclosed length in February 2016 and has to have permission before he can interview with another team.

The Braves have been denied permission to interview Dayton Moore, at least for now. (AP photo)

But there is a belief among some observers that the Royals might be positioning themselves for possible concessions from the Braves to allow Moore to interview and/or leave. And it’s possible that Moore might also be waiting for some assurances about the Braves situation and his potential role if he were to join them.

Neither the Royals nor the Braves have confirmed that permission was asked for or denied.

The Braves’ front office has been in a state of limbo and high anxiety for nearly a month because of an ongoing Major League Baseball investigation into a variety of serious alleged rules infractions by the team under general manager John Coppolella, who was forced to resign Oct. 2, as was Gordon Blakeley, the team’s international scouting supervisor.

It’s expected that lawsuits will be filed by Coppolella or Blakeley or possibly both, presumably because of how the Braves handled the investigation. I didn’t say “how the Braves threw them under the bus” or sacrificed Coppolella and Blakeley in an effort to lessen the punishment that’s coming to the organization, but I’ve heard others categorize it as such and, well, I’ll leave it at that.

Results of that investigation are expected to be announced soon after the World Series, with the Braves expected to face potential fines, likely major restrictions in future international free-agent dealings and quite possibly the loss of multiple young prospects who could be made free agents if MLB determines the Braves broke rules to sign them.

It’s with this dark cloud hanging overhead that the Braves have been tasked with trying to fill out the hierarchy of their baseball operations before free agency begins and with the GM meetings only a couple of weeks away. And the man currently running the show, president of baseball operations John Hart, has had to meet with MLB investigators regarding his possible involvement or at least awareness of infractions by Coppolella, Blakeley and possibly others.

Did we mention the high anxiety that permeates the Braves these past few weeks? And not just their front office and coaches – who still await official announcement of next year’s staff – but also the team’s fan base, which has been on pins and needles, seeking information each day about the investigation and watching as other teams hire and fire managers and pitching coaches while the Braves wait for MLB’s hammer to fall before moving forward.

Moore is the man that many inside and outside the organization believe is the perfect candidate to ride in on the figurative white horse and restore both the Braves’ once-sterling reputation off the field and guide the final stages of a rebuild that’s been painful for three years — a rebuild that was embarked upon with a goal of returning the Braves to perennial-contender status after more than a decade of mediocrity. He did it in Kansas City. He knows the Braves culture as it once was, and has the respect of current players who talk to former players and hear nothing but glowing reports about Moore.

Getting the perfect candidate never was going to be easy, as Moore would understandably not be expected to come to the Braves unless he was running the entire show; a move from his current position to Braves GM would be a step down if they retain Hart as president of baseball operations. There was no president of baseball operations in Kansas City; Moore has those responsibilities.

But if Hart were to step down, change titles or be forced out after MLB announces its findings, well, then the road might suddenly be cleared for Moore, the Braves might suddenly be willing to meet whatever potential compensation the Royals demand, and Moore could be given the power to either run the show as president of baseball operations and GM, or just be prez of baseball ops and hire a GM to take care of much of the daily grind that goes with that job.

Moore, 50, started as a Braves scout and worked his way up to assistant GM under former Braves GM John Schuerholz before leaving for Kansas City in 2006. He rebuilt a Royals organization that went nearly three decades without a postseason appearance until winning the American League pennant in 2014 and the World Series in 2015.

The Royals have several high-profile free agents and are facing another rebuilding situation now, after Moore used many of their prospects to acquire key pieces in the team’s highly successful postseason runs.

Meanwhile, the next GM of the Braves will step into a talent-rich farm system that has been rated as the best and deepest in baseball. It will remain at or near the top of those rankings even if the Braves lose a prospect or three because of rules infractions.

Whoever steps into the GM role will be in position to finish off a rebuild that should yield playoff contenders for multiple seasons once the Braves’ rotation is stocked with many of the elite arms that Coppolella and Hart acquired and the lineup built around Freddie Freeman is infused with the best of the Braves’ position-player prospects, led by Ronald Acuna, and complemented by some key pieces acquired via trades or possibly free agency (but most likely trades).

Will ownership give the new GM a budge that allows for the acquisition of a couple of truly impactful players? If so, the agonizing rebuild could be over sooner rather than later. Even if Liberty Media’s middle-market budget prevents the Braves from making a big splash by bringing in outside talent, they should have enough talent stockpiled now in the system for Moore or whomever to use some of those prospects to bring in key pieces and get the Braves out of the doldrums and emerge from a rebuild that has tested the patience of a baseball market that just wasn’t used to losing the way other recent rebuilding franchises were. Braves fans didn’t suffer for more than quarter-century like Royals fans, not to mention for most of a century as Cubs fans did.

And Braves officials knew better than to go through a stretch of 100-loss seasons the way the Astros did when they piled up top draft picks; hell, just look how angry Braves fans got over three consecutive 90-loss seasons (although it could be argued, how much worse would things have been at the ballpark each night if they had lost 105 instead of 90-something games, but that’s another story altogether).

The Braves are at a defining moment in many ways. They wish that MLB would hurry up and hand down its judgment, bend the franchise over and give it the whipping it’s going to receive, so they can move forward and presumably get back to being a respected franchise. And a winning one.




Full article @ Braves denied permission to interview Dayton Moore, but stay tuned

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

Atlanta Braves season news and more right here!

Former Braves employee comes to John Coppolella’s defense

Former Braves employee comes to John Coppolella’s defense

Several agents, opposing general managers, Braves employees and others around baseball – almost all declining to be named – have made statements or confirmed stories lambasting former Braves general manager John Coppolella and impugning his character since his forced resignation Oct. 2 amid a still-ongoing Major League Baseball investigation into alleged breach of rules regarding international free-agent signings and other matters.

John Coppolella was forced to resign Oct. 2 amid a Major League Baseball investigation into multiple rules infractions, primarily involving the signing of international free agents. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

But Coppolella obviously didn’t rub everyone the wrong way, or else he wouldn’t have gotten the GM job to begin with or kept it for three years (two with the title GM following one year as de facto GM working alongside president of baseball operations John Hart). And while the overwhelming majority of comments about him have been negative since this scandal unfolded, at least one former Braves employee stepped forward in support of the fallen GM.

In an email to me this week, this former Braves scout, who’s now serving in that capacity with another major league team – he asked that his name not be used, but I can confirm his identity and that it was he who sent the email – said he saw an entirely different side of Coppolella than what has been portrayed in various other accounts since his resignation.

Coppolella, by the way, has not spoken on the record in the three weeks since his resignation.

Here is part of the email from the former Brave employee. Again, it was sent to me unsolicited.

My name is (name omitted by request)…. Just something I wanted to get off my chest about Coppy that hasn’t been mentioned by anyone’s sources, as it doesn’t relate to his firing.

In all of the criticism he has received for his conduct, which I won’t try to defend or even address as I don’t know nearly enough about them to have an opinion, I thought people should know how good Coppy was to people like me. There are hundreds of people out there who have wanted to get into baseball operations and sent emails to Coppy asking for advice, and each one has a thorough reply from him, with specific suggestions tailored to that person’s background, along inspirational words of encouragement. He took the time to send me an email that was over two full pages long that addressed every little question I had. I’ve run into several other people with similar stories, and am sure there are plenty others who have had email exchanges similar to ours. When I was scouting for the Braves, we had to send an email report to (various Braves officials) after finishing our coverage of a given affiliate, with a one sentence blurb on each player from that team who we thought could play in the MLB. Without fail, within an hour of sending that email, Coppy sent an email back saying thanks, asking about your family, making the extra effort to know how appreciative he was of your hard work.

Fairly or unfairly, the coverage of the scandal has painted Coppy as this heartless cheater, but to kids like me who just loved the game and wanted more than anything to be a part of it, he was a godsend. I don’t know if this info has any utility to you whatsoever, but I just wanted someone in the media to know that as much turmoil there may have been in the front office, as much as he may have pissed off other GM’s, and as egregious as his violations may have been, there is not a doubt in my mind that he is a genuinely good person, and I am confident there are plenty of others out there who would say the same thing.

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Full article @ Former Braves employee comes to John Coppolella’s defense

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

Atlanta Braves season news and more right here!

Terry Pendleton, Eddie Perez out as Braves coaches, Walt Weiss likely in

Terry Pendleton, Eddie Perez out as Braves coaches, Walt Weiss likely in


Prepare for more Braves upheaval: Bench coach Terry Pendleton and first-base coach Eddie Perez will be dropped from the coaching staff and former Rockies manager – and ex-Braves shortstop — Walt Weiss is the likely replacement for Pendleton as bench coach, from what I’ve been told by more than one person familiar with the situation.

Pendleton and Perez might be retained in front-office or other organizational roles, but will not be back as coaches, thereby cutting the last connection to the coaching staffs of Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox and two of the few remaining ties to the Braves’ unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles. Both were extremely popular with fans and respected by past and current players.

Weiss, 53, served four years as Rockies manager before stepping down after the 2016 season. The Rockies were 283-365 in his four losing seasons as manager, but he was praised by players for his managerial skills and especially his ability to communicate.

Weiss played for the Braves in the final three seasons (1998-2000) of his 14-year career, earning his only All-Star berth in 1998 in his age-34 season when hit .280 with .386 OBP for the Braves.

The Braves aren’t expected to announce the coaching staff until an off day in the postseason schedule – that could be as soon as Saturday – and possibly not until after the World Series, if they wait until after Major League Baseball announces the findings of its much-chronicled investigation into major infractions by the Braves on multiple fronts but primarily the signing of international free agents.

Terry Pendleton will not be retained as Braves bench coach, ending his 16-year run on the coaching staff following a 15-year playing career for the former National League MVP. (Curtis Compton/AJC file photo)

The coaching changes aren’t believed to have anything to do with that investigation, which already has led to the forced resignations of general manager John Coppolella and international scouting supervisor Gordon Blakeley. The Braves already announced they would pick up the 2018 option on manager Brian Snitker’s contract, and now it appears Weiss will serve as his bench coach.

Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, meanwhile, likely will be retained despite the inconsistent performance of a pitching staff that had several underperforming veterans and a median age that was steadily reduced throughout the season, to the point where four rookies were making starts by the end of the season. The Braves seemed reluctant to make a pitching-coach change for the second consecutive year, after firing longtime pitching coach Roger McDowell last winter.

Pendleton and Perez have a combined 27 years on the Braves coaching staff. No other current Braves coach has spent more than three seasons on the staff.

Ironically, Pendleton and Perez had been candidates for managerial openings with several other major league teams in past years, and a year ago they, along with then-third base coach Bo Porter, were in-house candidates interviewed for the Braves managerial position along with outsider Bud Black and Ron Washington. The Braves opted to re-up with Snitker, dropping the interim label from his title in October 2016. Washington was hired as third-base coach with Porter getting bumped to the front office.

Earlier this month, the Braves exercised a 2018 option on Snitker’s contract to return as manager for at least one more season, after much speculation during the team’s second-half struggles that Snitker would be dropped and replaced by Washington. The front-office unrest and ongoing MLB investigation were thought to have played a part in the decision to bring back Snitker, so that there would be some stability in at least one highly visible position in the organization.

With no change in the managerial job, the Braves were not content to bring back the coaching staff intact after a fourth consecutive losing season and third in a row with at least 90 losses. Pendleton and Perez will apparently be the ones to pay the price, so to speak.

Pendleton, 57, was a 16-year member of the coaching staff following an impressive 15-year major league playing career that included 4 ½ seasons with the Braves. “TP” won the NL MVP award in 1991 in his first season with the Braves after batting a league-leading .319 and being a catalyst and leader in the “worst to first” season that began the Braves’ run of 14 division titles.

A three-time Gold Glove winner, Pendleton finished his playing career with Kansas City in 1998 and joined the Braves coaching staff in November 2001. He spent nine seasons as hitting coach through 2010 and just over five seasons as first-base coach before becoming bench coach at the request of Snitker when the latter was named interim manager in May 2016.

Perez, 49, has spent well over half of his life playing or coaching in the Braves organization, working for 11 seasons on the Atlanta coaching staff following a 20-year professional playing career that included 18 seasons in the Braves organization and parts of 11 seasons in the majors, nine of those with the Braves.

Eddie Perez (left) chats with legendary former Braves manager Bobby Cox during spring training near the end of Cox’s career. (AJC file photo)

A .253 career hitter in regular-season play, Perez raised that to .299 in 30 postseason games with the Braves including a stunning .464 (13-for-28) with a 1.250 OPS in 15 games during four National League Championship Series, the highest batting average in NLCS history for any catcher in 25 or more at-bats.


Full article @ Terry Pendleton, Eddie Perez out as Braves coaches, Walt Weiss likely in

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

Atlanta Braves season news and more right here!

Plot thickens in Braves scandal; investigation inching toward end

Plot thickens in Braves scandal; investigation inching toward end

We watch the splendid drama of postseason baseball unfold each day, all the while as Braves front-office intrigue continues behind closed doors.

Then-Braves GM John Coppolella (left) and president of baseball operations John Hart chatted with veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki at spring training. Hart is now serving as GM until a permanent replacement is hired after Coppolella was forced to resign amid an MLB investigation. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

There’s still no resolution from Major League Baseball regarding its investigation into alleged multi-pronged malfeasance by Braves officials in recent years, which already caused the forced resignation of general manager John Coppolella and international scouting supervisor Gordon Blakeley the day after the season ended.

I’m told the investigation is inching toward its end, but the sordid situation and penalties likely won’t be laid out for public consumption until after the World Series. Baseball prefers not to detract from its showcase postseason series.

At least one or two other team officials were believed to be in the crosshairs of the investigation. It’s unclear if more heads will roll either before or after MLB announces its findings and levies penalties that could include a heavy fine for the Braves, potential loss of players if rules were broken in their acquisition by the team and major restrictions on dealings in the international free-agent market, where the worst of the Braves’ alleged offenses occurred.

Meanwhile, word spread around the Braves’ offices soon after Coppolella’s forced resignation that he has hired a lawyer (or lawyers) and that lawsuits might be forthcoming. That’s surely caused plenty of sweating in certain departments with the Braves, as some fear that Coppolella might bring down others while attempting to show he, or he and Blakeley, didn’t act alone.

Underscoring that concern was a weekend report by the Macon Telegraph’s Bill Shanks, who wrote that he was told Coppolella was offered severance pay by the Braves. If true, that would seem a highly unusual step taken by a company with an employee forced to resign due to allegations of wrongdoing – even if, as president of baseball operations John Hart said in announcing Coppolella’s resignation, the offenses strictly involved MLB rules and not a criminal matter.

You’re fired, now here’s a nice severance package?

Coppolella hiring legal representation and being offered severance — if that’s indeed true — only stokes the theories being bandied about on the Internet and the airwaves that the Braves want this to go away as quickly as possible and that the now-disgraced GM didn’t go entirely rogue and doesn’t intend to take the fall alone.

As the Braves world turns, indeed.

Remember when we thought decisions on manager Brian Snitker’s option for 2018 and R.A. Dickey’s decision whether to retire or play again might be the only big Braves news before the end of the World Series? Ha. How quaint that now seems.

By the way, Dickey hasn’t announced yet whether he’ll play, but to me it’s seemed since the last week of the season that he was leaning heavily toward retiring, and at this point I’d be surprised if the knuckleballer decides to continue his career. If he did, the Braves would likely pick up his $8 million option for 2018. But again, I don’t think they’re going to have to make that call.

Now, back to other pressing matters: Where once the Braves were once a fixture of playoff baseball deep into October, they’ve now gone 16 years without getting past the first round and four years without making the postseason at all. As if that weren’t enough, they now find themselves three years into a rebuilding project that has been painfully slow to yield results at the big-league level and now has been, at least temporarily, completely overshadowed by the dark, roiling clouds over the franchise.

Scandal is a strong term, but until proven otherwise, it’s precisely that. An ugly scandal. One of the ugliest in recent memory for baseball.

The Braves were long seen as being above this type of situation. No more.

And I had one agent tell me this week that, while at least half the teams in baseball have cheated for years to sign Latin American free agents, that won’t matter if MLB decides to make the Braves an example for the rest of baseball by bringing down the hammer. And because so many other teams – and several agents — have filed complaints about the Braves and specifically Coppolella both before and since the investigation began, it’s probably only increased the likelihood of heavy penalties.

So much attention has been focused on this case, so many details leaked by baseball officials and others, that if MLB doesn’t come down hard now, it knows it’ll look about as toothless and corrupt as the NCAA did last week in wrapping up its years-long investigation of North Carolina by doing nothing.

So, the Braves are prepared to get slapped with penalties. They have been for a while now.

They just wish it would happen so they could move forward. Because the business of baseball doesn’t stop, and as soon as the World Series ends, the wheels of free agency begin to turn, trades begin to be discussed, the General Managers Meetings are set for mid-November and the Winter Meetings four weeks after that.

Meanwhile, the Braves don’t have a permanent GM. Hart has assumed those duties and ostensibly is set to keep them for however long it takes until they hire a replacement. Fortunately for the Braves, he’s been around long enough to know the team’s personnel inside and out, knows which prospects the Braves value most, which ones they have penciled in to help them at the major league level and which ones might be better used to acquire to plug other holes with the big club.

But what if Hart, too, is or becomes embroiled in this controversy? What if Coppolella’s legal representation was obtained for a lot more reason than to make sure he retains his short-term health-care benefits and 401(k)?

Stay tuned.

One thing that’s become apparent as this thing has dragged on is that there were probably more reasons for Dayton Moore – the dream GM candidate in the view of many Braves followers – not to jump ship on the Royals and take the Braves job than there were for him to do so. And that’s beyond the obvious one: As long as Hart is president of baseball operations, Moore would be making a less-than-lateral move coming to the Braves, since he is, in effect, both GM and president of baseball ops with the Royals. Moore, a former Braves assistant GM, runs the entire show in Kansas City, as far as baseball ops is concerned.

But here are other reasons some overlooked in the early predictions or no-brainer declarations regarding Moore coming to Atlanta, where he began his career as a scout. First, he’s from Wichita and went to college in Kansas; he has professional roots in the Braves organization, but life roots in the Midwest.

Secondly, he went through some rough years in Kansas City where he was sharply criticized for orchestrating a rebuilding plan that some didn’t believe was yielding results fast enough, then took more heat when he started trading off top prospects once he decided the Royals were ready to contend. He’s long since silenced most of those critics after winning consecutive AL pennants and the 2015 World Series. His plan worked. Before 2014, the Royals hadn’t been to the playoffs since winning the World Series under general manager John Schuerholz, who would, of course, go on to become Braves GM and serve as Moore’s boss for years.

Here’s the thing some have overlooked: Even if Hart weren’t in the picture, if Moore were to leave the Royals now, many would portray it as him leaving the organization with the cupboard bare and leaving it to the next GM there to rebuild things. And at the same time, if Moore came to the Braves and had success in the next few years with players acquired by Coppolella and Hart, he’d be seen by many as riding their coattails or winning on the work they did to put things in place.

By the same token, if he came in and began trading away young Braves talent, Moore would be in a must-win situation at that point, or else he’d be ripped for wrecking what is now considered the best or second-best farm system in baseball.

So, while Moore was the sexy choice of many to come in on a white horse and clean up this mess, there were plenty of obstacles. And reasons to believe that other candidates were more likely including Nationals assistant GM Doug Harris, a respected talent evaluator with a long relationship with Hart; Nationals special assistant Dan Jennings, a former Marlins GM and manager, and Blue Jays vice president of baseball operations Ben Cherington, a former Red Sox GM. Others could emerge including potential in-house candidate Billy Ryan, Braves director of baseball operations until being reassigned late in the season by Coppolella.

There’s no timetable for hiring a GM. In the interim, Hart led four days of organizational meetings last week at the Braves’ minor league headquarters in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. It wasn’t a typical organizational meetings in that all the coaches weren’t there, as they have been the past couple of years; it’s tough to invite the coaches when you haven’t yet announced which ones will be returning to the 2018 staff.

Also, at least a couple of relatively high-ranking team officials weren’t there, since Coppolella had put together the list of invitees a while back and the Braves didn’t scramble to update that list and invite a couple of the passed-over officials on short notice after Coppolella’s resignation.

But most of the hierarchy were in attendance including Hart, top scouting and player-development officials – including late-season Coppolella hires Adams Fisher and Perry Minasian – vice-chairman Schuerholz and chairman Terry McGuirk.

McGuirk is the man who ultimately has final say on hiring and firing decisions and serves as the liason to the team’s Colorado-based Liberty Media ownership group,which, by the way, is keeping close tabs on this investigation and has had its lawyers in attendance at various meetings with MLB officials.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of those organizational meetings last week in Florida. Even a fly might’ve needed a drink by the end of those days, given the current state of front-office flux.

Full article @ Plot thickens in Braves scandal; investigation inching toward end

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

Atlanta Braves season news and more right here!

Embroiled in scandal, Braves must make right moves

Embroiled in scandal, Braves must make right moves

Do you realize it’s been 16 years since the Braves won a postseason series? That means it’s now been a longer stretch without a postseason series win than was the period of their unprecedented run of 14 consecutive division titles over 15 completed seasons during 1991-2005.

John Coppolella (left) was forced to resign as Braves general manager last week, and president of baseball operations John Hart (right) is serving as GM until a replacement is hired. (Hyosub Shin/AJC file photo)

I point this out merely to note that it’s not as if the Braves went from being on top of the world to their current state of embarrassment over a multiple alleged rules infractions under the front-office regime led by general manager John Coppolella, who was forced to resign last week.

That said, none of the Braves’ struggles – not six consecutive division-series losses and a wild-card game loss, not four consecutive losing seasons, not the past three seasons with at 90 losses – has brought as much shame upon the organization as the current situation, which can rightfully be referred to as a scandal.

We should not hear the Braves refer to themselves as a “gold standard” franchise anytime soon. They’ve effectively lost that right for the time being.

And when next you hear someone say, “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” you have my permission to tell them to shut the (bleep) up.

“Coppy,” as he was affectionately known – yes, it wasn’t that long ago he was affectionately known by many, though it now seems an altogether different era – was forced to resign a week ago today amid an ongoing MLB investigation into Braves’ misdeeds on several fronts. Most notably it was the international free-agent market but also the domestic draft and possible tampering by contacting the agents of players who were still weeks if not months away from free agency.

One person with knowledge of the domestic draft and its ins and outs insisted to me that the Braves – i.e., Coppolella or those he directed – made illegal in-home visits, asked potential draft picks to fake injuries and tell other clubs they weren’t signing. How much of that is true? The MLB investigation findings should shed more light on that.

Then there was the troubling matter of Coppolella’s deteriorating relationship with other Braves officials, specifically those below him. When a couple of them were reassigned late in the season and replaced by two hires from outside the organization for assistant GM and farm director positions, it only served to raise the tension and downright fear among some employees. They said Coppolella was “weeding out” dissenting voices, sending clear signal to the others of what would happen if they didn’t fall in line.

It effectively ended such dissent and further chilled an already frosty work environment among Braves employees torn between their loyalty to the organization, and desire to remain employed and their active and ever-increasing dislike of Coppolella.

Was it as bad as some of the recent accounts of the situation have stated? One Braves official I asked said in a one-word text reply: “Yes.”

Now they are all in a holding pattern of sorts, even as organizational meetings begin this week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Because, as another Braves official put it, with the MLB investigation hanging over their heads and no GM in place and the scouting department waiting for the other shoe to drop, there is a great deal of anxiety and uneasiness in the Braves front office and throughout baseball operations.

Where is this headed, what will things look like when it’s finally resolved? And how was Coppolella allowed to make the personnel changes that he made late in the season, didn’t anyone know above him of the MLB investigation and think it might be wise to hold off making major front-office changes?

Doesn’t it feel like the Braves played their season finale a month ago? It was a mere eight days, believe it or not. Eight days in which nary a kind word has been said about the Braves, but many words of derision and scorn have been. Cheating will bring that upon you, especially when done on the rather large scale that Coppolella and Company are accused of.

All that remains is for MLB to announce its finding, whereupon we will have a better idea of just how bad it was and just how many fall into the “and Company” part of Coppolella and Company. So far, it’s just he and special assistant/international scouting supervisor Gordon Blakeley, who also was forced to resign last week. Blakeley was, by all accounts, given far too much leeway in which to operate in Latin American free agency matters. The veteran former Yankees assistant still operated as if it was the “Wild, Wild West” at a time when MLB is trying to make it a lot less so by cracking down on rogues and the most blatant of what are still undoubtedly high numbers of rule-breakers from many teams.

Braves, prepare to be made an example of by MLB in its quest to clean up and better regulate that international market. You picked the wrong time to have Blakeley and his assistants making numerous (alleged) deals that skirted the rules or made an outright mockery of them, according to some accounts.

It certainly appears as if Coppolella got intoxicated by the thrill of signing some hugely talented young players down there and wanted more, and trusted far too much in Blakeley’s expertise at making those things happen without questioning whether maybe they were pushing the envelope way too much and starting to tick off a lot of other teams. Many of those teams were probably also cutting corners and ignoring rules, just not quite on the grand scale that the Braves were (allegedly) doing it.

The question, or at least one of the key questions, is how much did someone(s) above Coppolella know about what was going on in the Latin American market, and also potentially in rules violations regarding the domestic draft and possible tampering with pending free agents?

In the case of Latin American free agents, are we to believe that Coppolella was given enough authority to get the cash needed for the alleged “bundling” schemes involving overpaying some lesser Latin teen free agents in order to significantly underpay more highly sought free agents represented by the same “buscones,” the often-shady street agents who discover so many of the players from poor backgrounds in those countries?

Did Coppolella have to run the specifics of these (alleged) operations by a higher-up? Or was he just given a budget and told to make things happen and spend it wisely? And if that was the case, did he know the specifics of all the schemes or did he, in turn, just turn over the money to Blakeley and his crew and tell them something along the lines of, “make it happen and I don’t want to know the details?”

Either way, it’s bad.

Dayton Moore, Royals GM and a former Braves assistant GM, is believed to be the preferred candidate to replace Coppolella, but probably wouldn’t take the job unless given full control as GM and president of baseball operations. (AP file photo)

Until MLB releases its finding after an investigation that I’m told has been rather exhaustive — and involved bringing some Braves officials in for more questioning by MLB investigators last week even after the Coppolella resignation – we won’t know exactly what the fallout will be for the Braves. They could be slapped with heavy fines, restricted from pursuing international free agents, or even have some declared free agents up to and including elite Venezuelan infield prospect Kevin Maitan, whom they signed to a $4.25 million bonus as a 16-year-old in July 2016, when he was the top international free agent on the market.

In the meantime, the Braves are trying to clean up the mess and move on. Problem is, it’s hard to pick up the pieces when there could be more fallout, more of a mess than we even know about today, more forced resignations/firings.

I was told the day that Coppolella and Blakeley resigned that others in scouting – international and/or domestic – could also be implicated and forced out. And what about higher-ups? Are they in the clear? Some I’ve talked to think it’s unlikely that anyone above Coppolella – there aren’t many above him obviously – will be forced to step down, but no one seemed absolutely certain.

For now, president of baseball operations John Hart is running the show as interim GM until the Braves hire a Coppolella replacement. They insist there’s no rush and no timetable, and I was told this weekend by a Braves official that the team hasn’t interviewed or even reached out to anyone yet. But I was also told by some outside the organization that they’ve already asked or been told, either directly or indirectly, that the Kansas City Royals wouldn’t stop Dayton Moore, who’s believed to be the Braves’ top choice, to speak to the Braves about their GM opening, and that the Nationals will permit the Braves to talk to a couple of candidates from that organization: Nats assistant GM Doug Harris and special assistant Dan Jennings, the former Marlins GM and manager.

Former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, now Blue Jays vice president of baseball operations, is also believed to be a potential candidate for the Braves GM job.

With the Nationals involved in the postseason, I wouldn’t expect anything to happen on that front right away.

Clearly Moore, a former Braves assistant GM under John Schuerholz, is the preferred candidate of a vast majority of Braves fans, and probably of most team officials. He has a squeaky clean reputation at a time when the Braves need that, and a proven track record after winning consecutive AL pennants and a World Series in Kansas City, where the Royals had been a non-factor for about a quarter-century before he built the team into a contender through a long, initially painful process.

But as most folks have undoubtedly read or heard by now, it’s unlikely Moore, a Kansas native, would take the Braves GM job unless he was also president of baseball operations — in charge of the whole thing the way he is in Kansas City. And right now, Hart is president of baseball operations and told a few of us reporters last week than he plans to stay for 2018, though it’s unclear yet if he’s signed his contract and, even if he has, whether the MLB investigation might stain him.

That’s why this GM search might last longer than most people want it to, since in this day and age most people would prefer it be done yesterday and view one week of no action as a sure sign of complete failure on the part of the Braves or as rejection from Moore, who as far as we know hasn’t had a job offer yet to accept, reject or think about.

He’s busy doing Royals GM things – going to see their guys in the instructional league, headed to the Arizona Fall League, etc. The kind of stuff that Coppolella would have been doing with the Braves, but that Hart is now doing or preparing to do – that is, between talking to MLB investigators, denying to a reporter that there’s a huge personality conflict or feud between him and his longtime pal Schuerholz, and trying to prepare for the annual Braves organizational meetings that began today (Monday).

Yes, there’s a lot going on, and very little of it, so far, can be construed as good for the Braves.

Three consecutive 90-loss seasons doesn’t seem nearly as bad now, compared to this ugly mess. But at the same time, winning and losing is ultimately the only way, or at least the best way, for the Braves to put this behind them. Specifically, winning significantly more and losing significantly less. In 2018.

Never mind the incremental improvement by 2-3 wins per season that we’ve seen the past couple of years. If the Braves hope to maintain the increased attendance they saw in 2017 when the novelty of the new ballpark is gone in 2018, they’ve got to win. They’ve got to be in the hunt for at least a wild-card berth past mid-July.

And if they want people to stop talking about the darkest days of the Braves franchise in decades, the period we are in right this moment, then they need to make sure they hire the right person for the GM job, then give him the budget to make a couple of significant additions this winter.

Everyone knows that revenues are up at the new ballpark; the Braves told us that for the past two years leading up to its opening. So don’t expect people to buy into the line about payroll staying in line with revenue streams, not when you now play in a ballpark and surrounding village that experts are heralding as the future of sports stadiums with all its increased revenue streams and properties controlled by the Braves.

And certainly not when you are trying to get out from under a scandal, to get people talking about something other than how much you cheated.

You need to win, Braves. In 2018. And that starts now, with hiring the right GM and giving him a payroll that’s not in the bottom third, or even the bottom half, of baseball. You’ve got no choice, really. You gave yourselves no choice by embarking on a massive rebuild, then not improving the product on the field fast enough to suit the masses in a market that was used to winning for so long. This wasn’t the Cubs or Astros, where rebuilding wasn’t so painful because winning had never become old habit.

And then, on top of four straight losing seasons, you go and become embroiled in an ugly scandal involving the acquisition of some of the very players you are rebuilding around.

Mistakes were made. Big ones. Whoever’s responsible isn’t as important now as making sure those mistakes are never repeated.

And winning. You need to win. Winning cures most ills. Being aboveboard cures plenty of others.

Losing sucks, but losing while cheating and obfuscating sucks a lot worse. And can, if you’re not careful, suck the lifeblood out of a proud organization.

Full article @ Embroiled in scandal, Braves must make right moves

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

Atlanta Braves season news and more right here!

Focusing a moment on what Markakis is, not what he’s not

Focusing a moment on what Markakis is, not what he’s not

NEW YORK – He doesn’t hit many home runs, doesn’t hit for an extremely high average, hasn’t posted a .400 slugging percentage since 2012 and doesn’t show a lot of emotion on the field. Scratch that. He rarely shows any emotion on the field.

These are reasons that Nick Markakis’ jersey isn’t a top-seller and why he’s not been fully embraced in Atlanta, not the way he was in Baltimore, somewhat ironic since he’s a graduate of Woodstock High School in the Atlanta ‘burbs. But not totally surprising, given how times have changed and the steady, blue-collar ballplayer is less celebrated than ever in a sports landscape where highlight reels are more about home runs and celebrations of “me.”

Nick Markakis has been a steady contributor and a quiet clubhouse leader for three seasons with the Braves, much like he was for nine seasons with the Orioles. (AP photo)

But here’s what 33-year-old Markakis is: Steady as they come, quiet but effective leader, perfect example for young players to follow if they want to know how to be a good teammate and play the game for a long time.

He has one year left on his contract with the Braves at a reasonable $11 million, which makes him far more tradeable than Matt Kemp, who’s owed $18 million by the Braves each of the next two seasons and has been plagued this season by hamstring issues that have made him a non-factor for much of the season after a torrid first couple of months. And since the Braves need to create a spot for uber prospect Ronald Acuna, preferably before spring training, it only seems logical to assume that Markakis could be traded this winter.

It’s that or eat most if not all of the remaining money owed to Kemp, which the Braves seem less than inclined to do.

So for the last five games of the season, you might want to watch Markakis and appreciate him for what he does and instead of being like those who’ve always seem obsessed with pointing out only what he doesn’t do (i.e., hit a lot of home runs).

He had an RBI double in the first inning Tuesday to give the Braves a 1-0 lead against the Mets in a game that they led 3-0 through six innings but lost, 4-3. That double was the 39th of the season for Markakis, who ranks fifth in the National League in that category, one fewer than Odubel Herrera has and one more than Kris Bryant.

His average is down to .276 this season, from .296 each of the previous two seasons, but Markakis has hit .296 (42-for-142) with runners in scoring position – third on the team behind Freddie Freeman (.355) and Ender Inciarte (.312) — with a .408 OBP, .852 OPS and 15 extra-base in those situations.

The NL doubles leaders are Nolan Arenado (43) and Daniel Murphy (42), who also are the only other NL players besides Markakis to have at least 35 doubles in each of the past three seasons. Markakis has 38, 38 and 39 doubles in those three seasons with the Braves after signing with them following a nine-year career with the Orioles, where he was beloved by owner Peter Angelos – they share Greek heritage – and the fan base that loved the no-BS way he went about things, the utter lack of any prima-donna tendencies and the way he never missed games for anything less than a significant injury.

Markakis has hit .280 with a .357 OBP and .387 slugging percentage (.744 OPS) in three seasons with the Braves, after slashing .290/.358/.435 (.793 OPS) in nine seasons with the Orioles.

“Being on this team we’ve got great hitters like Markakis, (Matt) Kemp, Freddie (Freeman) obviously — you can learn a lot from those guys, watching them hit,” said Kurt Suzuki, who credits those guys and especially hitting coach Kevin Seitzer with helping him made adjustments this year and hit a career-high 18 homers. “No matter how many years you play baseball, when you’re around good hitters, you can learn stuff.”

Markakis played 157 or more games six times in an eight-year span for the Orioles despite some increasing aches and pains including a ruptured disc that required neck surgery in December 2014 after he signed with the Braves, robbing him of some of his power in the last year before the procedure and the next couple of seasons, though he did bounce back from a career-low three homers in 2015 to hit 13 in 2016. (He has eight this season.)

He has averaged nearly 36 doubles per season for 12 years and had at least 38 in each of his three seasons with the Braves, his highest three totals since collecting 43 or more for four consecutive seasons from 2007-10, including 48 in 2008. Earlier this season, Markakis became the eighth active player with at least 400 doubles, and in May he got his 2,000th career hit, one of a dozen active players in that club including only four outfielders.

His nine years with the Orioles were the essence of consistency: Markakis hit between .284 and .306 in the first seven seasons; totaled at least 10 home runs nine consecutive seasons and between 12 and 20 homers in seven of those; and posted an OPS between .799 and .897 in seven of nine seasons. The numbers have dipped a little since, but he still provides a lot of things that managers love, including consistency and reliability.

“He just kind of quietly just does it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s out there, it’s dependable, it’s professional, just a steady, reliable guy. He shows up to work every day and gives you everything he has. Prepares, studies, you don’t go by the video room where he’s not preparing, studying for something every day. It’s just such a pleasure to manage a guy like that.

“You don’t appreciate a guy like that until you get the opportunity, the fortune to manage a player like that. And you just have even more respect for him.”

I’ll close with a little Wednesday Waylon today, though any day is a great day for Waymore.

Waylon Jennings

“SLOW ROLLIN’ LOW” by Waylon Jennings

I got a slow rollin’ low
Ain’t a mother would want me
Done got me so down bent out of round
Don’t know my head from my toes.

Ain’t a hand here to hold
Ain’t a shoulder to cry on
Ain’t a lesson to learn or a corner to turn
Twixt the dyin’ and me.

Lord, I wanted to be
Something you could depend on
Lawdy, Lawd, woe is me
Ain’t a body would care.

I got a slow rollin’ low
Forgot the words to my song
Ain’t that just like a fool to want a ride
On them trains when the train is all gone.

Full article @ Focusing a moment on what Markakis is, not what he’s not

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

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Ozzie Albies: Work in progress, but already impressive

Ozzie Albies: Work in progress, but already impressive

NEW YORK – The Braves already felt pretty good about prospect Ozzie Albies as a long-term piece of the puzzle, but his performance over his first two months in the majors has strengthened that view and erased any doubts about the little second baseman’s potential as a big-impact player.

Switch-hitting rookie Ozzie Albies is already making a big impact, but the Braves think adjustments he’s working on will help assure long-term success. (Getty Images)

Diminutive but dynamic, Albies has hit .306 with a .394 on-base percentage and .879 OPS in his past 35 games, and had his third homer in a 12-game span Monday in a 9-2 win against the Mets in the first game of a doubleheader at Citi Field.

“Leverage,” Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said earlier Monday, when I asked him what makes Albies special and about the ongoing adjustments the 20-year-old is making to continue his progress and sustain long-term success. “He’s got so much leverage. With these (Seitzer holds up his hands, to demonstrate perhaps Albies’ greatest strength). What a gift.”

Albies is not more than 5 feet 8 (in cleats) and perhaps 165 pounds, but has arms like steel cables. Biceps ready to burst through the hi-tech fabric shirt he wears beneath his uniform. Washboard abs that look as if body fat decided to give up and not even bother trying to cling to the kid from Curacao.

Which is all well and good, but wouldn’t mean a thing if Albies didn’t have baseball skills. And he’s got those in abundance. Soft, lightning-quick hands. Great footwork around second base. A strong arm.

He’s either the fastest player on the team or in a virtual tie with Lane Adams, who might have more top-end speed but slightly less quickness out of the blocks than Albies with his piston-like short legs.

Braves manager Brian Snitker, like so many others in the dugout, loves to watch an Albies at-bat in anticipation of a ball hit to the gap. When that happens, it’s off to the races and only a matter of time before Albies’ helmet flies off as he caroms around the base paths en route to a double or triple.

“Oz just keeps doing it,” Snitker said. It’s fun to watch this kid play. He’s another very skilled young player that’s going to be on that TV every now and then with stuff he’s going to do in this game.”

But for that to happen, for him to be part of a long-term middle-infield tandem with Dansby Swanson that the Braves could be a foundational piece of championship teams, Albies will need to continue making adjustments. Swanson learned that about himself earlier this season when the presumed next Face of the Franchise suddenly slumped, and kept slumping until Swanson was finally demoted to Triple-A.

Swanson has been a lot better since returning from a stint in the minors, a relief to many observers who wondered if expectations might have been too high after the shortstop’s initial success in a two-month late-season call to the majors last season, when he hit .302 with a .361 OBP and .803 OPS in 38 games.

Since returning from the minor, he’s hit more like he did during those two months and less like he did during his extended struggles earlier this season. After hitting .213 with a .599 OPS in 95 games through July 26 before he was optioned to Triple-A, Swanson has hit .277 with a .741 OPS in 43 games since returning to the majors. (However, he hit .333 with an .879 OPS in his first 28 games back, but only .167 with a .478 OPS in his past 15 through Monday’s doubleheader.)

Which brings us to Albies, and how Seitzer wants to help put the second baseman in the best position to enjoy long-term sustained success. It’s why special assistant Chipper Jones and Triple-A hitting coach John Moses worked with Albies on things like balance and toning down some complexities particularly in the switch-hitter’s left-handed swing while he was at Gwinnett, and why Seitzer ramped up that work and more once Albies got to the big leagues.

Albies is one of the first Braves to the ballpark every day and goes through early sessions with Seitzer, who pounds home the message and thought process in why they’re having Albies reduce the pronounced leg lift in his swing and some of the excess movement in his bat before he rifles it into hitting position.

The coaches at Gwinnett and now with the big club wanted Albies to stop hitting so many fly balls that tended to get caught at the warning track, and instead hit line drives, hit the ball on the ground and to the gaps to utilize his speed, and if he did things right the home runs and extra-base hits would come naturally.

So far, so good. Albies hit .179 (10-for-56) with a .230 OBP and .339 slugging percentage (.569 OPS) and 32.7 ground-ball rate in his first 16 games in the majors, and has hit .306 (41-for-134) with a .394 OBP and .485 slugging percentage (.879 OPS) and a 42.5 ground-ball rate in 35 games since.

By the way, for what it’s worth, the Braves were 6-10 in his first 16 games and are 17-18 in his past 35 games.

With runners in scoring position, Albies is hitting an impressive .283 (15-for-53) with six extra-base hits (three homers), six walks, eight strikeouts, a .344 OBP, robus .528 slugging percentage and .873 OPS.

Is the hitting coach pleased with Albies’ progress?

“Yeah. And for me he’s halfway there,” Seitzer said. “Maybe a hair over halfway. He’s still got cleaning up to do – we’ve talked about that – in the offseason, and adjustments, and how (to go about it) from a drill standpoint. He’s tried so hard for so long to make these adjustments and had a difficult time doing it. He’s still focused on it and working on it, but it’s just not where it needs to be yet. So it’s just going to take some more critical surgery workout and drill work in order to get the things finally finished off.”

When I mentioned to Seitzer than I know some outsider observers will say, “But why mess with his stance when he he’s hitting,” Seitzer didn’t hesitate with his reply.

“Dansby hit when he came up last year, too,” he said. “Dansby had much less going on as far as a cleaner swing, that when pitchers…. I think  Ozzie’s got better hands than Dansby, but Dansby’s got a cleaner swing. I think when pitchers start making adjustments – (Albies) is a talented little son of a buck, there’s no doubt. But we just have to be careful with expectations for young players, because there’s still growing pains that have to be endured.”

This is the thing that every major league veteran player, every coach, every manager, every scout will tell you: When hitters first arrive in the big leagues, opponents don’t know much if anything about them. They’re not focused on stopping that hitter, they’re focused on one or two or three big guns in the lineup. But as a young hitter has more and more success, and after teams face him multiple times, and particularly in his second season in the big leagues, opposing teams will develop a detailed scouting report on him. A “book” on the hitter.

And if he has a weakness, any weakness, that weakness absolutely will be exploited. Count on that.

So, the goal is to simplify Albies’ swing, less moving parts, which can be particularly beneficial in helping a young hitter avoid extended slumps. Things don’t get as out of whack for a hitter when he doesn’t have so much going on at the plate.

It’s worth noting, Albies’ lowest average (.234) and OPS (.696) have been in 25 games vs. NL East opponents, all of whom have now seen him in multiple series. He’s hit .361/.984 in 10 games vs. NL Central opponents, .257/.864 in 10 games vs. NL West opponents and .280/.748 in six games vs. AL West opponents.

And after hitting .277/.799 in 28 August games, he’s hit .258/.778 in 23 September games.

So where does Albies stand with the improvements and adjustments he’s making?

“He’s better with his leg kick; it’s not so high,” Seitzer said. “He’s only coming off the ground maybe four or five inches. He gets big at times; I have to remind him, stay, low. But the bat tip is the biggest thing (that still needs work). He’s got less going on from a distance standpoint, from his start to his launch position. But he’s still got the bat tip where he starts it off flat, but then he gets up here (Seitzer demonstrates how Albies tips the bat forward when his hands are up, just before the pitch is delivered) and then when he goes and takes his hands back you see the bat tip forward, which means it has to come back in order to get in position (to hit).

“So we want him, when he comes up, to maintain that angle when the hands go back, then it’s more of a direct path.”

Make no mistake, Albies can succeed with flaws in his swing. He has already. But Seitzer is looking big picture, trying to help the kid get the most out of his immense talent and help him avoid becoming frustrated when he slumps by working to make sure he does all he can to limit the difficult stretches. Particularly for a switch-hitter, it’s easy for things to get out of sync.

So far, here’s what the switch-hitting Albies has done from both sides of the plate:

Batting left-handed: .253 (37-for-146) with 13 extra-base hits, 15 walks, 29 strikeouts, .327 OBP, .411 slugging percentage, .738 OPS. Batting right-handed: .318 (14-for-44) with five extra-base hits, seven walks, six strikeouts, .412 OBP, .545 slugging, .957 OPS

“He’s made good adjustments from an approach standpoint to where he’s really trying to stay low (and hit it at) the shortstop,” Seitzer said. “Between the pitcher and shortstop is where he’s trying to hit the ball. Instead of trying to hit a line drive the other way, because when he loses that barrel, they’re lazy fly balls. And he can’t afford to hit a lazy fly ball. He’s got to stay low and hard and then let the ball jump into the gap and out of the park on occasion. But I believe that’s probably the biggest thing that has helped him have the success that he’s had, is being able to control his path with the barrel.

“The hardest thing is, when somebody has pop you don’t want to tell them not to use it. You want to let it happen, not try to make it happen. Because most guys when they hit homer go, ‘Holy cow, I wasn’t trying to a homer.’ When you’re trying to hit a homer you usually come back and sit by me and talk about it.”

By the way, in 23 Braves wins, Albies has hit .315 (28-for-89) with an .871 OPS. In 28 Braves losses, he’s hit .228 (23-for-101) with a .716 OPS

The little man looks fully capable of making a big impact.

• I’ll close with a great one from Roxy Music, since it’s Bryan Ferry‘s birthday.

“MORE THAN THIS” by Roxy Music

Bryan Ferry

I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they’re blowing
As free as the wind
And hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this – there is nothing
More than this – tell me one thing
More than this – there is nothing
It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like dream in the night
Who can say where we’re going
No care in the world
Maybe I’m learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this – there is nothing
More than this – tell me one thing
More than this – there is nothing


Full article @ Ozzie Albies: Work in progress, but already impressive

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

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Dickey to young Braves: Losing like this is not OK

Dickey to young Braves: Losing like this is not OK

Living with the knuckleball is not easy at times, as R.A. Dickey has long known and the Braves learned this season in the veteran’s first and possibly only season with the team. The Braves hold an $8 million option on Dickey’s contract for 2018, but they haven’t said if they’ll exercise it, and the 43-year-old former Cy Young Award winner and father of four hasn’t decided if he’ll pitch again or devote his energies to being a full-time dad at home in Nashville.

Whatever decisions are made, this much is certain: Dickey has been well worth the $7.5 million the Braves paid him this season, as his contributions to a young team and pitching staff have transcended his admittedly modest stats – 9-10 record, 4.41 ERA entering his 30th start tonight against the Nationals – and likely kept the team’s disappointing season from slipping off the rails a lot sooner.

Young pitchers and others have learned from the hirsute teammate who is not of their generation, but is someone who has demonstrated a thoughtful approach and professionalism that traversed the age gap and will serve well those who’ve paid attention.

“There was somebody on the bench the other day that told me, like, Ozzie Albies could be my child,” Dickey said, laughing. “And there’s a couple of other guys, too, who probably could have been if I would have misbehaved when I was young. But it’s like, these guys – its great to see the future of what this could become. I grew up watching us (the Braves) be really, really good. And you’ve got some pieces (young players on the team now) that you could go back to that again here. And down (in the minors), too. But here in particular, I’ve seen two or three guys who could be guys you can count on. Which is great.”

It’s been an up-and-down season for 42-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, whose contributions to the young Braves team have extended beyond his performance on the mound. (Getty Images)

Don’t think that Dickey has been some kind of soft-spoken cheerleader just telling young teammates to have fun and enjoy it all regardless of the totals on the scoreboard at the end of the day. Realistic or not, Braves veterans, including Dickey and Freddie Freeman, among others, entered the season saying the team had a legitimate chance to make the postseason and shouldn’t have any goal less than that.

They reached the 90-game mark with a 45-45 record, but have spiraled since, long since eliminated from the playoff picture and now at 67-83, assured of a fourth consecutive losing season, the longest such streak for the Braves since 1984-90. Rebuilding or not, Dickey said he’s made it clear to young players that the team has fallen short of expectations and should strive to never let this happen again. He’s enjoyed the season and his teammates, but …

“When I signed here, I understood the business of the game, and I knew where we were as a team,” Dickey said. “I had hoped, and we all have pushed, for greater results, but at the end of the day I think there are a few of us that understood this is a process. And my job in that process is to try to help as much as I could people who I interact with, and provide the team with some stability on the mound, posting up every fifth day, in an effort to get 200 innings and 32 starts. So from that standpoint I feel like it’s been a successful year.

“Now, I think we all are disappointed, for sure. Especially the young guys. You don’t want them growing up in this culture thinking that what’s happening to us this year is OK. You don’t want that, so you have to be diligent about that, and intentional about making them feel, this is not it. They can look over there (to the Washington Nationals dugout) and see what it should be like, across the diamond in this series.”

Not that his own roller-coaster season or the Braves’ disappointing record will be a determining factor in his decision whether to pitch again in 2018, he said.

“No, it’s not so discouraging to me to say that I never want to play again,” he said. “If I don’t play next year it will not be because I’m physically unable or because I do not enjoy being a baseball player and getting to interact with my teammates. It will not be for those reasons. And we’ll make those decisions at the end of the year and we’ll see what happens. But I’ve really had a great time in this city, with this stadium and with my teammates. It’s been great.”

Manager Brian Snitker said Dickey has meant a lot to a team that’s in the third year of its rebuilding project.

“The consistency and knowing he’s going to go out there and cover innings,” Snitker said. “(Dickey’s performance) has been up and down — I don’t know that that’s not the life of a knuckleballer because he’s been really good in periods and other periods where he fights to kind of get the feel for it.  But he’s been a great influence on these (players).

“We see him in the dugout, and he’s on the top step pulling for these young guys, and he’s available for them and enjoys doing that. I think he enjoys imparting the knowledge that he has to those young guys. He’s been just a true pro. I’ve enjoyed being around him. He’s a great guy to talk to, he’s got a real good take on things, a professional take on things. I’ve really enjoyed the year with him.”

Here’s what we mean by Dickey’s up-and-down season:

He went 3-3 with a 4.22 ERA in his first seven starts despite allowing nine homers in that span. Dickey pitched at least six innings in five of those starts and won three of the four games in which the Braves scored more than two runs while he was in during that stretch.

Next came a six-game stretch from May 19-June 13 in which he was 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA and .298 opponents’ average, failing to take advantage of 5.2 support runs he received per nine innings pitched in that span and lasting 5 1/3 or fewer innings in half of those starts.

But just as quickly as his performance dipped, it rose again during the best period of Dickey’s season, a 10-start stretch from June 19-Aug. 13 in which he was 4-2 with a 2.12 ERA, .230 opponents’ average and 50 strikeouts with 21 walks and only four homers allowed in 63 2/3 innings, including six or more innings in nine of 10 starts. In five of the six games he didn’t win in that period, the Braves scored two or fewer runs while he was in.

Just when it looked like Dickey might carry that run through the rest of the season and reach his personal goals, he hit another rough patch, beginning with a three-homer game against the Reds at SunTrust Park on Aug. 18. In his past six starts beginning with that one, he’s 1-3 with a 6.55 ERA and .333 opponents’ average, allowing four or more earned runs in all but one outing and lasting five or fewer innings in each of his past three starts.

Dickey’s 4.41 ERA entering tonight’s start against the Nationals is his second-highest in eight seasons as a full-time starter. His 1.43 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per innings pitched) is his highest as a starter and his 67 walks in 29 starts (175 1/3 innings) is seven walks shy of the career-high 74 he issued in 34 starts (215 2/3 innings) in 2014.

He’s going to finish with fewer than 200 innings for the second consecutive season, after averaging more than 219 innings for five seasons through 2015, including a career-high 233 2/3 innings in his 20-win Cy Young Award season with the Mets in 2012.

On the other hand, with a 9-10 record and likely two starts left after tonight, Dickey needs one win for his sixth consecutive season with at least 10, and has a chance to post what would be his first winning record since going 48-32 over three consecutive winning seasons in 2012-14. And this is an important one for him: He could make 32 starts, which would be the sixth time in seven seasons he’s made at least that many.

He’s going to fall short of his innings goal, but Dickey’s 175 1/3 are tied for the team lead with Julio Teheran, who’s made one more start (30). The 4.41 ERA isn’t great by his standards, but it’s the best among Braves who’ve been in the rotation all season, ahead of Teheran (4.52) and Mike Foltynewicz (4.79). Only Sean Newcomb (4.32 ERA in 17 starts) and Jaime Garcia (4.30 in 18 starts) have better ERAs among Braves who made at least three starts.

R.A. Dickey and catcher Tyler Flowers began to develop a good working relationship at spring training. Here they went over things after Dickey’s first mound session at training camp. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

And did we mention the contributions he’s made beyond those innings when he’s on the mound every fifth day?

“You know what I enjoy?” Dickey said Wednesday. “And this may sound corny to somebody, but it’s the truth because this is what I felt when I was coming up: I had guys like Kenny Rogers and Orel Hershiser and John Wetteland and other guys that poured into me when I was young. The thing that I like the most, is not listening to me talk about how to play the game; I don’t really enjoy that actually. What I enjoy is seeing guys take steps forward and getting to encourage them when they do. Like when you see a guy, let’s say a young guy gives up two or three runs in the first (inning) and he makes it through seven innings. That’s a big step for a guy. So to be able to encourage him in that after it’s happened is what’s fun for me.

“That’s the funnest part, to kind of pat them on the back. Now, there are times where you have to kind of pull them aside and say, ‘Hey, you can’t do this,’ or ‘This isn’t the way that pro baseball players play.’ That’s part of it. But my favorite thing about it is getting to see people take steps forward.”

Snitker said, “He’s such an honest, down-to-earth guy, he’s easy to talk to and he’s got a really great take on things. I really respect everything (veterans) have gone through to have those careers, like a Nick Markakis-type guy, watching him every day and talking to him, steady, even keel every day.”

“(Dickey is) a good man. You watch him interact; he brings his kids out here, has a lot of fun. They’re good kids. He’s a good person and fun to be around.”

• Let’s close with Willie Nelson‘s version of this classic, “September Song.”

“SEPTEMBER SONG” by Willie Nelson


Oh, it’s a long, long while 
From May to December 
But the days grow short, 
When you reach September. 
When the autumn weather 
Turn leaves to flame 
One hasn’t got time 
For the waiting game. 

Oh the days dwindle down 
To a precious few . . . 
September, November . . . 
And these few precious days 
I’ll spend with you. 
These precious days 
I’ll spend with you.

Oh the days dwindle down 
To a precious few . . . 
September, November . . . 
And these few precious days 
I’ll spend with you. 
These precious days 
I’ll spend with you.
These precious days 
I’ll spend with you.

Full article @ Dickey to young Braves: Losing like this is not OK

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

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Sam Freeman thriving, credits message from Chiti

Sam Freeman thriving, credits message from Chiti

When reliever Sam Freeman was sent to minor league camp after struggling mightily in major league spring training – we’re talking six runs allowed in one inning over two appearances —  it seemed uncertain whether the well-traveled left-hander would ever wear a Braves uniform in a real big-league game.

Sam Freeman struggled mightily before getting sent down to minor league camp in spring training, but he’s been one of the Braves’ best relievers since being brought to the big leagues in May. (AP photo)

But sometimes, the right words said in the right way from a person with the gravitas to get his point across can do wonders for a person. And for Freeman, the message came from Dom Chiti, the mustachioed Braves director of pitching, who took Freeman aside and spoke to him as someone who had more than four decades of pro-ball experience as a player, scout, front-office official and bullpen coach with three major league teams.

He expressed to Freeman, whose career had stalled with a disappointing season in the Brewers organization in 2016, that he was too talented to struggle like he was, that he needed to pitch with confidence again, to trust his ability and to attack hitters. That was how the 30-year-old lefty was going to be successful again.

Freeman was called to the majors by the Braves on May 4 and has been one of the team’s three best and only consistent relievers this season, posting a 2.80 ERA in 53 appearances and allowing one run in 20 appearances since the beginning of August.

“Dom Chiti,” Freeman said, when asked what the biggest difference has been since his spring struggles. “Whenever I got sent down in big league camp, we had a conversation and he said some things that hit home, that I kind of said, OK. Even when it happened, I was telling close friends and family that was going to be a turning point, just because it resonated so much with me.

“So I would say, just interacting with him for the few weeks or whatever (at minor league camp), those conversations have probably been the biggest thing in that regard.”

Chiti is changing roles for the Braves, moving up to become farm director in place of Dave Trembley, who as farm director and head of minor league field operations had been more of a hands-on field coordinator anyway. The personable and energetic Trembley will keep the latter title — head of minor league field operations.

Braves top officials saw the Chiti move as a natural one, given the emphasis they’ve put on pitching in their ongoing rebuilding process and Chiti’s pitching-intensive background and experience.

“Dom brings three things that everybody can respect — lots of experience, brutal honestly, creativity and destire to help players improve,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “It’s not cuddly or sweet all the time, but Dom cares greatly and gets results.”

Freeman would certainly agree with that assessment. He turned 30 in June and is having a career resurgence of sorts.

“Well, (the season) is not over yet,” he said, cautiously. “Up to this point it’s been a positive experience. It’s kind of proven to myself that I can be consistent at this level. We’ve still got about (two) weeks to go. I’ll feel more confident telling you how this year went at that point, but up to this point it’s been a positive experience, for sure.”

Before his spring-training chats with Chiti and subsequent progress, it was beginning to seem that Freeman’s best days were behind him. He had a 2.74 ERA in 88 2/3 innings during 111 major-league appearances over a three-season stretch through 2015 with the Cardinals and Rangers, but Freeman spent of 2016 in Triple-A and posting a 12.91 ERA in his only seven big-league appearances for the Brewers.

Now look at him. Freeman has a .222 opponents’ average and .604 opponents’ OPS, which includes a stingy .170/.455 by left-handed batters, who have just two extra-base hits against him in 88 at-bats with 27 strikeouts and five walks. In the late innings of close games, hitters are 8-for-57 (.140) against him with one extra-base hit and a .415 OPS.

And in 20 appearances since Aug. 1, Freeman has 0.53 ERA, .145 opponents’ average and .393 opponents’ OPS, allowing eight hits, one run and five walks with 14 strikeouts in 17 innings over that span.

A reporter mentioned to Braves manager Brian Snitker than Freeman credited Chiti with helping him in the spring to restore his confidence and pitch aggressively again.

“You can tell,” Snitker said. “He’s very confident. The results speak to that. He’s got good stuff. You never know when guys are going to (emerge). You talk to old-timers and they say left-handed pitchers come later sometimes. Takes them a little longer. Sam’s legit.”

Freeman is quiet, small in stature for a reliever but wiry-strong like a cornerback. The first time folks see him pitch they’re often surprised by how hard he throws.

“That’s easy 96 (mph) and 97 sometimes, and good off-speed stuff,” Snitker said. “He’ll get down in the count and has the ability to come back and get a decision. You like what you see. He just quietly does his job.”

He’s been one of the Braves’ three best relievers, along with closer Arodys Vizcaino and setup man Jose Ramirez. And they signed Freeman as a minor league free agent in October, a deal that included an invitation to spring training.

“You bring a guy in, get good reports from Triple-A, we brought him up and you pitch him, then you see him, all of a sudden it becomes an instance of a little more responsibility and a role, and a guy does it and he’s been really good,” Snitker said. “We might have gotten Sam Freeman at the right time of his career. He’d been around a little bit, experienced some things, now he’s getting an opportunity and making the best of it.

“He’s learning as he goes and drawing on some prior experiences and making the most of his situation here.”

And making the most of time spent with Dom Chiti in the spring.

• Seems a good day to go with a song by a lefty, so here’s one of the best by the legendary Lefty Frizzell, a 1963 hit that was later covered by Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare, among others.

“SAGINAW, MICHIGAN” by Lefty Frizzell

Lefty Frizzell

I was born in Saginaw, Michigan.
I grew up in a house on Saginaw Bay.
My dad was a poor hard working Saginaw fisherman:
Too many times he came home with too little pay. 

I loved a girl in Saginaw, Michigan.
The daughter of a wealthy, wealthy man.
But he called me: “That son of a Saginaw fisherman.”
And not good enough to claim his daughter’s hand. 

Now I’m up here in Alaska looking around for gold.
Like a crazy fool I’m a digging in this frozen ground, so cold.
But with each new day I pray I’ll strike it rich and then,
I’ll go back home and claim my love in Saginaw, Michigan. 

I wrote my love in Saginaw, Michigan.
I said: “Honey, I’m a coming home, please wait for me.
“And you can tell your dad, I’m coming back a richer man
“I’ve hit the biggest strike in Klondike history.” 

Her dad met me in Saginaw, Michigan.
He gave me a great big party with champagne.
Then he said: “Son, you’re wise, young ambitious man.
“Will you sell your father-in-law your Klondike claim?” 

Now he’s up there in Alaska digging in the cold, cold ground.
The greedy fool is a looking for the gold I never found.
It serves him right and no-one here is missing him.
Least of all the newly-weds of Saginaw, Michigan. 

We’re the happiest man and wife in Saginaw, Michigan.
He’s ashamed to show his face in Saginaw, Michigan. 

Full article @ Sam Freeman thriving, credits message from Chiti

Source: Atlanta Braves blog by David O’Brien – ACJ

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