Happy All-Star break to each of you. Know that this is officially the slowest week in sports. Let's see if we can't jumpstart it some.
From the "7-Up Stinks Studios," here we go...
All-star break reflection
Your Atlanta Braves are good. The Philadelphia Phillies are better. That said, the Braves' offense could not have been much worse through the unofficial first half of this season and still the Braves are 54-38. What does that mean? Well, a few things, and almost all of them are good.
- Pitching has reclaimed its rightful spot as the most important aspect of the game, and this, as SportTalk's Dr. B (he's a doctor after all) will gladly tell is good for baseball. Pitching should be the linchpin of every good club. Somewhere Abner Doubleday and Cy Young are smiling.
- Even at 16 games over .500, these Braves have no where to go but up. Barring significant injuries, how can scoring runs be any more difficult? Barring significant injuries to the bullpen, this pitching staff has done enough over three months to show this is who they are and not just a hot streak. (That said, it's time to pick it up Derek Lowe. You're the highest paid but the worst of the Braves five starters. Not good sir.)
- Chipper Jones will miss the next month, but Martin Prado should be back this weekend. Would it be nice for Johnny Braves Fan to have both in the lineup at the same time? Sure it would, but Prado's return allows the Braves to leave Brooks Conrad's glove in the clubhouse where it belongs. (Hey, we're all for Brooks grabbing a bat in the ninth and slapping a pinch-hit double somewhere, but he can leave his mitt in Hixson for all we care.)
- Let's close the book Dan Uggla's extended spring training that lasted from early March until July 4. Remember last week how we talked about Uggla's 2011 season (part deux) started on Tuesday, July 5? Well since then his numbers are far from the debacle that previously had engulfed the Braves second baseman. Since last Tuesday, here are Uggla's numbers: he's 8-for-22 (.364) with three homers, three doubles, seven runs scored and five RBIs. While that's just week, it's infinitely better than the disaster that preceded that week (he raised his season average 12 points - from .173 to .185 in those six days).
- Will the Braves catch the Phillies? Doubtful - the Phillies' offense has more depth (read: speed) and balance. That said, other than Sunday's bullpen implosion (it's officially time for the Scott Proctor Experiment to end), if the teams meet in the playoffs anything can happen. Yes, the Phillies took two of three this weekend, but the schedule worked for them to trot out their best three pitchers. Two of the Braves' three best starters - Jair Jurrjens and Tim Hudson - did not pitch this weekend. Plus, this has the makings of a great race. These are the league's two top teams and with the Phillies fans doing a mock "Tomahawk Chop" during Sunday's blowout, the passion is starting to rise. Avoid the rush, Johnny Braves Fan, go ahead and hate the Phillies now.
Tip of the cap to the Yankees captain
Derek Jeter reached 3,000 hits in style Saturday - homering for the milestone in a 5-for-5 day. Nice job. We touched on this in Friday's mailbag - nice job Friday by the way - about the Jeter vs. Chipper Jones debate, but here's broader question: Where does the Yankees captain rank among players in this generation? Certainly he's on the short list of top shortstops not just of this era but of all time.
The numbers are somewhat staggering: 3,003 career hits, .313 average, 237 career homers, 331 career steals, he's a 12-time all-star, a five-time Gold Glove winner, a four-time Silver Slugger and a five-time World Series winner. In almost a full season of playoff games - Jeter has played in 147 postseason games - he's a .309 hitter with 20 homers, 101 runs scored and 17 steals. That's pretty impressive considering the magnified value of every playoff at-bat.
So what say you, where does Jeter rank among all-time shortstops and among all MLB players of this generation?
Sidenote: Hats off to Christian Lopez, the fan in the left-field stands who caught the homer and returned Jeter's 3,000th hit requesting only an autograph and a handshake from Jeter. Lopez got way more of course - four tickets to every Yankees' game for the rest of the year, three bats, balls and jerseys signed by Jeter. Sure the ball is being valued at around $250,000, but Lopez told the New York Post "I would have done it over again 100 times. I think I did the right thing."
Here's saying the Yankees should take the next step and pay off the dude's student loans, which the Post reported at $100,000. C'mon Yankees and Jeter, step up - for the love of goodness, Jeter has made more than $200 million in salary alone in his Hall of Fame career, he and the Yankees (valued at well over $1 billion) can each write a $50,000 check to reward Lopez's gesture of goodwill.
Kyle Busch is a lot of things, and some of them are even tolerable.
That said, he's NASCAR's hottest driver, the winner of Saturday's first Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway and the points leader. Does that make him a good dude? Of course not - but it does make him an A-list driver who has the look of someone that could really challenge Jimmie Johnson this fall in the Chase for the Championship.
Busch's win Saturday night, though, was a secondary or even a tertiary storyline this week. First the racing was again less than thrilling - Busch led for almost half the laps (125 of 267) and the challenges that were supposed to be presented by the bumps on turns 3 and 4 were almost nonexistent. More importantly, though, thousands of fans never got to their seats Saturday night because of world-class traffic back-ups.
That's right, the race that moved from Atlanta Motor Speedway - and if you've ever been to AMS for a NASCAR race, you know traffic there is no day at the beach - was snarled by traffic. It was more traffic catastrophe than traffic congestion. This could have been a big night for NASCAR. A full house (and it's been a while since we've seen one of those) was planned at a new venue.
Our question is how did this happen? It's not like they announced the race Monday of last week. It's not like the track opened in June - it's been there a decade and hosted more than 10 NASCAR races on the smaller circuits. And the only answer Bruton Smith offered up was the the interstate sucked. You stay classy Bruton.
So it goes. Maybe EC is right and the only sport that has any consideration for the fan at all is the MMA.
This and that
- We are in the month of molasses in sports. So what does the crack TFP sports staff trot out there this weekend? That's right, all-time prep football lists. Check our first two here and here. If you like them, e-mail prep ace Stephen Hargis and tell him. If you think they are poppycock, email that goofy TFP sports editor and give him the business. FYI - we're going to continue similar lists every Friday and Sunday until high school football practice starts Aug. 1 Enjoy.
- Sweet Herschel Walker memories and Marcus Lattimore replays, has there been more of an opportunity/pressure situation for a freshman running back than what Isaiah Crowell steps into in Athens? Crowell, the incoming Georgia freshman, was likely going to figure into the mix from the start, but now he appears to be all alone in the UGA backfield. Returning co-starters Caleb King (academics) and Washaun Ealey (transfer) are not part of the equation, which leaves it to Crowell. And while the kid has a load of talent, remember that this is a freshman coming into the SEC. And remember that Crowell failed to crack the 100-yard mark against Calhoun last November in the state playoffs. Deep breaths, Oso, deep breaths.
- The 5-at-10 wants to thank everyone for a great mailbag last Friday. Sorry we were out of pocket for most of the comment-izing, but it was good stuff. Along those lines, we are aware of the Shannon Stone tragedy at the Texas Rangers game. It's one of the worst sports-event related things we can remember. In truth, we're not really ready to discuss it in much detail. Let's just move along.
- The U.S. women's World Cup team won in thrilling fashion Sunday. We've seen the highlights, but that's about all we got for you. If you care to discuss, feel free.
- The 5-at-10 thought the NFL would have a deal last weekend, but the NFL clock is still ticking. Loudly. The big questions seem to be getting close and the details are starting to take shape (huge props to ESPN's Sal Paloantonio, who has been all over this, which is made even tougher by covering a league that has its own network). That said, the dates and times of things that have been skipped - resigning players and free agency and the such - make it paramount that if a deal is not worked out in the next 10 days, there will be time missed. Or rescheduled. And if either of those happen, well, that's on the powers and players that be. It's hard to feel that a lot of this could have been avoided, you know?
- Did you see THE Ohio State's self-imposed penalties? Vacating wins, and that's about it for committing major, Major, MAJOR violations in the NCAA world. Sure, guys, that'll fly. Here's saying if there's a next round of self-imposed violations, THE Ohio State University may even ban doughnuts from the break room. Egads, the horror, the humanity. Please.
The main question of today is Jeter's spot in history. But since at least two of our regulars - BIspy and Eljefe are bona fide He Man, Yankee-haters - here's another option: Who you got in tonight's Home Run Derby? Who's going to be the star? Will you watch?
Sidenote: Here's a hint for all you married sports fans: Bake sweet cookies for the next week or three. Spend time with the wife and tots. Cut the grass. Go on walks. Do it all. Football season will be here sooner than to you know, and any good deed today can be leveraged for a Thursday night SEC matchup down the road. You have been advised