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Atlanta Braves outfielders Charlie Culberson, left, and Ronald Acuna Jr. celebrate after Sunday's 4-3 home win against the Miami Marlins.

Braves decisions

OK, the second half starts Friday. The Braves are six games clear in the NL East.

We discussed before that there are five rather wide gaps in the six divisions. Only the NL Central has a tighter gap than 5.5-games between first and second. (The NL Central has a 4.5-game gap between first and last.)

While that certainly can change — remember the golden rule of true baseball chat; nothing really matters until the 'er' months — the true question for this Braves team is not who they are.

It's who will they add?

And considering the number of teams that look bound for postseason play — and the number of them that will crave a bullpen arm or two — it will be a seller's market.

You have to like how the Braves bats start games. If they stay healthy, 1-through-8, with a true catching platoon and arguably the best bench in the NL, the order is right there with the Dodgers as the most complete in the league.

With Dallas Keuchel and Mike Soroka atop the rotation, finding a hot hand to round out the the starting duties is certainly doable. Atlanta is eighteen in quality starts and 11th in total ERA.

But the bullpen is a real issue. The relievers' 3.95 ERA is 19th in the league. The bullpen is 26th in holds, a stat crafted to show how often a reliever holds a game where it was when he entered the game. The bullpen is walking more than 10 percent of the hitters they have faced, a number which is tied for 27th worst in the big leagues.

And to make the need even more pronounced, those strained numbers come against a strained collection of arms. The Braves relievers have pitched 567.1 innings this season, fifth most in the league.

They need help back there, and preferably a closer so that Luke Jackson can move to a set-up role. 

Here are three names to keep an eye on, friends, as the Braves try to figure out:

San Diego closer Kirby Yates will be among the honest names in the whole discussion.

Giants reliever Will Smith will be a coveted dude, and he would be a great fit for a Braves bunch considering his almost 40 percent K rate and his 6.0 BB percentage.

Royals left-hander Jake Diekmann, who has a mind-blowing 42.9 percent chase rate.

Want two more? Toronto relievers — Joe Biagini and Daniel Hudson — have been among the best in the AL at stranding inherited baserunners. Neither is a bona fide closer, but each could be had cheaply from a team looking to rebuild with prospects.


Atlantic capital

Now this is a large change possibility to the way games are officiated.

Hello, Atlantic League.

After debuting a "robot umpire" to call balls and strikes in its All-Star Game on Wednesday, the rest of the season in the independent Atlantic League will use the same system.

It is not without some speed bumps and kinks.

The process has a human ump still behind the plate with an ear piece in listening for the call from an iPhone dictated strike zone that uses Doppler Radar. The human element is needed for check swings and to override any clear malfunctions. (For example, a ball that bounces into the strike zone would still, by the computer, viewed as a strike.)

The human ump has final say and can overrule the computer, which is also an opening for controversy.

But it's still, I am all for looking at ways to making the process better. 

And yes, I am hesitant about adding more layers and challenges in the slow-down process that has become instant replay.

Players were encouraged by the results, including calling the higher strikes that the baseball rules describe.

And it's not the only rule change the Atlantic League, a league affiliated with the MLB, is examining.

How about these:

> Any live ball that is not caught is in play. The difference there is that hitters could technically steal first base on a pitch that gets past the catcher.

> Also, the league is going to experiment with mounds further back than the traditional 60-feet-6-inches.

Put some of these games on ESPN the Ocho, because I have more interest in the Atlantic League than the AL Central, you know?



College football senses

SEC media days are next week. Press Row will be there.

What storylines are you most interested in from Hoover next week? 

The Big Ten announced its preseason media poll. It's Oklahoma by a lot, followed by Texas and Iowa State. Yes Iowa State.

The California bill about allowing college athletes at state-funded schools to make money off their names, images and likenesses passed its next hurdle in the state legislature. Gang, that issue is not going away.

Finally, this caught our eye too. It's the Caesar Palace over/under win total for some of the best teams in college football. Thoughts? 

Clemson over/under 11.5; Alabama over/under 11.5; Georgia over/under 11; Oklahoma over/under 10; Ohio State over/under 10; LSU over/under 9; Florida over/under 9; Notre Dame over/under 9; Michigan over/under 10.5; Texas over/under 9.

(After Clemson over — the ACC is dreck — I think I like Florida under 9 as good as number on that board.)

 

This and that

— The MLB All-Star Game drew its lowest overnight rating ever Tuesday night. Yes, you read that right. It's not a big shock, considering that the 10-lowest overnights ever are the last 10. Still, the MLB ASG is far-and-away the most watched of the major all-star events with the Pro Bowl getting a 5.7, the NBA All-Star Game getting a 5.0 and the NHL event getting a 1.3. So there's that. I guess.

— Tragic story here about former UT football star and former Tennessee Titans All-Pro Albert Haynesworth announcing he is is dire need of a kidney transplant. He announced on social media that his doctors told him his kidneys failed last Sunday.

— Jim Bouton died Wednesday. He was 80. The former journeyman big leaguer wrote "Ball Four" which details his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots. It pulled no punches and is widely considered among the best sports books ever writer.

— This was eye-opening It's a story from Forbes detailing that the University of Arkansas spent more than $7 million feeding scholarship athletes in 2016-17, the most recent year in which numbers are available. This quashes that whole, "Go to bed hungry" lament a few years ago huh?


Today's questions

Anyone watch the Espys? And can someone explain to me how Jim Calhoun was given a coaches award? That dude broke more rules than a juvenile delinquent in P.E. with a substitute teacher.

True or false on a Thursday, the Braves will not get out of the first round of the playoffs unless they make a significant addition to the bullpen. 

True or false, "Ball Four" was the best baseball book ever written.  

As for today, well, should this be the luckiest day of the year, since it's 7/11?

In 1944, FDR announced on this day he would run for a fourth term.

MLK Jr. was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on this day in 1977. 

To Kill a Mockingbird was released on this day in 1960.

Let's go there and do a Rushmore of the best fictional lawyers. Go and remember the mailbag.

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