Pittsburgh Pirates' Ben Gamel (18) celebrates with teammate John Nogowski (69) as he crosses home plate in front of Atlanta Braves catcher William Contreras after hitting a two-run home run off starting pitcher Max Fried during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Monday, July 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Oy Braves


Just gross. And as someone who roots for the Braves and wants the Braves to be relevant for this space as much as my many pro-Braves friends, I ache at this effort.

Something is amiss.

No, this is not another bullpen rant, which is warranted because the bullpen stinks so thoroughly it makes two-week-old gym socks seem pleasant.

This is not another rant about the club's ineptitude with runners in scoring position, which is also warranted considering the team is just hitting .245 with runners in scoring position and has more Ks (173) than hits (159) in such instances.

And this is not even about the uneven starting rotation, which we all wanted Alex Anthopoulos to address with more vigor than Drew Smyly and a fingers-crossed signing of Charlie Morton. In truth, we all expected more from Max Fried. This bunch sorely misses Huascar Ynoa.

Something is amiss in the consistency and commitment levels of this bunch. And that comes from the top.

Yes, everyone wants a loose clubhouse, and the Braves are certainly that. This bunch makes sure the Panda head travels and they hug more than a Southern Baptist tent revival. Amen, and here's hoping Deacon's prayer ends before the biscuits start to cool.

Last night's embarrassingly flat 11-1 loss to a dreadful Pittsburgh team came 36 hours after a truly awesome win. It came as the Braves looked to get to .500 for the first time this season. (Side note: How about this stat: There are three teams in baseball that have not been .500 this year: the Braves, the Marlins and the Rangers. Uh, that's two cellar-dwellers and the team Brian Snitker has guided into a disappointing 41-43 showing and a disappointing third in a disappointing NL East.

And here's one more for you. During the last three years as the Braves were crafting this nucleus, they were 120-70 against sub.-500 teams. After last night's loss, the Braves are 28-23 against teams with a losing record.

Yes, the season is long and you have to trust, but we're beyond halfway, and if there is more emotion and energy and a higher sense of urgency from easy chairs across the South than there is in Snitker's psyche or Fried's fastball or in every single thing Dansby Swanson is currently doing, then this bunch is destined to fail.


NBA Finals

Remember last year when everyone was wondering if the Bubble Finals were going to be viewed with an asterisk or even fully respected?

Man, that Lakers title feels way more legit than the plow-to-the-finish, survival trek that has been these NBA playoffs.

Almost every interesting team — including the Suns and Bucks, who square off tonight in Game 1 — in this postseason has lost a significant player for multiple games.

And now the Bucks sans-Giannis face the Suns as a sizable underdog.

Some betting options: Jrue Holiday is +2,400 on some sites to win the MVP, and if you are like me and think Giannis is done for the year, if the Bucks win, Holiday is going to have to be great. I like this bet way more than getting the Bucks to win the series at +160 or whatever that price may be.

Also, I think tonight is a Suns destruction, a solar eclipse of the heartland. (Turn around bright eyes, every now and then I fall apart.)

And while we're here, I'd like a little taste on Chris Paul scoring the first bucket. Deandre Ayton will win the tip, and after almost two decades in the NBA without a Finals appearance, do you think anyone other than Paul is going to take the first shot tonight? Yeah, me neither. (Side note: Deandre Ayton is a Hall of Famer from the Greg Oden All-Stars of dudes who are 22 and look 52. Side question on the side note: Who else is on the Greg Oden All-Stars?  

As for the series, the Suns have too much, in my view.


Speaking of NBA drama

The New York Times published a very long and somewhat explosive story on the behind-the-scenes drama of the last year or so on the NBA coverage scene at ESPN.

It centered on Rachel Nichols being upset at ESPN decision-makers for pulling her as the host of the NBA Finals coverage and putting Maria Taylor in the lead chair, in large part because Taylor is Black.

"I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball," Nichols said in one clip. "If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity — which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it — like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.

"I just want them to go somewhere else — it's in my contract, by the way; this job is in my contract in writing."

Nichols apologized from her lead chair on the ESPN NBA show "The Jump."

Taylor, who, according to the Times article, will not speak to or does not want to work with Nichols, has not spoken on the issue. She will host the ESPN pregame and postgame from the Finals tonight. Wonder if she will speak about it tonight.

Some interesting ripples about this story that are important:

> First, the clip was recorded last summer when Nichols was covering the playoffs in the NBA bubble and had a live camera on in her room. She was recorded without her knowledge and the feed went back to the ESPN main server, where someone copied and leaked it to Taylor and others in Bristol, which led to the leak to the NYT;

> Second, this comes at a very opportune time for Taylor, who reportedly is asking for Mike Greenberg-level money as her contract runs out at the end of this month. She has reportedly turned down $5 million a year for her roles in coverage of college football and the NBA and reportedly seeks $8 million per year;

> The ESPN workers around the NBA coverage team are reportedly livid and threatened to walk off the set, led by Jalen Rose and Jayson Williams, according to the Times. Of course, Rose and Williams have recently had social media and racial gaffes of their own, so wanting to point the finger somewhere else in the social media blame game is hardly surprising;

> Quick side interjection: Uh, not sure how many of us this affects, since if you're watching an NBA pregame or postgame show and it's not the TNT installment, then you are doing it wrong, to begin with.

But the final takeaway of this is the irony of all of this, right?



This and that

— You know the rules. Here's Weeds on a college basketball connection between some familiar UTC names and the start of the NBA Finals.

— Speaking of Dansby Swanson, the Braves' $6 million man is foundering. Badly. He bet on himself with a one-year deal before 2021 looking for that long-term contract. Uh-oh. He's halfway through what looks to be the worst of his six MLB seasons. He's hitting .230, which would be a career low, he's got an OBP of .287, which would be a career low, and he's on pace for a career-high 185 Ks. Ouch-standing.

— If the allegations against Trevor Bauer are even close to true, I hope part of the punishment is 30 minutes alone in a room with Dave Stewart, the former Dodgers pitcher who has refused an invitation to the team's 40-year celebration of the 1981 World Series because of the handling of the Bauer case. There's more here. The world needs more Dave Stewarts if you ask me.

— I am back in the saddle today, friends. Nice job yesterday in the comments without me.


Today's questions

True or false, it's Tuesday, after all.

True or false, Giannis will not play in these Finals.

True or false, the Suns win it all.

True or false, these Braves lead the league in causing their fans to curse.

True or false, you watch "The Bachelor"/"Bachelorette."

(And gang, if that last one is true, I'm gonna need some 'splainin' on that.)

Got a T or F, fire away.

As for today, July 6, let's review.

George W. and Sly Stallone are both 75 today. We did Sly's Rushmore last year, but I also know there is no actor out there that has the inverted bell curve of a catalog like Sly.

His great is really great. "Rocky," Rambo, "Cop Land" and others. And his bad is wicked, Wicked, WICKED bad like "Rhinestone," "Oscar" or "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot."

Frida Kahlo would have been 114 today. Does Frida make the Rushmore of Unibrows? Go.