Thursday, April 27, 2017

Atlanta's Braves have to be better than the Philadelphia Phillies, right?

I guess I bragged on the Braves too much last week.

On Monday of last week, the Atlanta Braves were riding high on a five-game winning streak, had evened their record to 6-6 and were tied for third place in the National League East.

Then the bottom fell out.

Since then, as of Monday, the Braves have lost six straight and were swept by division rivals, Washington and Philadelphia, which sent them to the bottom of the division standings.

Washington arguably has the best team in professional baseball, so I wasn’t surprised by how the Braves performed against the Nats. However, I don’t think that the Phillies are that good and was shocked that Atlanta didn’t win at least one of their three games in Philadelphia. (I think it’s worth noting that two of Atlanta’s losses to Philly were by one run each, on the road.)

On the bright side, Braves righthanded pitcher Mike Foltynewicz looked very good in his start against Philadelphia on Sunday, making very few mistakes and leaving the team in good shape late in the game. However, once he left the game, the Braves’ bullpen let it all slip away, resulting in a three-run loss that saddled Folty with an 0-2 pitching record to start the season.

At the plate, warhorse first baseman Freddie Freeman is leading the team with a .381 batting average and with a team-high seven home runs, as of Monday.

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On Saturday, I rode up to Tuscaloosa and watched Alabama’s spring football game, which was televised nationally on ESPN. I lived in Tuscaloosa for several years in the late 1990s, but for whatever reason I’d never watched Alabama’s spring game in person prior to Saturday. Over the years, the spring game, which is known as the “A Day Game,” has grown in importance.

Admission to the game is free, and I was hoping to be part of a record-setting crowd, but it just wasn’t to be. As it turned out, there were 74,326 people at Saturday’s A Day Game, which ranks third this year behind the spring games at Ohio State (80,134) and Nebraska (78,312). The largest crowd to ever watch an Alabama spring game was recorded in 2011 when 92,310 fans showed up to watch the Crimson Tide.

I’m not sure exactly how they kept up with attendance at Saturday’s A Day Game. There weren’t any turnstiles to walk through, and I didn’t see any stadium personnel at the entrances with “clickers” to keep track of how many people entered the gates. I’m sure they have some way to tell how many people were there, I just couldn’t determine how they were doing it.

Also, you couldn’t have asked for better weather. Storms moving in from Mississippi held off until after the game, and about the worst thing that most fans had to deal with was a lot of bright sunshine. Depending on whether or not they had a seat in the shade probably had a lot to do with just how long most fans remained to watch the entire game.

In the end, I thought Alabama’s team looked very strong, but it’s hard to say just how much you can really tell from watching them practice. Alabama looks to have a lot of depth on offense and may have the strongest group of skill athletes they’ve had in many years. They’ve come a long way from those teams of the late 1990s.

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