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The Return Of The Mac

Aug 28, 2015 -- 9:23pm

Atlanta, GA – Friday night marked the return of one of Atlanta’s native sons, as Brian McCann walked into the bowels of Turner Field for the first time as a visitor. Now in the second year of his 5 year, $85 million dollar deal, McCann is having another stellar season. He entered the series opener with 22 homers (one shy of 2014) and 75 RBI (matching last season’s total). For a guy that appeared in 1,105 games wearing a Braves uniform, Friday definitely had a different feel as he drove to Turner Field after spending the night in his house in Suwanee. “It was different. I’m excited to be back here, I’m excited to play here at Turner Field where it all started” McCann said prior to batting practice. “We have a lot of family, friends. It’s where I spend my offseason. I went to high school here. This city means a lot to me” McCann added.

McCann made his Major League debut on June 10, 2005 and was one of the most recognizable faces of the “Baby Braves” that also included Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson and Ryan Langerhans, to name a few. The youth movement helped Atlanta win its 14th consecutive Division Title, a record that will never be broken. “I remember it like it was yesterday. We all came up at the same time, we were all young. I speak for all the Baby Braves when we came up that we had a chance to pick Chipper Jones’ brain and Smoltzy. We were thrown into the fire and we all responded well and we’ve all gone on to have good Major League careers” McCann said.

To say McCann has had a “good career” would be putting it lightly. McCann’s a seven time All-Star and five time Silver Slugger recipient. He’s just the fifth catcher since 1900 with at least 20 homers in nine or more seasons and is the only catcher in the Bigs to do so in each of the last eight years. While there may not be a whole lot of familiar faces as far as former teammates go, McCann was really excited to get a chance to visit with some of the support staff, including trainers and members of the coaching staff. The reception was warm, to which McCann responded with a tip of the helmet. Just because he’s moved on to another team, Atlanta is and will always be home. His charitable work with The Rally Foundation is still near and dear to his heart, so expect to see much more of McCann around the Atlanta metro area in the years and decades to come.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Swept In San Diego...Again

Aug 20, 2015 -- 3:59pm

SAN DIEGO, CA – Baseball is a funny game. Some days, it feels like a certain team just cant find a way to win in a particular ballpark. Petco Park has turned into that place for the Braves…a house of horrors. A ballpark they haven’t won a game in since August 28th, 2012. To put it in perspective, Chipper Jones started the game at third base, while Kris Medlen tossed 8 scoreless with 9 strikeouts as Craig Kimbrel recorded his 32nd save of the season. As a matter of fact, only two players (Bourn & Freeman) that appeared in that last win here in San Diego are even still with the current Braves club.

Sometimes, the easy answer is just simply “that’s baseball.” While it may seem like a cop out, there really is no rhyme or reason why the Braves can’t seem to find a way to get a win at Petco.  Let’s face it, they haven’t exactly been running up against the ’27 Yankees. In fact, San Diego has finished fourth, third and are currently third in the NL West since that last Atlanta win here. Sometimes, the game of baseball can be a cruel one. The dimensions are fair…so we can rule that out right away. It’s not a “hitters park” or a “pitchers park.”  In fact, the Atlanta offense has had three very different looks in the three years since the club last tallied a win here. And yet, a win on the road in San Diego seems as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster.

Meanwhile, the beauty of baseball is the fact that there’s always tomorrow, which is today, which means Atlanta will open up a four game weekend series against the Cubs at Wrigley. Life won’t get much easier however as Jake Arrieta toes the rubber for the Northsiders, after posting a 1.36 ERA over his last 11 starts. Thursday marks the lone night game of the series as Friday, Saturday and Sundays will all feature matinee baseball, the way it used to be prior to the late 1980’s.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Welcome To....The Broves?

Aug 10, 2015 -- 11:09am

ST PETERSBURG, FL - On Friday, the Braves were able to pull the trigger on a trade they’ve been hoping to make for nearly a year. Chris Johnson was sent to Cleveland in return for Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and a significant amount of cash. Both Johnson and Swisher were struggling in the midst of big contracts, so the hope from both parties is that a clean slate will help each regain their previous form. Swisher was about to come off the DL and had his family with him in Cleveland, but as he put it, told everyone to pack up, they’re headed to Atlanta. Swisher’s impact was immediate. On Saturday night, his two run double helped break the game open as the Braves took three of four from the floundering Fish. Think he likes it here already? As he got to second base, Swisher started doing the Tomahawk Chop. He raved about the electric atmosphere as over 42,000 fans were on hand for alumni weekend festivities. Think he’s already a fan favorite? After the game, Swisher signed autographs and took photos with nearly 100 fans lined up outside the players parking lot. In Cleveland, Swisher referred to the state as "Bro-hio" which leads me to wonder if his new team will now become the "Atlanta Broves." I love the passion and intensity Swisher brings with him. He shows up to the ballpark every day with enthusiasm and excitement, which can only help rub off on a number of young players just getting their first real taste at life in the Majors.

As for Bourn, the Braves are solidifying two needs. A leadoff hitter and a guy that can play left field. The combination of Bourn, Maybin and Markakis becomes one of the best defensive outfields in the National League, so if those three can’t catch it, it’s likely landing in the stands. Are Bourn and Swisher the same players they were three years ago? Of course not. Do they still have something left in the tank? Of course they do. Both are signed through 2016 with vesting options for the 2017 season. With the additions of these two veterans, along with Hector Olivera who should join the club in the next two weeks, Atlanta’s lineup for next season is slowly coming into focus.

It’s been a rough season for the Braves who have now used 54 different players on the roster. Many familiar faces have come and gone. The clubhouse is constantly changing, but one thing that hasn’t is the positive, upbeat atmosphere. Bringing guys like Swisher and Bourn on board will only help bring the mood even higher. I like the trade for both sides. It was certainly a frustrating year and a half for Chris Johnson, but one thing you can’t deny is how professional he was throughout the process. Playing time was limited and hopefully this move will be something that can help get him back on track in Cleveland.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Road Weary Braves Ready To Head Home

Aug 02, 2015 -- 3:16pm

PHILADELPHIA, PA – What a long, strange trip it’s been. Entering play on Sunday morning, the Braves have lost 8 of the first 9 games on their final three city road trip of the season.  When this trip began, Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe were still regular members of the lineup. Alex Wood was part of the young core rotation that looked to likely to stick together for the foreseeable future. Jim Johnson was the closer and Luis Avilan continued to give Fredi Gonzalez a reliable lefthanded setup option.

As of this morning, the Braves have used a franchise record 52 players, after needing just 39 players in all of 2014. Prior to this season, the record number of players used by Atlanta came in 2008 when 50 different players were seen in a Braves uniform through the course of the season. All these roster moves have now created new opportunities for younger players to step into larger roles. With just 11 players remaining from the 2015 Opening Day roster, guys will have to step up and fill some pretty big shoes left behind.

One guy who now has that opportunity is reliever Matt Marksberry. This weekend, Marksberry became the first member of the 2013 draft class to reach the big leagues, after starting the season with Carolina in High-A Ball. It’s been an interesting road for the young southpaw who’s season got off to a strange start as him and his teammates were involved in a bus crash in the middle of the night. Marksberry told me that an incident like that helps keep things in perspective. When situations like that arise, it helps you appreciate the little things. Marksberry is just one of a number of young players that now occupy the Braves 25 man roster. While they may not have a ton of Major League experience, the final 60 games of 2015 can be invaluable heading into Spring Training 2016. While the Braves may experience some growing pains as the season wraps up, one thing is for sure. The talent that the Front Office has brought in this offseason has the future looking extremely bright. Now some of those players will have an opportunity  to showcase themselves at the Big League level.

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Freddie, Free To Begin Rehab

Jul 23, 2015 -- 9:09am

ST LOUIS, MO – It’s no secret the Braves offense has taken a step back without Freddie Freeman in the lineup. Well, the good news is that help may be on the way, as early as one week from today. Over the weekend, Freeman progressed and was able to start going through baseball activities like playing catch, taking grounders at first base, and by Tuesday afternoon, was able to hit with his teammates during BP at Turner Field. Shortly thereafter, Freeman laid out the tentative roadmap for his return.

Tuesday night, Freeman hopped on a plane to the teams Spring Training complex in Orlando where he’ll spend the next handful of days working on strength, endurance and conditioning. On Monday, Freeman will head back up to Atlanta, where he’ll join the Triple-A ballclub in Gwinnett to begin what will likely be a very brief rehab assignment. If all goes well, barring any types of setbacks, Freeman will join the team in Philadelphia next Thursday. Fredi Gonzalez said that Freeman was “half joking” about not evening needing to go out on a rehab, that he felt good enough to get back in the lineup immediately. But obviously, after missing the better part of a month, getting his timing back will certainly take a few days.

The absence of the biggest bat in the Braves order has certainly shown, as guys like Jace Peterson and Cameron Maybin have seen less pitches at the top of the order. Freeman’s presence alone will change the way pitchers attack the lineup, so, it will benefit the top table setters in the Atlanta lineup. As for what we can expect from Freeman once he does return? While it may take a day or two, Freeman’s simple approach at the plate should help him get right back to the form we’re used to seeing from the All Star first baseman. If you’ve ever spent any time around Freeman, you’ve heard him say it 100 times. His swing is the same every time he goes up to the dish. He puts his foot down and swings. It’s the same thing he’s been doing since he was six years old. Trust me, his dad showed me the photos and videos to prove it. For a guy that’s known for hugs, his return will absolutely be welcomed with open arms (ya see what I did there?!).

Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin

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Trade Deadline Rapidly Approaching

Jul 15, 2015 -- 1:38pm
With the Major League Baseball trade deadline rapidly approaching, the most common question out there is "will the Braves be buyers or sellers?" As things stand at the All Star Break, the Braves are five games under the .500 mark, seven games behind the first place Nationals in third place in the NL East. The loss of Jason Grilli can certainly change the landscape for what direction the club decides to go in, and John Hart will surely get a number of calls on a handful of veterans. Let's take a look at who may draw the most interest from contending clubs... Jim Johnson: the veteran righty has resurrected himself after a disappointing 2014. Looking back, it wasn't that long ago that Johnson logged back to back 50+ save seasons. Working with Roger McDowell has been key for Johnson, as the sinker baller has been on of the most reliable relievers from the pen. Johnson will assume the role of closer now that Grilli's season is over, but expect a number of clubs to check in on his availability. Juan Uribe: since being acquired in late May, Uribe has provided power from the right side for a Braves lineup that doesn't rely on the long ball. The 36 year old has been a great presence both on and off the field, while providing solid defense at the hot corner. Right handed power bats are always sought after by contending clubs, so again, Uribe will certainly be a guy many teams will covet. AJ Pierzynski: brought in as a mentor to young Christian Bethancourt, Pierzynski essentially became the every day catcher after Bethancourt struggled out of the gate. Pierzynski is another guy that's been around and can handle the every day responsibilities that come with catching in the big leagues. An American League club that is looking for left handed power that knows what it takes to win in October will surely show interest. Other pieces like Kelly Johnson and Pedro Ciriaco could draw interest as well, but if I had to pick, of all the names mentioned, I'd expect Jim Johnson to be the most likely trade candidate between now and the end of July. Kevin McAlpin cover the Braves for the @BravesRadioNet. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinMcAlpin
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