Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Hello again: On Braves' second half, Shelby Miller and Falcons' pass rush


Coming off some vacation time (and I learned that my Garmin doesn't give nearly enough credit for pressure washing a deck).

I’ll get to the serious stuff later. But here are a few things bouncing around my noggin.

BRAVES: Look out below (oh wait, already there)

The Braves, determined to spend every day this season in last place, are 2-8 since the All-Star break. There goes the wild card.

Consider the 2-8 re-start more accurate foreshadowing for the second-half than a six-game winning streak in mid-June. There is a settling effect as seasons unfold, with the better teams rising and the lesser ones flailing. In a baseball season, things tend to get worse for the bad teams after: 1) The All-Star break; 2) The trade deadline (when reality sets in with players: “Oh, this is who we’re stuck with”); 3) Down the stretch of the regular season when other teams battle for postseason berths (remember what that was like?).

At 33-66, the Braves are on pace to finish 54-108. The most losses in franchise history came in 1935 (Boston Braves: 38-115). The worst Atlanta team ever: 1988 at 54-106. Maybe if this team breaks the record in the final homestand, commemorative buttons can be handed out to the 112 people in attendance.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO: Shelby Miller?

Arizona may be looking to deal starting pitcher Shelby Miller, who has struggled since being acquired from the Braves. (AP photo)

John Hart and John Coppolella, who continue to bank the team’s future on a bag of seeds in the minors, didn’t screw up every trade. The deal that sent pitcher Shelby Miller to Arizona for Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair looked great at the time and it still looks good, even with Inciarte’s offensive struggles (.243, .312 on-base percentage) and Blair’s early hiccups (0-5, 7.99 ERA, .305 opponents’ batting average).

Miller has morphed into some unrecognizable figure in Arizona. He led the Braves’ starters in innings (205.1) and ERA (3.02, despite a bad-luck 6-17 record). But he has been horrible with the Diamondbacks, going 2-9 with a 7.14 ERA before being sent to the minors. Now comes a report, via Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, that Arizona may be looking to move Miller before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

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Question: Should the Braves be interested?

They need hitting more than pitching. But even after all of the prospects Hart and Coppolella have acquired, it’s not as though the future of this rotation is certain. After Julio Teheran – whom management insists won’t be traded – every young pitcher is still working through issues: Blair, Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz included.

Miller had success with pitching coach Roger McDowell. So why not try to bring him back – assuming it doesn’t cost Dansby Swanson? Miller earns $4.33 million this season and has two years of arbitration left.

IT’S FOOTBALL TIME: OK, where’s the pass rush?

Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, who had eight sacks with Arizona last season, wants to play one more season. (Getty Images)

The Falcons open training camp Wednesday and the biggest question I have right now is: Will we see Dwight Freeney at some point in Flowery Branch?

There are a number of questions that have to be answered this camp but the pass rush may be the biggest one (again). The Falcons were among the teams to work out the 36-year-old Freeney recently but didn’t sign him, which could mean either that they’re not interested or that they prefer to see what they have in a couple of exhibition games first, given that Freeney isn’t going to play in those anyway and there’s no reason for him to be in camp.

Freeney obviously is just a part-time player now but he had eight sacks and three forced fumbles with Arizona last season – and those eight sacks doubled the highest individual Falcons’ total last year (Vic Beasley with 4). The Falcons finished last in the NFL with 19 sacks. Houston’s J.J. Watt (17.5) had almost that many by himself. The NFL had 27 teams with at least 31 sacks, led by Denver, which won the Super Bowl, with 52.

Other things to watch in the Falcons camp: 1) How much center Alex Mack improves the offensive line; 2) Whether Matt Ryan improves in the second year of the offense with Kyle Shanahan; 3) The development of rookie safety Keanu Neal, who’s expected to start for the released William Moore; 4) Will Julio Jones evolve into more of a leader after the release of Roddy White? 5) Does linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, signed as a free agent, have anything left?


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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.