Bradley’s Buzz: A really big week for the rolling-again Braves

Since last they met the Mets, the Braves are 6-0. The Mets are 5-1. They’re about to play four games at Truist Park. Fun at the ol’ ballyard.

The Braves are on pace to win 98 games, which would mark a 10-game improvement over last season, when they won the World Series. The Mets are on pace to win 106 games, which would be their second-best total ever.

Were there no wild cards, this would be quite the race. No other division has two teams this good. Since each league has three wild cards, this is mostly an exercise in postseason positioning.

The National League East winner should get a Round 1 bye. The division winner with the worst record is the No. 3 seed; the wild card with the best record will be No. 4. The No. 4 seed will face No. 5; that best-of-three series will be played, in its entirety, in the No. 4′s ballpark. It would behoove the Braves to stay ahead of San Diego.

The Braves lead the Padres by 6.5 games. They just swept Miami without using Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Charlie Morton or Spencer Strider. That’s the good news. The bad is that Fried is in the concussion protocol and Wright missed his last turn due to arm fatigue.

The Braves’ scheduled starters for Games 1-3 versus the Mets are Strider, Morton and Jake Odorizzi. The Braves haven’t named a starter for Thursday’s Game 4. The Mets have – Jacob deGrom, who has yielded seven base runners over three starts since exiting the injury list.

The Mets are 8-4 against the Braves this season. Over the previous four years, they were 26-41. The five-game series in Queens – the Mets won four times – altered some perceptions. The Mets might be as good as their record. They might no longer tremble at the sight of the Braves. Then again, the Mets are 21-24 in Cobb County. They were 67-109 at Turner Field.

Enough numbers. Let’s play four.

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Big news about Mike Soroka!

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

This just in: Esteemed colleague Gabriel Burns reports that Mike Soroka will make his first rehab start for Rome on Tuesday. He hasn’t thrown a competitive pitch in more than two years. If he can be anything close to the Soroka of 2019, he could be an October difference-maker. Yes, that’s a big if. But he’s a big deal.

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About the Astros

Schedule-wise, this is the Braves’ toughest week of 2022. Once the Mets leave, the Astros arrive. The Mets have MLB’s second-best record; Houston has the third best. A major talking point of the 2021 World Series was the impending free agency of shortstop Carlos Correa. He signed with Minnesota. The Astros have pressed on without him.

The Astros lost the World Series because they ran low on pitching. Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia started four of the six games but lasted only 11 innings. They yielded 17 hits, eight walks and 14 earned runs. Jorge Soler led off the Series with a home run off Valdez. Soler essentially ended the series with a home run off Garcia.

This Houston rotation again features Justin Verlander, for whom the Braves made a free-agency pitch. He chose to re-up with the Astros. He’s 39. He’d worked six innings since 2019. He leads MLB in ERA (1.85) and WHIP (0.860). He’s scheduled to pitch against the White Sox on Tuesday. He could be available for Sunday’s game here.

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More about Justin Verlander

Verlander last faced the Braves on Oct. 2, 2016. That was also a Sunday. The Braves beat Detroit 1-0. Freddie Freeman drove in the run with a first-inning sacrifice fly. Julio Teheran pitched seven scoreless innings. It was the final game at Turner Field. At the time, it was unclear if interim manager Brian Snitker would be retained.

Had the Braves lost that game, they’d have finished with MLB’s second-worst record, which would have given them the second pick in the 2017 draft. They wound up with the No. 5 pick. They took Wright. The total big-league WAR for Hunter Greene, Brendan McKay and MacKenzie Gore – the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 draftees of that June – is 1.2. Wright’s WAR for this season is 3.1.

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About Kentucky, famous football school

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

John Calipari kicked off, as it were, a kerfuffle by suggesting his basketball Wildcats need a new facility. The current hoops facility is 15 years old, though Calipari claims it recently sprang a leak. Which surely was the reason his team was ousted from the 2022 NCAA Tournament by 15th-seeded Saint Peter’s.

That the football Wildcats have a newer facility has been noted by Calipari. “This is a basketball school,” he told reporters in the Bahamas, where the team is playing exhibition games. Alabama, he said, is a football school. Georgia, too.

Two days later, football coach Mark Stoops met the press. “I stay in my lane,” he said. Then he swerved. “This program didn’t wake up on third base.”

Calipari is the fifth different UK coach to win an NCAA title. Since 1930, every Kentucky coach save two has won a championship. The exceptions are Eddie Sutton, who resigned in disgrace, and Billy Gillispie, who lasted two years. At a basketball school, you’re supposed to do basketball stuff – like grace a Final Four every so often.

Not since 2015, when his 38-0 assemblage drew three shot-clock violations while failing to protect a lead in the semifinal against Wisconsin, has Calipari taken the Wildcats past a regional final. He takes better talent and gets outcoached.

At SEC Media Days, Kentucky – not Florida, not Tennessee – was picked to finish second to Georgia in the East, and yes, we’re talking football. The Wildcats were 10-3 in 2018, 10-3 again last season. Those were the school’s second and third 10-win seasons of my lifetime. The first was in 1977. I covered it. (There was another in the 1950s under Bear Bryant. I wasn’t around for that one.)

If you’re asking who the SEC’s best coaches are, you start with Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. If you’re asking who has most outperformed expectations, it’s Stoops by a mile. Winning 10 games in Lexington isn’t the same as winning 10 in Athens. Heck, Mark Richt averaged 9.7 wins at Georgia and got fired. Kentucky’s recruiting base isn’t the same as Florida’s or LSU’s, let alone UGA’s and Bama’s.

Is Kentucky a basketball school? Absolutely. But it’s a sign of how successful Stoops has been – at a time when Calipari’s team has done relatively little – that he felt compelled to remind people. It’s entirely possible that, were Stoops allowed to coach hoops in March, the Big Blue wouldn’t be losing to Saint Peter’s.

As Stoops noted via Twitter: “Basketball school? I thought we competed in the SEC. #4straightpostseasonwins.”

As opposed to basketball, which can count zero straight postseason wins. Heh, heh.