Around The Bigs: Braves Boosting Their Chances In NL East | Sharapova's Thigh

The Braves expect to see Nate McLouth doing his home run trot frequently in their uniform.

On June 5th, the Atlanta Braves were quite busy making significant moves. They released a future Hall of Famer in starting pitcher Tom Glavine, and agree with the way this was handled or not, the bottom line is he wasn't helping the team this year. At 43 years old, it's unlikely things were going to all of a sudden turn around for the left-hander. Maybe he could keep an ERA under 5, but they felt they could do better than that with top prospect Tommy Hanson.

They called the 22-year-old Hanson up that day after he had a 1.50 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 66.1 innings at Triple-A Gwinnett. The fireballing right-hander made his debut yesterday in Atlanta against the Milwaukee Brewers, and while he gave up 6 runs, he showed his stuff was as good as advertised. He has the potential to be an ace down the road, but for right now can at least be a solid #4/#5 starter for the Braves.

However, the move they made that day that definitely improved the team for this year was the acquisition of 2008 All-Star and Gold Glove winner Nate McLouth from the Pittsburgh Pirates. To get him, the Braves gave up three highly regarded minor leaguers in pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke, and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. Many around baseball think the the Pirates are the winners in this deal, and we probably won't know that for a few years. I happen to like it for both teams, and it without question makes this currenty Braves team better. McLouth will likely finish the year with around 25-30 homers, an .820+ OPS, and 20-30 stolen bases. About his stolen bases, he's 65 for 70 in that department in his career, and only one of the five times he was "caught stealing" was on a throw from the catcher. Incredible.

The Braves currently sit in third place at 27-28, 6 games behind the first place Philadelphia Phillies. They've really been underachieving at the plate. The likelihood that many of their hitters will improve, along with the McLouth addition, should lead to some more runs. If that's the case, they're going to be tough to beat with a rotation featuring Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, and Jair Jurrjens. Additionally, there's talk that they're not finished shopping...

The Detroit Tigers' trade for pitcher Edwin Jackson didn't get too much notoriety over the winter, but it's been a major reason that they currently have a 3.5 game lead in the AL Central. The Tigers acquired him from The Tampa Bay Rays for outfielder Matt Joyce. Joyce has just 29 at bats so far for the struggling Rays, and Jackson's been the ace of the first place Tigers' staff. The 25-year-old right-hander is 6-3, with a 2.16 ERA in 12 starts.

Considering how young he is, it's crazy to think that years ago Jackson was considered by some to be the best pitching prospect in baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He struggled with the Dodgers and was sent to Tampa Bay, where he disappointed until last season. Still, many thought he pitched into some luck last year with 199 hits allowed in 183.2 innings pitched, and just 108 strikeouts. He's proven the doubters wrong thus far, and has given up just 63 hits in 83.1 innings pitched, and struck out 62. He has terrific stuff, and it seems he's finally putting it all together as a pitcher...

The headlining trade of the offseason was the Matt Holliday deal. The Colorado Rockies traded him to the Oakland Athletics this past offseason for reliever Huston Street, pitcher Greg Smith, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Holliday's swinging the bat well of late and currently has a .287 batting average, 8 homers, 37 RBI, and a .850 OPS. However, he only hit 1 homer in April, and his A's have been in the cellar of the AL West. Although the A's have won six games in a row and are in a weak AL West, there's been plenty of discussion that Holliday could be dealt by the July 31st trade deadline. Even he's talked about the possibility, and how he'd probably prefer it if the A's are out of contention by then.

For the Rockies, Huston Street's allowed a run in just one of his last 16 outings and is their closer. Greg Smith's battled shoulder issues, but is a 25-year-old lefty that the Rockies feel can step into their rotation soon, as he was solid for the A's in 32 starts last year. 23-year-old Carlos Gonzalez was the key to this deal for the Rockies, and he was mashing at Triple-A, so the Rockies just called him up. He should be the starting left fielder for the Rockies for a long time. So right now, this deal looks like a win for Colorado, as they didn't have the financial ability to hang onto Holliday long-term...

If there's any chance the Toronto Blue Jays would be willing to deal Roy Halladay, any contender should at least be interested, although it would likely take a boatload of prospects to get him. Halladay is 10-1 with a 2.52 ERA, and is going deep into games as he always has. He's gone at least seven innings in every start, and threw complete games in the last two. Oh, and his 10 wins are just two less than the Washington Nationals' 15 as a team...

The Kansas City Royals wouldn't look much better than the Nationals if not for Zack Greinke. The team is 24-32, and have lost 9 of their last 10. They've allowed 42 more runs than they've scored, even with Greinke allowing only 15 earned runs in 87 innings for a 1.55 ERA...

If there's anybody that understands how Dan Haren feels, it's Cubs rookie pitcher Randy Wells. The right-hander is 0-2 in 6 starts, despite having a 1.80 ERA. He's allowed over 2 earned runs only once, and just allowed 3 in that game. Every game either the offense did very little to help him, or the bullpen wasted his great performance. He'll get some wins soon enough though. He's displayed outstanding poise and confidence on the mound, and comes right at hitters. He rarely hits over 90 mph on the radar gun, but he really knows how to pitch and hits the catcher's target routinely. No, he's not going to keep an ERA under 2, but this guy gets it and should be here to stay...

In 2008, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz had a sensational season in the minors, and put up a 1.030 OPS in 133 plate appearances in the majors. As the 28-year-old(turns 29 on July 1st) has been around for awhile and not shown much at the plate in the majors until his short stint last year, people around baseball weren't sure what to expect from him in 2009. Well, he's absolutely crushing the ball and showing that last year was not a fluke. He's hitting .292, with 17 homers, 42 RBI, and a .970 OPS. He has 10 homers and 20 RBI in his last 18 games. He's certainly doing his part to keep the Rangers in first place in the AL West...

Sunday at Petco Park in San Diego, the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the hometown Padres 8-5 in the 18th inning. It got me thinking, it seems like there's been a bunch of games like that in San Diego the last couple of years. Sure enough, theres been 6 games that went at least 13 innings at Petco Park the last 2 seasons, and 4 of those games went at least 16 innings, including a 22-inning game last year. With Petco Park being the best pitcher's park in baseball, along with the Padres' horrible offense, it's understandable how that could happen.

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