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BREAKING: Bautista signs with Mets, batting 5th

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Lacking right-handed power with Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier on the disabled list, the Mets on Tuesday signed six-time All-Star Jose Bautista to a one-year Major League contract. The team immediately activated Bautista and slotted him into the starting lineup for Tuesday's game against the Marlins, batting fifth and playing left field, optioning Phillip Evans to Triple-A Las Vegas in a corresponding move.

"The outfield position has been thin for us over the last couple of weeks, with Cespedes out," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "We have been looking at the possibility of a right-handed bat in the outfield that could spell our other outfielders, and give us some offensive potential against a left-handed pitcher. Jose Bautista came up."

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NEW YORK -- Lacking right-handed power with Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier on the disabled list, the Mets on Tuesday signed six-time All-Star Jose Bautista to a one-year Major League contract. The team immediately activated Bautista and slotted him into the starting lineup for Tuesday's game against the Marlins, batting fifth and playing left field, optioning Phillip Evans to Triple-A Las Vegas in a corresponding move.

"The outfield position has been thin for us over the last couple of weeks, with Cespedes out," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "We have been looking at the possibility of a right-handed bat in the outfield that could spell our other outfielders, and give us some offensive potential against a left-handed pitcher. Jose Bautista came up."

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Bautista, 37, went 5-for-35 (.143) with two home runs in 12 games for the Braves, who released him Sunday. He is one season removed from a 23-homer campaign with the Blue Jays, and three years removed from his last All-Star effort, when he hit .250 with 40 home runs in Toronto.

Tweet from @Mets: We���ve signed outfielder Jos�� Bautista to a one-year major league contract. Bautista will wear #11 and be available for tonight���s game. To make room on the 25-man roster, we���ve optioned Phillip Evans to Las Vegas. #Mets pic.twitter.com/Sd3UMy0zT1

Overall in 15 years with six teams, most notably the Jays and Pirates, Bautista owns a .249 average with 333 home runs and an .841 OPS. He is a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner and one of only three big leaguers with at least 20 homers every year since 2010, joining Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton.

With the Mets, Bautista offers right-handed power in a lineup currently dominated by lefties. Neither of the Mets' top two right-handed bats, Cespedes and Frazier, are due back in the coming days. In their absence, the Mets have leaned on Wilmer Flores, Jose Reyes and Luis Guillorme at third base, and on Evans as a backup outfielder. Bautista has recent experience at both of those positions, as well as first base.

Tweet from @Mets: Sandy Alderson talks about signing @JoeyBats19. #Mets pic.twitter.com/dUft6esaXv

"I don't think this is really a short-term focus [or] any sort of commentary on where we think Cespedes is," Alderson said. "I think we have an idea that Cespedes could be a period of time, and Bautista should help us during that timeframe. But we do think that he has value to us beyond that. I don't think he would have come here if he didn't feel as if that were the case."

This is actually Bautista's second time in the organization; he was briefly a Met briefly on July 30, 2004, when the team acquired him from the Royals for first baseman Justin Huber. That same day, the Mets flipped him, third baseman Ty Wigginton and right-hander Matt Peterson to the Pirates for right-hander Kris Benson and infielder Jeff Keppinger. But it was not until Pittsburgh traded him to Toronto four years later that Bautista became a star, making six consecutive American League All-Star teams beginning in 2010.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook

New York Mets, Jose Bautista

Mariners' Gordon to DL with fractured toe

Vogelbach recalled from Triple-A to fill roster spot for Mariners
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

The Mariners' search to fill their second-base position took another turn Tuesday as Dee Gordon was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a fractured right big toe.

Gordon just shifted from center field to second base to replace the suspended Robinson Cano three games ago.

The Mariners' search to fill their second-base position took another turn Tuesday as Dee Gordon was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a fractured right big toe.

Gordon just shifted from center field to second base to replace the suspended Robinson Cano three games ago.

The Mariners recalled first baseman/designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach from Triple-A Tacoma to take Gordon's roster spot. Vogelbach will join the team in time for Tuesday's series opener at Oakland.

With Cano gone until mid-August with his 80-game suspension and Gordon now sidelined, the Mariners' current second-base options are Gordon Beckham and utility infielder Andrew Romine.

Gordon, 30, initially injured the toe when he fouled a ball off it during an at-bat on May 9 at Toronto, and further injured it in Sunday's 3-2 victory over the Tigers when he made a diving attempt at a bloop single into shallow right field by John Hicks in the top of the 11th inning.

Video: DET@SEA: Gordon misses on his dive for fly ball

Gordon remained in the game and singled, stole second and scored the winning run on a walk-off single by Jean Segura, but was limping noticeably.

The speedster is hitting .304/.330/.386 with an American League-leading 16 steals out of the leadoff spot for Seattle, which acquired him in a trade from the Marlins in December.

Video: OAK@SEA: Vogelbach uncorks a long solo homer to right

Vogelbach, 25, made the Mariners' Opening Day roster and slashed .204/.317/.352 with two home runs in 19 games before being optioned to Triple-A. In 24 games for Tacoma this season, he hit .301/.449/.711 with nine homers.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Gordon Beckham, Daniel Vogelbach

What to expect from Adames with Rays

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

The Tampa Bay Rays announced Tuesday that they have recalled shortstop Willy Adames from Triple-A Durham ahead of the club's series opener against the Red Sox. He'll make his Major League debut as the Rays' starting shortstop, batting fifth in the contest.

The key return for Tampa Bay in the July 2014 Trade Deadline deal that sent David Price to the Tigers, the 22-year-old Adames is set to become Major League Baseball's ninth-youngest player when he takes the field Tuesday.

The Tampa Bay Rays announced Tuesday that they have recalled shortstop Willy Adames from Triple-A Durham ahead of the club's series opener against the Red Sox. He'll make his Major League debut as the Rays' starting shortstop, batting fifth in the contest.

The key return for Tampa Bay in the July 2014 Trade Deadline deal that sent David Price to the Tigers, the 22-year-old Adames is set to become Major League Baseball's ninth-youngest player when he takes the field Tuesday.

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

The Rays' No. 2 prospect and No. 22 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100, Adames has been a model of consistency on both sides of the ball during his professional career, and especially since joining Tampa Bay's system.

Originally signed by Detroit at the outset of the 2012-13 international period, Adames was a little-known commodity when the Rays landed him as part of a three-team blockbuster with Seattle. The Dominican Republic native has since established himself as one of the more consistent prospects in the game while making a slow but impressive climb through the Minor Leagues.

Adames had a solid unspectacular first full season in Tampa Bay's system, producing a .258/.342/.379 line with 34 extra-base hits and 10 steals over 106 games at age 19 in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. He blossomed the following year at Double-A Montgomery, slashing .274/.372/.430 and setting career highs in home runs (11), doubles (31) and stolen bases (13), all while improving upon his strikeout and walk rates from the previous year. Adames garnered honors as a Southern League All-Star along the way and represented the World Team at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in July.

Advancing to Triple-A for the first time in 2017, Adames nearly mirrored his batting line from the previous year by hitting .277/.360/.415 with 10 homers and 30 doubles over 130 games. He returned to the International League in 2018 and was enjoying arguably the best offensive campaign of his career, hitting .311/.387/.466 through 40 games at the time of his promotion.

Video: Top Prospects: Willy Adames, SS, Rays

More than just a consistent producer, Adames has the requisite tools and baseball acumen to become an impactful everyday shortstop, perhaps even an All-Star, in the Major Leagues.

Adames' natural hitting ability stems from a combination of plus bat speed and advanced barrel control that enables him to consistently produce hard line-drive contact across the entire field from the right side of the plate. His approach is similarly advanced, as he's long showed knowledge of the strike zone and knack for working deep counts. It has enabled Adames to coax walks at a 12.6 percent rate for his career, albeit with some steady swing-and-miss tendencies (22.9 percent strikeout rate).

Hitting for power will never be a focal point of Adames' game, but the 6-foot, 200-pounder has shown in the past two-plus seasons that he's capable of clearing his share of fences. That trend should continue as he adds strength to his athletic and projectable frame, and many scouts believe some of his doubles will eventually translate to home runs.

Overall, Adames' blend of hard contact and patient approach has led evaluators to peg him as an above-average hitter at the highest level, one capable of hitting .280+ with double-digit home runs and plenty of extra-base pop to go along with strong on-base skills.

On the other side of the ball, Adames compensates for his average speed with excellent instincts and quick feet at shortstop, where he profiles as a plus defender with soft hands, smooth footwork and plus arm strength. And while he has committed at least 20 errors at the position in four straight seasons, Adames, like many young shortstops, is likely to chip away at that total as he hones his skills and learns to better control the speed of the game.

What's more, Adames has endeared himself to Rays club officials with his outstanding makeup, as those within the organization are quick to acknowledge his leadership skills both on and off the field. They believe those qualities, along with his impressive physical tools, give him a chance to be a franchise cornerstone at a premium position.

With Adeiny Hechavarria on the 10-day DL and Joey Wendle now on the paternity list, Adames will have an immediate opportunity to make an impact in his first big league exposure. And while the glut of middle-infield talent on Tampa Bay's roster suggests that his callup could be short-lived, it's clear that the Rays are ready to see what the 22-year-old shortstop has to offer at the highest level.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Tampa Bay Rays

Souza goes on DL; D-backs call up Brito

MLB.com

The Arizona Diamondbacks recalled outfielder Socrates Brito from Triple-A Reno and placed outfielder Steven Souza Jr. (strained right pectoral) on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday.

Brito, 25, hit .323 (51-for-158) with 8 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 21 RBI, 25 runs scored and 7 stolen bases in 42 games with the Aces in 2018. He batted .368 (43-for-117) vs. right-handers and .432 (16-for-37) with runners in scoring position, and played 25 games in center field (25 starts), 10 in left (6) and 9 in right (8).

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The Arizona Diamondbacks recalled outfielder Socrates Brito from Triple-A Reno and placed outfielder Steven Souza Jr. (strained right pectoral) on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday.

Brito, 25, hit .323 (51-for-158) with 8 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 21 RBI, 25 runs scored and 7 stolen bases in 42 games with the Aces in 2018. He batted .368 (43-for-117) vs. right-handers and .432 (16-for-37) with runners in scoring position, and played 25 games in center field (25 starts), 10 in left (6) and 9 in right (8).

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Brito, who entered 2017 rated as the D-backs' No. 4 Prospect by both MLB.com and Baseball America, hit .291 (85-for-292) with 15 doubles, 8 triples, 5 homers and 44 RBI in 78 games with Reno last season. He began 2017 on the Major League disabled list with a dislocated left ring finger suffered when sliding into home plate on March 8. He was optioned to the Aces on June 11.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder has appeared in 58 games over 2 seasons with Arizona (2015-16), batting .211 (27-for-128) with 6 doubles, 2 triples, 4 home runs and 13 RBI. Brito's last Major League game was October 2, 2016 vs. San Diego Padres.

Souza, 29, originally suffered the pectoral injury on March 21 when diving for a ball in right field, and was on the disabled list from March 26-May 2. In 14 games with the D-backs this season, he is batting .163 (7-for-43) with 1 double and 1 RBI.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Socrates Brito, Steven Souza Jr.

Pedroia, Altuve, Albies ... Madrigal?

Oregon State's 5-foot-7 second baseman may be among Top 5 Draft picks
MLB.com @castrovince

Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal has aced the elements of the pre-Draft examination that he can control.

He was the Pac-10's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. He broke his hand early in this junior season, only to recover and hit, as of this writing, .435 with a .620 slugging percentage. Teammates laud him as a leader. His coach unabashedly insists Madrigal could go straight from the Beavers to the big leagues. In contact, speed and defensive ability, in instincts and energy and collegiate accomplishment, he checks off pretty much all the boxes you'd want completed by a prominent pick.

Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal has aced the elements of the pre-Draft examination that he can control.

He was the Pac-10's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. He broke his hand early in this junior season, only to recover and hit, as of this writing, .435 with a .620 slugging percentage. Teammates laud him as a leader. His coach unabashedly insists Madrigal could go straight from the Beavers to the big leagues. In contact, speed and defensive ability, in instincts and energy and collegiate accomplishment, he checks off pretty much all the boxes you'd want completed by a prominent pick.

2018 Draft order | 2018 Draft: June 4-6 | All-time Draft picks

But it's the one part of his pre-Draft profile Madrigal can't control -- his height -- that makes him especially interesting in a game evolving from some, shall we say, heightist habits of old.

Madrigal, 21, is officially listed by Oregon State as 5-foot-8. Some pre-Draft profiles have even pegged him at 5-foot-7, which, if we know anything about the exaggeration of official height listings for vertically challenged ballplayers, is probably closer to the reality.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

Search Baseball Reference's records dating back to 1965, the dawn of the June amateur Draft, and you'll find 272 first-rounders drafted as a middle infielder. The only one of them officially listed at 5-foot-8 or shorter is the 5-foot-7 Joey Cora, who was taken 23rd overall by the Padres in 1995.

So for a compact second-sacker like Madrigal to be considered not just a first-rounder but a potential top-five pick on June 4 (MLB Pipeline currently has him listed as the No. 3 overall Draft prospect) says something about what the game's evaluators have learned from the likes of Dustin Pedroia (generously listed at 5-foot-9), Jose Altuve (5-foot-6) and, most recently, Ozzie Albies (5-foot-8).

"It started with Pedroia," an American League executive who preferred to speak anonymously said. "Now you see size isn't everything that matters in baseball."

Back in 2004, 64 picks passed before the Red Sox snagged Pedroia, the Arizona State product who had won them over with his lack of swing-and-miss, his filthy uniform and his weirdly charming cockiness. Again, Pedroia is officially listed at 5-foot-9, so he wouldn't have been a total outlier as a first-rounder. But how many clubs wound up kicking themselves for passing up their ticket to the "Laser Show" strictly because of his size? It was the biggest concern attached to Pedroia in the lead-up to that Draft. 

Video: Draft Report: Nick Madrigal, College 2B/SS

Size was also the stigma attached to Altuve a year earlier, when he was shooed away from the Astros' academy in his native Venezuela. The truth, which now reads like legend, is that Altuve's perseverance eventually earned him a foot in the door and his talent earned him a $15,000 signing bonus and a chance. He took it from there, winning the AL MVP Award last season.

And now we can add Albies, who signed with the Braves out of Curacao for a relatively meager $350,000 bonus in 2013, to the increasingly long list of short superstars at second base. His early production, which included a franchise-record 22 extra-base hits before the end of April, has been elemental in Atlanta's rise to prominence in the National League East this season.

These are the significant-but-scalable backs upon which Madrigal, who lists Altuve as his favorite player in his Oregon State bio, can climb to a top-five selection in the Draft.

"His height won't be held against him," one NL scouting director said of Madrigal, "because he has so many other intangibles."

Added Pat Casey, Madrigal's coach at Oregon State: "I think people are recognizing that winners and big leaguers come in various sizes and fashions. This guy is going to be a big league player and a big league winner. He can do things in baseball, instinctively, that a lot of guys can't even dream of."

The Indians made Madrigal the 514th overall pick (17th round) out of Elk Grove (Calif.) High School in 2015. But with Madrigal's signing demands north of $1 million, the club didn't have the pool money to get a deal done with him. He honored his commitment to Oregon State, where Casey said he's sharpened his plate-zone discipline. Madrigal has struck out just four times in 108 at-bats this season.

"Sometimes when you get high, high-ceiling guys or high-profile guys, you have to motivate them or look after them," Casey said. "Not this guy. Zero maintenance. Great human being, good student. He'll be in the big leagues in one and a half or two years. I get it, you've got to develop. But put him in a big league uniform, and he can play."

• Latest mock has Madrigal going to Reds at No. 5

Madrigal, who could possibly be given the chance to play shortstop as a pro, could be similar to fellow Oregon State product Michael Conforto if his rise to the bigs is as quick as his coach prescribes. But obviously the most apt comparisons are the ones to players light on height. Whereas evaluators once had more genuine concern about the long-term batted-ball profile of such players, the prominent extra-base production we've seen in recent seasons from players like Altuve, Albies, Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez changes the conversation and the evaluation.

"Some of your harder exit velocities are from guys with a shorter stature," the AL exec said. "Some of those guys are able to create a lot of leverage and bat speed with shorter strokes."

Evaluators believe Madrigal's bat-to-ball skills and strike-zone judgment could allow him to produce more power as a pro. But for now, a profile built on contact and confidence have Madrigal standing tall on Draft boards in an industry that has learned short players can go a long way.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

2 clubs make huge leaps in Power Rankings

It's about time for Mets, Nats; Braves, Phillies coming into peak year
MLB.com @alysonfooter

Entering this season, we knew the National League East race was bound to be a dogfight that involved two teams. Two months in, the division is indeed one of the most competitive in baseball -- it just involves more than just the usual suspects, the Nationals and Mets.

Wouldn't it be something if come September, the two teams clawing their way through the stretch run were the Braves and Phillies? They are proving to be not only young, hungry and homegrown, but also talented and highly entertaining to watch.

Entering this season, we knew the National League East race was bound to be a dogfight that involved two teams. Two months in, the division is indeed one of the most competitive in baseball -- it just involves more than just the usual suspects, the Nationals and Mets.

Wouldn't it be something if come September, the two teams clawing their way through the stretch run were the Braves and Phillies? They are proving to be not only young, hungry and homegrown, but also talented and highly entertaining to watch.

Four teams in the NL East are playing better than .500 baseball and are within three games of each other. It's been a perfect case study: two teams that have been building toward this for years in the Braves and Phillies, and two that have been in win-now mode for quite a while in the Mets and Nats.

If early returns are any indication, the NL East may end up as the most competitive division in baseball.

Biggest jump: Two teams jumped six spots: the Brewers, from No. 11 to No. 5, and the Mariners, from 16 to 10. We talk about the Brewers below, so in this space, let's give a hat tip to the Mariners, who have weathered challenges and are very much in contention. It won't be easy without Robinson Cano, who's out for several months due to a PED suspension, and Seattle will have to stay away from injuries that have derailed past seasons. The club has had a very good week recently, winning five of seven, including taking three of four against the Tigers over the weekend.

Biggest drop: The Nationals dropped eight spots, from No. 4 to No. 12. This comes with a caveat, though -- they had a terrible rain-soaked week that involved one suspended game, two postponements and a dreaded doubleheader. They didn't win any games during that stretch, losing twice to the Dodgers on Saturday before dropping the finale Sunday. The Nats sprung to life Monday against the Padres, however, topping them, 10-2. And how about the kid? Juan Soto, the 19-year-old rookie sensation, connected with the first pitch he saw for an opposite-field three-run homer.

Video: SD@WSH: Soto's first homer goes 422 feet to left

Power Rankings Top 5

1. Yankees (1 last week)
The Yanks' infusion of youth has been a perfect complement to their veteran core. While we hear more about rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, don't forget about Tyler Austin, who through Sunday ranked second among all Major League rookies with eight home runs and a .910 OPS. From the veteran side, Giancarlo Stanton continues to hit. Over his past 10 games, he is hitting .350 (14-for-40) with two homers and seven RBIs.

Video: NYY@KC: Austin belts 2 homers for 4 RBIs vs. Royals

2. Astros (2)
Houston could easily have slid into the No. 1 spot on our rankings -- when it comes to the Yankees, Astros and Red Sox, a case can be made for any of the three. Through Sunday, the Astros' rotation ERA of 2.25 was more than a full run lower than the next-lowest in the American League -- the Indians, at 3.42. When Lance McCullers Jr. is considered a fourth or fifth starter, that's a sure sign that the Astros' starting pitching is in a class all its own.

Video: CLE@HOU: McCullers Jr. spins seven shutout innings

3. Red Sox (3)
Boston has the third-lowest rotation ERA in the AL, and the offense is positively scorching. Through Sunday, Mookie Betts is 30-for-75 (.400) with seven homers, 14 RBIs and 19 runs scored in his past 18 games. J.D. Martinez has reached base safely in 25 consecutive games and has 11 homers and 26 RBIs during that stretch. Andrew Benintendi is 16-for-36 (.444) with 11 RBIs in his past nine games.

4. Braves (9)
Welcome to the Top 5, Atlanta! The Braves were shut out by the Phillies on Monday, but before that, they had scored 18 runs over two games against the Marlins, including five to walk it off on Sunday. Through Sunday, Atlanta had the fifth-lowest team ERA in the NL (3.51), the highest collective batting average (.266) and slugging percentage (.437), and the second-highest on-base percentage (.338). Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis are in the top five in batting average, and Ozzie Albies is one behind Bryce Harper among home run leaders with 13.

5. Brewers (11)
Also making their Power Rankings Top 5 debut are the Brewers, winners of nine of their past 13 through Sunday and in first place in the NL Central. Milwaukee has been getting contributions from all parts of its roster, but one reliever -- Josh Hader -- is making his own, separate headlines. The lefty has faced 95 batters this season and struck out a staggering 56. Hader, who has a WHIP of 0.51 and a 1.32 ERA, has appeared in 16 games, and the Brewers have won all of them.

Video: MIL@MIN: Hader strikes out 6 for final 6 outs

The rest of the Top 20

6. Cubs (5 last week)
7. Phillies (12)
8. Cardinals (10)
9. Angels (8)
10. Mariners (16)
11. Diamondbacks (6)
12. Nationals (4)
13. Indians (7)
14. Pirates (13)
15. Rockies (14)
16. Mets (17)
17. Dodgers (19)
18. Athletics (21)
19. Blue Jays (18)
20. Giants (20)

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Bryce Harper excited to cheer for Golden Knights

It's no secret that Bryce Harper is a fan of the Vegas Golden Knights. He teamed up with fellow Vegas native Kris Bryant in November to take in a game of the NHL expansion franchise's inaugural season. He returned in December to drop the puck before its game against the Washington Capitals:

This is how the Braves managed to shock MLB

MLB.com @JPosnanski

ATLANTA -- Twenty-seven years ago in this city -- but in the clubhouse of a different ballpark -- a young man named Tom Glavine was explaining that the Atlanta Braves were for real. Nobody really believed it. The Braves had lost 97 games the year before. It had only been a couple of years since the local newspaper held a contest asking people to come up with a good ticket-selling slogan for the team. The best entry had been: "Atlanta Braves baseball: Better than getting hit in the head with a hammer unless it's a doubleheader."

Somehow, the 1991 Braves were in first place.

ATLANTA -- Twenty-seven years ago in this city -- but in the clubhouse of a different ballpark -- a young man named Tom Glavine was explaining that the Atlanta Braves were for real. Nobody really believed it. The Braves had lost 97 games the year before. It had only been a couple of years since the local newspaper held a contest asking people to come up with a good ticket-selling slogan for the team. The best entry had been: "Atlanta Braves baseball: Better than getting hit in the head with a hammer unless it's a doubleheader."

Somehow, the 1991 Braves were in first place.

"This is a good team," Glavine insisted that day. "It doesn't matter if anybody out there believes in us. We believe in ourselves. They will find out soon enough."

Everyone did find out -- the Braves went to the World Series that year and again the next year. They reached the postseason every full season for 15 years.

I can't help but feel similar vibes about the Braves now. Atlanta lost 90 games last year, 93 the year before that and 95 the year before that. The club had a nightmarish offseason that included the forced resignation of general manager John Coppolella after MLB found that he and the team had committed significant rules violations in the international market (shortly after, Coppolella was permanently banned from the game). Yes, everyone knew the Braves had some exciting young talent -- Ronald Acuna Jr. was the talk of Spring Training -- but all that was future talk. This season figured to be another nonevent in Atlanta.

Instead, the Braves are in first place in the National League East (even after their loss to the equally surprising Phillies on Monday night). They lead the NL in runs. They have a better record than the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers -- the three teams that were supposed to dominate the league. And perhaps more than anything, they are thrilling, with a dynamic lineup that features a top four that rivals anything you can find in the game.

Sure, most people feel sure that the Braves will fade.

But everyone might find out soon enough.


"This is not a fluke," Brandon McCarthy said. He was saying this last Wednesday in the moments after the Braves beat the Cubs, 4-1, largely because two kids did what the irrepressible things they always seem to do. Ozzie Albies had led off the scoring by turning a single into a double through sheer speed and defiance. He scored the winning run after blasting a triple into the gap and coming home on Acuna's 108-mph rocket single that was past third baseman Kris Bryant before he could flinch -- whew, nobody hits the ball harder than Acuna.

"We see it every day," McCarthy said. "Those guys do things like that every day."

Video: CHC@ATL: Albies, Acuna Jr. combine to put Braves up

There is something about surprising teams that reminds a bit of the triumphant scene in "Field of Dreams," where Mark -- the brother-in-law who kept trying to foreclose on Ray's farm -- finally sees the ghost ballplayers. "Where'd all these people come from?" he asked.

That's how it is with Atlanta's lineup. For years, the Braves were a non-factor, a team few paid any attention to. Suddenly, they're loaded. Yes, the excitement builds around 21-year-old Albies and 20-year-old Acuna, but Freddie Freeman is one of the best players in baseball. Nick Markakis is hitting .341 and leads the Majors in hits. Dansby Swanson was the first pick in the 2015 Draft, and he seems to be coming into his own as a plus defender and solid hitter. Ender Inciarte is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner in the outfield, and after a sluggish start, he has started hitting (he also leads MLB in stolen bases). One catcher, Tyler Flowers, might be the league's best at framing pitches. Another, veteran Kurt Suzuki, just keeps on hitting.

Where'd all these players come from?

"You know it when you're around it," said 39-year-old relief pitcher Peter Moylan, who first came up to Atlanta in 2006. "These guys, especially the young guys, they know they're good. You can feel it when a team starts to believe in itself."

The belief begins with that lineup's top four -- Albies, Acuna, Freeman and Markakis. That gets the heart pumping.

Albies came up last season as one of the best prospects in baseball. He immediately held his own as a hitter, but who saw this year coming? Albies has been mashing the ball in ways that seem impossible for a 5-foor-8, 165-pound middle infielder. He was leading the NL in homers for much of the season; now his 13 homers puts him one behind Washington's Bryce Harper. Albies still leads the Senior Circuit in runs. He mixes speed and power with pure baseball joy in a way that reminds of another small middle infielder, one who happened to win the American League MVP Award last year.

"He's better than me when I was 21 years old," Jose Altuve told ESPN's Buster Only. "He's better at 21 than I am at 28."

Video: ATL@CHC: Albies opens scoring with 13th homer of year

Acuna is unlimited. There's no other way to say it. He's the No. 1 prospect in baseball and perhaps the most exciting prospect in the game since the young Mike Trout or Harper. Acuna is breathtakingly fast, he absolutely pounds the ball, he can play any outfield position and -- like Albies -- he exudes happiness in his play.

"I love to play," Acuna said. "It doesn't matter to me where they put me in the lineup, I'm just happy. But I like hitting after Albies and before Freeman."

Video: MIA@ATL: Freeman launches a 2-run homer to right

Freeman is one of the game's purest hitters. His teammates marvel at him, because he's not one of those players who sits in the video room studying his swing or breaking down pitchers. Freeman isn't someone who endlessly hits in the batting cage.

Freeman is hitting .324/.428/.561, and he thrives on the moment. With runners in scoring position so far, he's hitting .419.

Markakis has been the surprise. Everybody talks about how professional he is -- he shows up every day, plays every day, doesn't let bad at-bats or bad hitting luck affect him. Players like that can make a huge difference when teams are trying to shock the world.


The Braves might not end up leading the league in runs, but they should score plenty. Can the pitching hold up? So far it's been pretty good; the bullpen has been particularly effective, particularly middle relievers Shane Carle and Dan Winkler.

The long-term answers, though, probably will be provided by Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz. Newcomb was a first-round pick back in 2014, and he came over from the Angles in the Andrelton Simmons trade in November 2015. When Simmons began to add hitting to his otherworldly defense, this looked like a lost deal for Atlanta, especially as Newcomb struggled to find his rhythm.

Video: MIA@ATL: Newcomb holds Marlins to 1 run over 6 frames

Well, Newcomb has found it now. After an inconsistent April, he has been all but unhittable in May. Newcomb allowed two hits or fewer in his first three starts of the month and has given up one run all month. He doesn't dazzle you; he's mostly a fastball-changeup pitcher. But when Newcomb's command is sharp as it has been this month, he gets a lot of weak contact and a lot of ground balls. Hitters have only hit four Statcast™ barrels off him all year -- barrels being the ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle. If Newcomb can maintain that kind of command all year, look out.

With Foltynewicz, it's different. His pure stuff has had scouts drooling for years. Foltynewicz mixes a high-90s fastball with a deadly slider and an occasionally devastating changeup. He doesn't quite need Newcomb's razor-sharp command to succeed, but for whatever reason, it had not come together the past three years.

Video: ATL@PHI: Foltynewicz K's 5, allows 1 run in 6 innings

This year, Foltynewicz has made some adjustments -- he's throwing his four-seam fastball and slider more and trying to overpower hitters. It has been working so far. His strikeout percentage is way up. A big part of the reason is that Foltynewicz is finding the corners of the plate more. When he's throwing that fastball or slider on the corners, hitters are more or less helpless.

Their success will go a long way in determining just how long the Braves compete. Many think the pitching will fall apart and this team will fade into the middle of the division while the kids learn how to win. That might be faulty reasoning though. The kids look ready to win right now. And Glavine's warning from so long ago still rings.

"I wouldn't say that everyone should just stop what they're doing and pay attention to the Atlanta Braves," McCarthy said. "But I think everyone in here realizes that we're pretty good."

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.

Atlanta Braves, Ozzie Albies, Mike Foltynewicz, Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Nick Markakis, Sean Newcomb

These relievers are most likely options to start

Romo's success could lead other teams to experiment
MLB.com @mike_petriello

The Rays may or may not have ushered in a "new era" when they started reliever Sergio Romo on back-to-back days against the Angels over the weekend, but what they surely did was prove that the idea had merit. Romo, facing a righty-heavy Halos lineup, struck out six of the nine batters he faced in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After he dispatched with the quality top half of the Angels' lineup, Ryan Yarbrough and Matt Andriese were able to enter to start with the weaker bottom half.

If Romo had gone out and gotten hit hard, it would have set the idea back by years. You might never see a team try it again. But he didn't. It worked. Now the relevant question isn't "will we see this again?" it's "who is going to do it next?" It won't just be Tampa Bay. Not now.

The Rays may or may not have ushered in a "new era" when they started reliever Sergio Romo on back-to-back days against the Angels over the weekend, but what they surely did was prove that the idea had merit. Romo, facing a righty-heavy Halos lineup, struck out six of the nine batters he faced in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After he dispatched with the quality top half of the Angels' lineup, Ryan Yarbrough and Matt Andriese were able to enter to start with the weaker bottom half.

If Romo had gone out and gotten hit hard, it would have set the idea back by years. You might never see a team try it again. But he didn't. It worked. Now the relevant question isn't "will we see this again?" it's "who is going to do it next?" It won't just be Tampa Bay. Not now.

"I'm intrigued to see how it's going to continue to work, because I'm confident we're going to do it," said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "It might not just be Sergio. It might be Jonny Venters. It depends."

It's not as simple as "take a reliever and throw him out in the first inning," however. Tampa Bay's strategy worked because it satisfied three important conditions.

Video: TB@LAA: Romo K's 3 in second straight scoreless start

1. Romo is very strong against righties, and easily hit by lefties.
No team has given fewer plate appearances to lefties in the first four spots in the order this year than the Angels have, almost guaranteeing he'd face righty hitters. By doing it this way, you're getting the best possible version of Romo -- the one that's allowed a .194/.263/.387 to righties since the start of 2017, not the one that's allowed a .272/.372/.438 to lefties.

2. The Angels are one of baseball's weakest-hitting lefty teams, leaving them unable to adapt.
If the Halos had moved up struggling lefty Kole Calhoun (.161/.199/.203) to ensure Romo faced a lefty and thus ended up giving Calhoun more plate appearances than Mike Trout, Justin Upton or Andrelton Simmons, that's a big win for the Rays in and of itself. (Notably, Shohei Ohtani was unavailable as a hitter on both days.)

3. The Rays don't have five strong starters.
Tampa Bay has had, at times, a three-man and four-man rotation. A team like the Astros, for example, who are on a potentially historic rotation run, wouldn't bother trying to do this. It's not worth it.

It has to make sense on both sides, is the point. Houston won't bump Justin Verlander to start Joe Smith, no matter what the numbers say. No one is going to do this against a balanced top of the lineup like the Cubs have, with lefties Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, righties Kris Bryant, Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez, and switch-hitter Ben Zobrist. And it has to be the right kind of reliever -- you're never going to see an elite closer like Craig Kimbrel doing this.

So which are the next best matchups to watch? Let's try to repeat the Rays' thought process.

Vulnerable offenses

The Angels were really the perfect candidate, loaded as they were with righty batters and without a good lefty hitter to move up.

Highest righty plate appearance percentage in the lineup's top four spots
Angels (97 percent)
Astros (95 percent)
Orioles (88 percent)
Cardinals (72 percent)

You can see why the Angels were so appealing, but they're not the only ones. Save for the rare appearance from Josh Reddick, the top Astros' four spots are primarily handled by righties George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Since the start of 2017, they've hit .297/.367/.495 (.367 wOBA) against righties, and .320/.403/.535 (.397 wOBA) against lefties. It's not a huge difference -- they're great regardless -- but it's something.

Perhaps more interesting are the Orioles, who head to St. Petersburg this weekend to face the Rays, and the Cardinals. Baltimore has baseball's weakest group of lefty hitters, thanks in part to Chris Davis hitting .166/.241/.272. Much like the Angels with Calhoun, if starting a righty motivates the O's to give Davis (or Jace Peterson, or Chance Sisco) more plate appearances than Manny Machado, Adam Jones or Trey Mancini, all the better.

Video: KC@BAL: Kennedy strikes out Davis to retire the side

The Cards, meanwhile, are the only team in baseball without a lefty hitter within even 10 percent of league average, thanks to the struggles of Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong. You start a tough righty to attack Tommy Pham, Marcell Ozuna and Jose Martinez, and you almost hope it makes them keep Carpenter (.194/.321/.351) up high.

Though Cash said Venters was an option, this might not work as well for lefties. The teams with the highest concentrations of lefty batters atop the lineup are the Braves (who now have righty Ronald Acuna Jr. hitting second behind switch-hitter Ozzie Albies) and the Indians (who have switch-hitters Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez around lefty Michael Brantley and righty Edwin Encarnacion).

The Rangers might be an exception, given that without Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus, they don't have a single righty hitter near league-average. Then again, Nomar Mazara is their only healthy league-average hitter of any hand, so the American League's weakest offense may struggle regardless.

Opportunistic pitchers

So we know which teams might be most affected by this. Which teams are best suited to take advantage?

It should probably be an AL team (or a National League team playing at an AL park), given that they won't have to worry about running out of pinch-hitters with today's short benches. Then again, it doesn't have to be. If an NL team has to have a pitcher hit, it is no worse off than before. They could have a better-hitting pitcher on a day off, like Madison Bumgarner, take some swings. It doesn't rule them out.

There's not necessarily a scientific way to do this, or a perfect approach. The way we chose was a simple one. We eliminated the Astros, obviously; they're the only team with five healthy, unmovable starters.

Then we looked at righty relievers, specifically those who (since the start of 2017) have shown above-average performance against righties. (Remember, Romo isn't a great pitcher against all hitters, but Romo against righties is a pitcher you want.) We defined that as having faced at least 100 hitters, with a wOBA below .290. (The average righty reliever on righty batter wOBA in that time is .305).

We knocked out closers who will never do this, like Kenley Jansen, Kimbrel and Brandon Morrow, a few who are currently injured or having poor seasons, like Tommy Kahnle, Darren O'Day and Pat Neshek, or high-leverage setup men like Joe Kelly or Archie Bradley. We're still left with kind of a large list. That's sort of the point, though. As nice a career as Romo has had, he's not terribly unique. It's not hard to find relievers like him. Almost every team should have one or more like him.

This isn't meant to be a fully exhaustive list. You'll certainly find other candidates. Our best bets to do this soon, however, are …

AL
Romo (Rays)
Chad Green, David Robertson (Yankees)
Matt Barnes (Red Sox)
Ryan Tepera, Seunghwan Oh (Blue Jays)
Yusmeiro Petit (A's)
Jose Leclerc (Rangers)
Ryan Pressly, Addison Reed (Twins)

Video: MIN@TB: Pressly strikes out Hechavarria in the 4th

NL
Peter Moylan (Braves)
Steve Cishek (Cubs)
David Hernandez (Reds)
Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia (Phillies)
Craig Stammen, Kirby Yates (Padres)
Josh Fields (Dodgers)
Paul Sewald (Mets)
John Brebbia (Cardinals)
Cory Gearrin (Giants)

Again, not a full and comprehensive list. But if the soft-tossing veteran righty Romo can start against a top of the lineup that includes Trout, why couldn't Moylan? Or Cishek?

Series to watch

As you can see, there's plenty of reliever options, and we're only looking at righties. You could probably come up with a good matchup for every day for the remainder of the season.

We're not going to do that, however. We're going to look for what could or should happen right now, such as whether the Blue Jays ought to follow the Rays' lead against the Angels this week. Instead of starting lefty J.A. Happ on Tuesday, why not start with Tepera or Oh?

Looking ahead to next weekend, Romo and the Rays repeating the trick against the Orioles seems almost too perfect not to happen. The Yankees welcome the Angels to the Bronx, and may have the benefit of an Ohtani-free lineup, given that he's likely to pitch. Why not start Robertson?

We don't know who will do it next, or where. We just know it will happen soon, because the temptation of turning a decent reliever into a good one against a known lineup where pinch-hitting is almost ceratinly not going to happen is tempting. People have been talking about this idea for years. The Rays finally made it happen.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Sergio Romo

11 players who could move at Trade Deadline

MLB.com @feinsand

As the calendar approaches Memorial Day, the trade season is drawing near. We're into the second quarter of the season, and although the bulk of the summer deals won't take place for two more months, there's always the possibility of a contender jumping the market in an attempt to separate itself from the pack.

So which players should we expect to see in new uniforms between now and July 31? Here's an early look at some names to watch:

As the calendar approaches Memorial Day, the trade season is drawing near. We're into the second quarter of the season, and although the bulk of the summer deals won't take place for two more months, there's always the possibility of a contender jumping the market in an attempt to separate itself from the pack.

So which players should we expect to see in new uniforms between now and July 31? Here's an early look at some names to watch:

Manny Machado, SS, Orioles
The Orioles' superstar was the subject of myriad trade rumors this offseason, and given Baltimore's deep hole in the American League East, Machado's name has already been the most popular on the rumor mill this season. A three-time All-Star who won't turn 26 until July, Machado will be one of the top free agents available next offseason. The O's are a long shot to retain him beyond 2018, so rather than settling for Draft-pick compensation, Baltimore will likely shop him to the highest bidder for the stretch run with the hope of landing two or three blue-chip prospects in return.
Potential fits: Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, D-backs

Video: TOR@NYM: Donaldson drives in a run with a single

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays' path to October won't be easy, especially after their recent 1-7 slide. The Yankees and Red Sox are pulling away in the division, meaning Toronto's best-case scenario would be to join a crowd of a half-dozen teams vying for the second AL Wild Card spot. If the season takes a turn for the worse, the Blue Jays could move Donaldson -- a pending free agent unlikely to sign back with Toronto -- to a contender and promote top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is knocking at the door to take over at third base. Left-hander J.A. Happ could also be on the block if the Jays become a seller.
Potential fits: Braves, Cardinals, Indians

Video: MIN@LAA: Dozier opens the scoring with a solo homer

Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins
Dozier looked to be on the trade block before the 2017 season, but the Twins held on to the former All-Star as they made a surprising run to an AL Wild Card berth last year. Minnesota is hoping for a return trip to October, but given the team's subpar start, the progress being made by Nick Gordon (No. 4 on the team's Top 30 prospect list according to MLB Pipeline) in the Minors and Dozier's expiring contract, the Twins could move the soon-to-be 31-year-old by midsummer if October appears to be a long shot.
Potential fits: Brewers, Indians, Rockies

Video: NYY@KC: Herrera strikes out Gardner to collect save

Kelvin Herrera, RHP, Royals
The Royals watched Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain leave town this offseason, and while they have a number of players on one-year deals, Herrera will be headed to free agency for the first time after the season. We know how valuable relievers tend to be as the Trade Deadline approaches, so Herrera -- a two-time All-Star off to a fantastic start in 2018 -- could be one of the bigger bullpen arms available. Given Kansas City's last-place standing in the AL Central, the club figures to be one of the first teams to start selling.
Potential fits: Astros, Angels, Nationals

Zach Britton, LHP, Orioles
Speaking of relievers, Britton has the potential to be one of the more interesting players to watch as July 31 approaches. The Dodgers and Astros flirted with the Orioles last summer but ultimately passed on Britton, who hasn't pitched in a game this season as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon. The two-time All-Star is due back in early June, making him a prime trade candidate if the free-agent-to-be shows he can return to his previous form. Fellow Baltimore bullpenner Brad Brach -- another player with an expiring contract -- could also be on the move.
Potential fits: Astros, Dodgers, Angels

Video: TB@LAA: Colome records the save in the 5-3 win

Alex Colome, RHP, Rays
We finish our reliever run with Colome, the Rays' closer, who was the subject of myriad rumors during the offseason. The right-hander got off to a miserable start to 2018, but he's bounced back over the past month, converting all six of his save opportunities while posting 1.32 ERA and a 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 appearances. Tampa Bay is hanging in the AL Wild Card race, but if that changes, Colome could become the latest player shipped out by the Rays.
Potential fits: Angels, Dodgers, Nationals

Video: NYY@KC: Moustakas breaks bat, collects RBI

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
If the Royals become early sellers as suggested above, Moustakas could find himself playing for a contender down the stretch. The third baseman struggled to find a job this offseason before settling on a one-year, $5.5 million pact with Kansas City, and although there's a $15 million mutual option, it comes with an affordable $1 million buyout. Moustakas -- who already has 10 home runs and a solid .861 OPS -- might welcome a trade, giving him a chance to put his talent on display for a new team in what would be meaningful games. Either way, he won't be eligible to get a qualifying offer after the season, making it easier for him to sign next offseason.
Potential fits: Braves, Cardinals, Mets

Video: TEX@HOU: Hamels tosses 6 shutout innings vs. Astros

Cole Hamels, LHP, Rangers
Last summer, Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray were all moved to contenders, helping the Astros, Dodgers and Yankees go deep into the postseason. This year's crop of available starters doesn't figure to include any big-name front-line starters, leaving the 34-year-old Hamels as potentially the top arm on the market. Hamels might not be the same pitcher he was a couple years ago, but the Texas southpaw would still serve as a quality No. 2 or 3 starter for most contenders and has the postseason experience -- including National League Championship Series and World Series MVP Awards -- that teams covet every October.
Potential fits: Yankees, Angels, Brewers

Video: OAK@TOR: Davis homers on 4-hit night vs. Blue Jays

Khris Davis, LF, A's
The Athletics are in the mix in the loaded AL West, but they face an uphill battle when it comes to a postseason berth. We've seen the club deal big-name players for packages of prospects as they approach the final years before free agency, and given that Davis has only one more arbitration-eligible season before becoming a free agent at the end of 2019, Oakland could turn his powerful bat into a haul of young players.
Potential fits: Nationals, Mariners, D-backs

Video: TB@LAA: Archer strikes out five over 6 2/3 scoreless

Chris Archer, RHP, Rays and Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers
We'll group these two together as they are similar in a lot of ways, as young right-handers who are both under team control for a few years. The thin starting-pitching market makes both look attractive despite their respective performances declining the past three seasons. Archer has a 5.01 ERA in 10 starts, which would be a career high, while Fulmer's 4.35 ERA would also be the worst of his three big league seasons. On a positive note, Archer is under control through 2021 and owed just $27.5 million from 2019-21. Fulmer also comes with multiple years of control; '19 will be the first of his four arbitration-eligible seasons. It will likely take a sizeable package to pry either of these controllable arms away from their teams, so unless Archer and/or Fulmer begin pitching to their capabilities, it's tough to see any team paying that freight.
Potential fits: Brewers, Yankees, Angels, D-backs, Mariners

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.

Chris Archer, Zach Britton, Alex Colome, Khris Davis, Josh Donaldson, Brian Dozier, Michael Fulmer, Cole Hamels, Kelvin Herrera, Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas

2B Travis recalled, signaling Blue Jays' SS plan

MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Devon Travis is back in the Major Leagues after the Blue Jays recalled the second baseman from Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday afternoon.

Toronto had an open spot on the 25-man roster after infielder Richard Urena was optioned to the Bisons following Sunday's loss to the A's. By promoting Travis, the Blue Jays appear set to go with the duo of Gio Urshela and Yangervis Solarte at shortstop.

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TORONTO -- Devon Travis is back in the Major Leagues after the Blue Jays recalled the second baseman from Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday afternoon.

Toronto had an open spot on the 25-man roster after infielder Richard Urena was optioned to the Bisons following Sunday's loss to the A's. By promoting Travis, the Blue Jays appear set to go with the duo of Gio Urshela and Yangervis Solarte at shortstop.

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Travis was optioned to the Minors on April 29 after a rough first month with the Blue Jays. The 27-year-old appeared in 14 games with the Bisons and slashed .210/.234/.274 with two extra-base hits and four RBIs. Travis finished on an eight-game hitting streak, but he also did not have any multihit games during that stretch.

Toronto shortstops Troy Tulowitzki and Aledmys Diaz are on the disabled list. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Urena each had an opportunity to secure the starting job prior to the Blue Jays' move.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Devon Travis