Spring training questions: Atlanta Braves

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Will Jair Jurrjens be OK for the start of the season after showing up to camp with a bum shoulder?
Jurrjens, who finished third in the NL with a 2.60 ERA last season, reported soreness immediately after reporting to spring training. An MRI turned up no structural damage, and the Braves are currently cautiously optimistic that he’ll be ready on time. Whether the story ends there will be determined over the next several weeks. Jurrjens has a clean delivery, but he’s thrown a lot of pitches for someone who just turned 24 last month. With their lack of starting pitching depth, the Braves would be hard-pressed if they lost him for any length of time.
2. Is Jason Heyward ready to take over as the everyday right fielder?
The games haven’t even started, yet the hype machine is working overtime already. Some thought that Heyward, baseball’s best position prospect, should have been given a callup in the second half of last year. He ended up hitting .323/.408/.555 in a season spent mostly at Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi. The now 20-year-old Heyward bulked up over the winter and has reportedly been crushing the ball in batting practice. He’s advanced enough as a hitter that few doubt he’d be able to hold his own in the majors right away. Whether he’s really enough of an upgrade over Melky Cabrera to make it worth carrying him on Opening Day is another question, particularly once the financial ramifications are taking into account (by keeping him in the minors for another two months, the Braves could delay his arbitration and free agency eligibility by a year).
So, yeah, I think Heyward is probably ready to be an average or maybe an above average regular for the Braves. But given that Cabrera is a pretty average regular himself, the team may want to give Heyward the Tommy Hanson treatment anyway. Hanson was kept in the minors last year just long enough to ensure that he wouldn’t be super-two eligible after 2011.
3. Will the Braves have to go get themselves one more pitcher?
This really goes along with the first two questions. As is, the Braves rotation fallbacks are disappointing left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes and right-hander Kris Medlen, who should be a key cog in the bullpen. Unlike most seasons, there aren’t any quality prospects ready to step in, though I think Medlen would do just fine if needed. Also complicating the matter is that Reyes is out of options and might be picked up by another team unless the Braves opt to carry him as a reliever.
In a perfect world, the Braves would have one more rotation option behind Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami. And they have a seemingly ideal trade candidate in Cabrera if they opt to make Heyward their right fielder. Should the right situation arise next month, the Braves may well use Cabrera to improve their depth elsewhere. Or it’s something they could try to do in June, though Cabrera’s value would take a hit if he plays behind Heyward.

Astros clinch postseason berth with 11-3 win over Angels

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No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.

First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.

On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.

Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.