- Associated Press - Sunday, July 31, 2011

ATLANTA (AP) - While other NL contenders beefed up for the playoffs, the Atlanta Braves seemed to keep missing out on players who could’ve boosted their hopes.

Turns out, they landed the guy they wanted all along.

Atlanta acquired speedy outfielder Michael Bourn from the Houston Astros on Sunday in a five-player deal, giving the Braves their first true leadoff hitter in at least six years.

The Astros received outfielder Jordan Schafer and three minor league pitchers, but the Braves didn’t give up any of their top pitching prospects.


“We haven’t had that kind of threat in the top of our lineup in a long time,” said third baseman Chipper Jones, one of the numerous Braves slowed by injuries.

Bourn is hitting .303 and leads the majors with 39 stolen bases. He goes from the last-place Astros to a playoff-contending team that has one of baseball’s best pitching staffs, but was downright desperate for offensive help because of various ailments and lackluster performances.

Bourn sure fills a need. The Braves haven’t had a prototypical leadoff hitter since Rafael Furcal left after the 2005 season.

“I’m excited,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He makes the defense do things they don’t want to do. Pitchers are going to throw pitches they don’t want to throw.”

The Braves could’ve used Bourn right away. They lost to Florida 3-1 on Sunday despite 13 hits, dropping six games behind Philadelphia in the NL East.

Atlanta leads the wild-card race and has been pursuing an outfielder for weeks, watching as the Phillies acquired Hunter Pence from the Astros and defending World Series champion San Francisco landed Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets.

Atlanta general manager Frank Wren said he asked about both Beltran and Pence but felt Bourn was a better fit. Dan Uggla has bounced back from a dismal first half, lessening the need to acquire a right-handed power hitter. The slugging second baseman has a 22-game hitting streak and has reached 20 homers for the sixth year in a row, though he’s still batting in the low .200s.

“We did not go to the mat to get Pence,” Wren said. “If we had gone to the mat for Pence, we would have gotten him.”

As for Beltran, Wren said he wasn’t interested in giving up top prospects for a player in the final year of his contract.

“We could have had Beltran if we’d have given them the player they wanted,” Wren said. “We’re not going to do that for a rental.”

He called Bourn “a perfect fit” on a team that ranked 14th in the NL in stolen bases but has one of the league’s best pitching staffs. Plus, he’s not eligible for free agency until after next season.

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