Three up, three down: J. Upton on power trip
Rockies off to best start in franchise history; A's maintain winning ways
Up: Justin Upton
OK, six games into his Atlanta Braves career, and Upton has five home runs. The exclamation point came Saturday night, when brother B.J. led off the bottom of the ninth with a game-tying home run off Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol, and one out later, Justin delivered the walk-off shot in the Braves' 6-5 victory. That was Justin's fifth home run of the season, which equals his career best in April, and there are 20 games remaining on the Braves' April schedule.
Upton had five home runs in April of 2008 -- all against Colorado -- and five again in 2011. He, however, only had 14 April home runs total in his five previous Aprils. And now Justin Upton and the Braves head to Miami for the Marlins' home opener. The last two seasons, Upton has hit .402 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 13 games against Miami. And that was with Arizona.
His new team, Atlanta, was 37-17 with a 2.67 ERA against Miami without Upton the last three years. That includes going 14-4 with a 2.00 ERA a year ago, when the Braves were held to two or fewer runs in 12 of 18 games against Miami, which opened this year with a 1-5 trip against the Mets and Nationals.
Down: Pittsburgh Pirates
Looking to snap that 20-year losing streak, the Pirates stumbled in the opening week. They lost two of three at home to the Cubs, and were the victim of the one save Marmol recorded before the Braves knocked him out of the Cubs' closer role.
Then, the Pirates went to Dodger Stadium, where they were not only swept, but were limited to two runs. The runs came on Andrew McCutchen's two-run home run in the top of the first on Sunday. That home run saved the Pirates from being shut out in three consecutive games for the first time since August of 1968.
It didn't, however, provide much of a lead. The Dodgers tied the game at 2 in the bottom of the inning. Shouldn't have been a total surprise. The Dodgers have won 11 of their last 12 games against the Pirates and eight in a row against the Bucs at Dodger Stadium, the club'?longest home winning streak against Pittsburgh since winning 11 straight from June 14, 1977 to July 29, 1978. Now, the Pirates head to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks, who are tied with Colorado for the NL West lead at 5-1, and are coming off a weekend sweep in Milwaukee.
The Pirates are last in the Majors with a .119 average, and eight runs scored. That's equals the fifth-fewest runs scored in the first six games of a season, according to Stats, Inc. The 1963 New York Mets scored six runs in their first six games, and the 1943 Cincinnati Reds, 1919 St. Louis Cardinals and 1907 Brooklyn Superbas scored only seven runs.
Up: Colorado Rockies
Coming off the worst season in franchise history and with the only key offseason additions being setup reliever Wilton Lopez and starting pitcher Jon Garland, coming back nearly two years after shoulder surgery, the Rockies have equaled the best start in franchise history.
They won five of their first six games, and the lone loss was in the season opener at Milwaukee, when Lopez blew an eighth-inning lead. They are 5-1 for the second time, as the 1995 club started 7-1 en route to claiming the first NL Wild Card in the Rockies' third year of existence.
It may only be a week into the season, but the Rockies are in first place (tied with Arizona) for the first time since May 18, 2011. And while they lead the Majors with a .333 average (Baltimore is second at .301) and 13 home runs (Oakland has 12), the key has been a pitching staff that ranks fourth in the NL with a 2.80 ERA.
Now, however, comes a challenge. After their first Coors Field sweep of San Diego since April 2003, the Rockies open a three-game series on Monday night at San Francisco, where they are 54-107 all-time, their worst record in any NL city other than Atlanta. They have won a season series in San Francisco only twice in their 20 years of existence, and were a combined 10-26 the last four years.
Down: Seattle Mariners
Well, the Mariners finally get to play their home opener on Monday night, and they will be hosting a Houston team that, after winning its season opener, has lost five in a row and scored only nine runs (going 6-for-29 with runners in scoring position). Don't, however celebrate, too early.
The Mariners have lost four of their last five, including Felix Hernandez giving up a two-run home run to Alex Rios that rallied the Chicago White Sox to a 4-3 win on Saturday. Yes, Houston has struck out at least 10 times in each of the first six games, including the opposing pitcher matching or setting a career high, but the Astros will call on Philip Humber for the Mariners' home opener.
Big deal? Well, Humber will be facing the Mariners for the first time in 352 days since he pitched a perfect game for the White Sox at Seattle. Humber is 4-6 since that game with a 7.04 ERA. The Mariners will have to rely on scouting reports against an Astros team with only three players who ever had an at-bat at Safeco -- Carlos Pena, Chris Carter and Ronny Cedeno.
Up: Oakland A's
The A's haven't slowed down since the 2012 season ended. Remember a year ago. They were 13 games out of first place in the AL West at the end of June with a 37-42 record, and finished up June by losing three in a row to Texas.
Talk about a turnaround. The A's went 19-5 in the month of July, sparking a 57-26 surge to the end of the season. They finished with a sweep of Seattle, allowing the A's to claim a division title despite spending only three days in first place (the second day of their season and the final two days of the season).
The A's started off in an ugly way this year, losing their first two games to Seattle, and scoring just one run. They, however, have won five in a row since, including a three-game sweep at Houston, allowing the A's to regain their spot atop the AL West. A's shortstop Jed Lowrie, who had the same job with Houston a year ago, had two home runs among his seven hits in his return as a visitor at Minute Maid Park. The A's ERA is 2.86, and just as importantly they led the AL in runs scored (38) and home runs (12) entering Monday's games.
Down: Matt Cain
The Giants' right-hander needed only 30 pitches to get through the first three innings against the Cardinals on Sunday. He threw 34 more pitches in the fourth inning, but only got two more outs. Cain, however, did allow nine earned runs, giving up seven hits and two walks, equaling the most earned runs allowed in an inning, according to Stats, Inc.
The nine runs allowed by Cain were the most -- earned or unearned -- allowed in an inning since Ernie Shore with the New York Giants gave up 10 runs in an inning in his Major League debut in 1912. Seven of the runs allowed by Cronin, however, were unearned. Cronin did not return to the big leagues until 1914, with the Boston Red Sox, and wound up 65-43 with a 2.47 ERA during a career that included four years with the Red Sox and two years with the New York Yankees.
Cain has allowed nine runs in a game only one other time, and that was also against St. Louis, as Busch Stadium, on April 18, 2008. The three-time All-Star has finished in the top 10 in the NL in ERA in the four years in between nine-run explosions.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.