Three Cuts: Braves rout D-backs in Upton homecoming

Here are three things we learned from the Braves’ 10-1 road rout of the Diamondbacks, otherwise known as Justin Upton’s successful Arizona homecoming:

1. So much for debating the pratfalls of Upton returning to the desert so early in the season

Upton (one triple shy of the cycle on Monday) must have been focused like a laser for this one, racking up two runs, two RBI and four hits against his former team — including a two-run homer off Josh Collmenter in the sixth inning, raising the Braves’ lead to 5-0.

For good measure, brother B.J. Upton also scored on the moon shot to center field.

Obviously, one game isn’t enough to quantify the winners/losers of a blockbuster trade — especially since the Diamondbacks (21-18) might not see a return on prospects Brandon Drury, Nick Ahmed or Zeke Spruill for a year or two.

But Atlanta’s end of Upton (MLB-best 13 homers) and third baseman Chris Johnson (three hits, three RBI on Monday) has been absurdly good to date, with the pair leading a young, athletic and experienced club that’s primed for a title run.

“(The crowd reaction) was mixed and that was what I expected,” Upton told The Associated Press after the game. From 2007-12, the Diamondbacks’ homegrown star (No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft) accounted for 108 homers and 363 RBI in the majors.

“It is what it is. I tried to have fun with it. This time, the fans
were yelling at me instead of cheering me, but it was good.”


2. B.J. Upton’s outfield assist/double play in the first inning was a real game-changer

Oh sure, his letter-perfect toss from center field — nailing ex-Brave Martin Prado at the plate off a sacrifice attempt — doesn’t seem like much, in hindsight.

But keep in mind, the Diamondbacks were up 1-0 at the time (thanks to Paul Goldschmidt’s homer) and looking for an edge — any distinctive pull of momentum — on this emotional night (thanks to Justin Upton’s return).

From an Arizona perspective, it did change things … for the worse.

After a shaky first inning, Atlanta starter Mike Minor settled down and helped spur his team to its 22nd victory. In fact, of Minor’s seven innings, Arizona didn’t send more than five batters to the plate at any time.

For B.J. Upton (1 for 2 on Monday), he’s experiencing the upside to playing in a patient market like Atlanta. Yes, he’s batting .151 and serving as the poster boy to an underwhelming free-agent class … but in the South, the slow start isn’t really a hot-button issue on May 13.

Especially when he’s saving games for a first-place team … with his arms, legs or any other valuable appendage.

Speaking of which …

Upton kick-started the Braves’ four-run sixth with a hit-by-pitch, which prompted Justin’s two-run homer. Next, a Freddie Freeman double, Evan Gattis walk, Brian McCann single and eventual double from Chris Johnson (who homered in the 5th) completed the seven-run blitz over two innings.

By then, Monday’s result was largely academic.

3. Minor’s outings have essentially been carbon copies of one another — and that’s a good thing

Outside of wondering when Minor — who crossed the 350-inning threshold for his  career on Monday — will get a chance at his first complete game in the majors, there isn’t much to lament here:

At 25 and in his fourth season, Minor (one run allowed, four strikeouts in 6.2 victorious innings) has evolved into a rock-solid asset at the highest level, and quite possibly, one of the best No. 3 starters in baseball.

In fact, the way things are progressing, Minor (5-2, 2.76 ERA) could be on that conversation list of potential all-stars sometime around July 1.

But first things first … since the Braves haven’t even passed the quarter-pole mark of the season (they’ll do so on Wednesday). Plus, Minor has yet to replicate last September’s all-world showing (4-0, 0.87 ERA, 0.71 WHIP), as expected.

Jokes aside, Minor has fostered an excellent start to 2013, surrendering three or less runs in seven of eight outings. And from a walks perspective, the southpaw’s a perfect 8 for 8 with delivering three or less free passes.

Looking ahead, Minor will likely draw starts against the Dodgers, Mets, Blue Jays, Pirates and Padres over the next three weeks, making him a viable candidate for double-digit wins by Fathers’ Day, or soon after that.