Three Cuts: Upton homers highlight doubleheader win
Battling cold weather and carrying the weight of a three-game losing streak, the Braves jumped all over the Rockies in Tuesday’s doubleheader, winning 4-3 and 10-2, respectively. Here are three observations from the day’s action:
1. Uptons are making history — again
Back in 1938, when Paul and Lloyd Waner — nicknamed “Big Poison” and “Little Poison”, respectively, for what it’s worth — were patrolling the outfield of the expansive Forbes Field, then the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, home runs came at a premium. The two brothers combined to hit just 140 homers in 38 total seasons. But they did hit back-to-back fence-clearing shots one September day against the Giants — and no brothers had matched the feat ever since.
Until Justin and B.J. Upton Tuesday night.
With zero outs in the top of the fifth inning, B.J., the older of the two Upton brothers, stepped to the plate and sent a Jon Garland pitch out over the left field fence. It was his third home run in what has been an underwhelming start to his tenure in Atlanta’s center field spot. His solo celebration would be short-lived, though, as his younger brother would quickly follow suit for his MLB-leading 11th home run in 2013.
The 25-year-old outfielder is now averaging a home run every 6.8 at-bats. (Not to mention the fact that he’s on pace to hit 89 home runs, which will remain ridiculous until a 10-game homer-less streak brings that number back to Earth.)
“Boy oh boy has he had a great April so far,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s a very, very good player.”
And there it was: the first brothers to hit back-to-back home runs since FDR was in office.
“It didn’t feel any different,” said Justin, who now owns the Braves’ franchise record for April home runs in a single season. “He went deep and I got up there and got a good pitch to hit and did the same thing, … We were talking about how cold it was.”
Regardless of B.J.’s early struggles, the Braves’ (15-5) offseason acquisition of the two outfield relatives has paid off handsomely this month. On nights like Tuesday in Colorado, when observing Upton Mania, it’s hard to believe the Poison Brothers’ 1938 record will be the last to fall during the Upton Era.
2. The Braves’ pitching dominance continued even in cold weather
Mike Minor walked out in 23-degree weather at Coors Field Tuesday afternoon without sleeves, sporting his regular uniform. It looked miserable. But he insisted, justifying the affront to personal comfort by saying he had pitched poorly in sleeves in the past.
The sleeves-no sleeves issue turned out to be a non-issue, though, as he recovered from early mistakes to hold a dynamic Rockies (13-7) offense to three runs in six innings. It was his worst outing to date this season — five hits, two walks and five strikeouts — but it was enough to earn his third win as the team’s bats began to wake up.
However, Minor’s (3-1) solid performance was lapped by Julio Teheran in the nightcap — the same Julio Teheran who had just gotten his first glimpse of snow for the first time just hours before.
But in what must have been one of the coldest outings of the rookie’s career, he was brilliant.
In a career-best performance, the 22-year-old allowed just one earned run on eight hits and no walks in seven innings. For the effort, he earned his first win of the season, just the second of his career. It should be mentioned, too, that he remains the only undefeated Braves starter — Atlanta has won all four of his starts, largely due to the 28 runs its scored in those games.
“He did a nice job,” Gonzalez said. “You see him getting better and better. And we keep running him out there. And for him to pitch at this field in these conditions for a young pitcher I think he did a nice job. … This is not an easy place to pitch with the altitude and the cold.”
If Teheran is beginning to figure it out — keep in mind that this Rockies lineup had scored 103 runs (third-most in baseball) entering the day — then that makes an already formidable Braves pitching staff that much more dangerous.
Even after playing two games in hitter-friendly Coors Field, the team’s ERA jumped up just two points — to 2.38. That’s still the best in baseball, by a long shot.
3. The “Nos. 6-8 Hitters” storyline refuses to go away
Though the Braves added six more home runs to their April-long powerfest, it was the back end of the lineup that delivered once more on Tuesday.
Entering the Rockies series, only the No. 3 spot (Justin Upton) had posted a better 2013 average than the Nos. 6-8 spots in the lineup. Little changed in Denver.
In all, the back end of the Braves’ lineup (excluding Minor and Teheran) combined to hit 12-for-26 with six RBI and five runs.
And it still didn’t matter who they plugged back there. In Game One, Gonzalez went with an Evan Gattis-Dan Uggla-Reed Johnson lead-in to the pitcher’s spot. Johnson delivered with a four-hit game and both Gattis and Uggla hit home runs. In Game Two, Gerald Laird, Andrelton Simmons and Jordan Schafer tallied two hits apiece.
This has to regress to the mean eventually, right? . . . Right?