ATLANTA -- Sometimes baseball is about more than the cold, hard stats; it can be affected by interpersonal relationships, clubhouse chemistry and brotherhood.
For the Braves' Justin and B.J. Upton, brotherhood might be the key to reaching their long-awaited potential, statistically speaking.
Justin's five-homer start to the season certainly makes owners kick themselves for not selecting him much earlier in drafts. He hit a walk-off homer Saturday night to become the first player in history to hit five homers in his first five games with an organization. B.J. also hit a home run earlier that same inning to tie the game, making them only the fourth pair of brothers to hit homers for the same team in the same inning, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"It's a great way to start off my time here," said Justin, who's bat cooled off on Sunday night, when he went 0-for-4 against the Cubs.
Because Justin's value is near its zenith, it might be too late to try to pry this 2013 breakthrough away from his fantasy owner, but it might be reason to enough to work a deal right now for the slow-starting B.J. Upton. Or consider a deal for Jason Heyward, from whom we might see a huge breakthrough. He hits at the center of an Upton sandwich in the Braves' lineup -- B.J. leads off, Heyward his second and Justin's third. There's a reason why the Braves' stacked outfield is being called Up, Up and a Hey!
While Justin has soared in the early going, B.J. has struggled, starting 0-for-16 until Saturday night, when he hit a single in the seventh and game-tying homer in the ninth. He followed up by going 1-for-2 with two walks and two steals Sunday.
"If you're a competitor and hold yourself to standards, obviously, something like is going to bother you," said B.J. "It's a long season and you just got to keep your head and keep grinding and eventually it will come back."
"It was a small struggle in the entire scheme of things," said Justin about his brother's rough start. "A lot of hitters go hitless in four games and no one says a thing."
When things go wrong during the game, it's nice to know your brother in the locker next to you has your back. And as far as any rivalry between them, there's none of that with the Uptons.
"We can help each other a lot," said B.J. "We're a lot alike but we're a little different. There's certain things he can pick up off of me and certain things I can pick up off of him. [...] We're happy to be on the same team and we'll both do anything we can to help this team win."
Listening to each of them talk about the other, it sounds like they are merely teammates, not blood. We all know better, though. Behind closed doors, they are teammates with an unbreakable bond -- one that can lift them both to those huge expectations we've had for years.
No 'wait 'til next year' for Samardzija
The Cubs are always a Wait 'Til Next Year team, but Jeff Samardzija's time appears to be now. He followed up his inspiring Opening Day victory over the Pirates with a remarkable 13 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings Sunday in Atlanta.
While media was buzzing with talk of a Kerry Wood/Roger Clemens (twice) record of 20, Samardzija was more concerned with how the game was getting away from him.
"You can't walk the pitcher and give up a hit with the bases loaded," Samardzija lamented afterward, recapping what had been shaping up as a great outing.
Samardzija walked Tim Hudson after giving up a double to Ramiro Pena with two out in the fifth, and then gave up his first run (amid 11 strikeouts) on back-to-back wild pitches. As frustrating as that was with the stuff he has, Samardzija came completely unraveled in the sixth after a questionable hit-by-pitch loaded the bases. Pena, again doing the damage, followed with a two-out, two-run single. Michael Bowden then took over and gave up the starter's fourth and final run by allowing an RBI single to Hudson.
Despite the strikeout total, even a smooth sixth wouldn't have helped him. His pitch count was already going to keep him away from history anyway.
"That's not a record you shoot for," he said, laughing off the question about whether he thought about 20 strikeouts when he had 12 through five. "Your pitch count gets high with strikeouts. I'm looking to stay in the game longer."
The good news, amid the loss, is that Samardzija looks capable of a huge season. Assuming he surpasses 200 innings for the first time -- he reached 174 2/3 last season -- we might be looking at 230-250 strikeouts. His pace looks like he might be a 300-strikeout candidate, but that sixth inning showed the second-year starter has some maturing to do. He lost his composure on the hit-by-pitch, coming all the way to home plate to argue the call. The game-changing hit followed the heated exchange.
"I wasn't too big of a fan of the hit-by-pitch right there," Samardzija said. "But I came right back against the next hitter and put my pitches where they needed to be."
If he had only been able to laugh off the ump's judgment call like he did the 20-strikeout thoughts, he might have been able to smother the rally. That is the subtle difference between a veteran like Hudson and a second-year starter like Samardzija.
Regardless of his ERA and win totals -- expected to be suppressed because of his experience and the non-contending team he pitches for -- the strikeouts will make him a must-own and must-start in all leagues on a weekly basis.
Player of the week
Player of the weak
Only three pitchers since 1970 have advanced from Class A to the majors and pitched at least 100 innings as rookies (Dwight Gooden, Jeremy Bonderman and Rick Porcello), according to The Miami Herald. Gooden was a revelation, but he developed shoulder issues later in his career. Bonderman flamed out quickly and Porcello is already dealing with velocity issues.
If you want a comp for Fernandez among those, he's closest to Gooden because of the velocity and ceiling. Fantasy owners would do well to accept a Porcello-like rookie season (14-9, 3.97). Fernandez might post that ERA, he won't win as many games but he can strike out double the batters Porcello did in his 170 2/3 of his rookie season (89).
Tout Wars moves
1. Jose Fernandez, Florida Marlins 2. Ricky Nolasco, Florida Marlins 3. Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants 4. Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds 5. Erik Bedard, Houston Astros
For a minimal bid, I am looking to get one of:
1. John Buck, New York Mets 2. Erik Kratz, Philadelphia Phillies 3. Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees 4. Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves (not yet catcher eligible) 5. Martin Maldonaldo, Milwaukee Brewers
Unfortunately, each of the first four were queued up before homering this week. Buck homered twice. A $0 bid might not win him, but since it is the lowly catcher position, any of these are possible and acceptable without making an aggressive bid. It should take long for the Mets to give d'Arnaud his look, even if Buck is off to a hot start. Hopefully, it will just be those 20 days into April to delay his salary-arbitration clock one year.
My daily lineup
If you play in those daily fantasy leagues, here are the players by position that yours truly will be going with for Monday's games. If you want to challenge me, hit me up on Twitter @EricMackFantasy:
SP -- Matt Harvey, Mets SP -- Clay Buchholz, Red Sox C -- Buster Posey, Giants 1B -- Justin Morneau, Twins 2B -- Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 3B -- Todd Frazier, Reds SS -- Zack Cozart, Reds OF -- Jason Heyward, Braves OF -- Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins OF -- Alex Gordon, Royals DH -- Kendry Morales, Mariners