By Eric Mack
April 07, 2013
Atlanta's trade for Justin Upton in the offseason has already paid huge early dividends for the Braves.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

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.

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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

1B Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles -- His first week was a decent month for some hitters. What do you know? The first player of the week for 2013 is a 27-year-old breakout. Go figure. Those 33 homers and 85 RBI from a year ago might be his baseline if he stays healthy for a full season. How about 40 homers and 120 RBI and a second-round pick next year? Entirely possible, especially at that prime age.

Player of the weak

OF Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- Stop us if you have heard this one before: A player signs a huge contract as a free agent, starts slow and hears the boos. This slow start should not have been unexpected. You drafted him -- or traded for him -- knowing full well this could happen. Now you have to ride him through it.

Rookie spotlight

SP Jose Fernandez, Florida Marlins -- The 20-year-old Cuban earned back-to-back weeks in this position for being promoted from Class A to the majors. His eight strikeouts in five innings Sunday against the Mets only amped up the hype and expectations. The Marlins limited him to 80 pitches Sunday and will limit him to 170 innings for the season. That is wise, but it almost might be too much to ask.

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).

Bargain bin

Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers -- The fantasy baseball Weekly Planner on Opening Day told owners to beware of the closers early. Well, one closer (Carlos Marmol) already lost his job and John Axford has had a similarly rough start. Henderson already has a relief victory in his two shutout innings to start the season. He's reportedly the Brewers' "Plan B" at closer after the "Plan A" of sticking with Axford. Henderson is worthy of a flier right now in all leagues where you're desperate for saves.

Roster trends

Most added:

1. SPJose Fernandez, Florida Marlins -- The 20-year-old Cuban import justified his addition in all leagues with his hot start against the Mets. His high ceiling makes him a must-own in all leagues immediately (see Tout Wars moves below).

2. OFGerardo Parra, Arizona Diamondbacks -- The 26-year-old is off to a great start, but his ceiling is still that of a lower-end mixed-league fantasy option. Use him while he's hot and don't worry about holding him when he cools off.

3. 1BLance Berkman, Texas Rangers -- His hot start shows that the DH job will agree with the 37-year-old. He is a solid bat for all formats for as long as he avoids the DL. With his chronic knee issues, you have to figure he will need a couple-week break eventually.

4. SS Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics -- As surprised as you might be that he is the A's everyday shortstop, you shouldn't be surprised of the pop he showed in Week 1. This is a legit bat and he puts up these streaks. He had a career-high 16 homers in a career-high 97 games last season, so 25-30 homers are possible if he can play even 135 games.

5. C John Buck, New YorkMets -- He is a streaky hitter who hit just .192 last season. He is better than that and at least due. Consider using him in any format when he is going well. There will be long cold streaks, though.

Most dropped:

1. OF Ryan Ludwick, CincinnatiReds -- He is a viable cut in mixed leagues that don't have DL spots. That reserve spot can be better served on a flier, perhaps even prospect Billy Hamilton in rotisserie formats.

2. SP Edinson Volquez, San DiegoPadres -- His first start against the Mets showed his mechanical flaws. He's a buy-low candidate. Manager Bud Black says Volquez's head movement is to blame. If fixed, Volquez can be useful in all fantasy leagues. He's a dangerous start in mixed formats right now, though.

3. SP Johan Santana, New YorkMets -- Surgery makes it official: Santana is not worth holding out any hope for 2013 now. Cut him in all formats. He might not make it back in 2014 either, especially not for the start of the season.

4. RP Carlos Marmol, ChicagoCubs -- Saturday's implosion, his third rough outing in the first week but just his first official blown save, handed the closer's job over to Kyuji Fujikawa. Marmol isn't worth owning in mixed leagues. Fujikawa is an add in any format.

5. OF Leonys Martin, TexasRangers -- He started 0-for-10, but worse, he is sitting against left-handers in lieu of Craig Gentry. The stats are more important than the thoughts of a platoon. If Martin performs up to his potential, he won't be sitting much, if at all. Stay patient, if you can afford to, with him as a reserve.

Most viewed (Rotoworld):

1. SP Dan Straily, OaklandAthletics -- Somehow 11 strikeouts weren't enough to elevate him from being the A's sixth starter. The A's sent him down, but the 11 Ks and his potential are enough to keep him stashed in leagues with reserves.

2. OF Jose Fernandez, FloridaMarlins -- His ownership skyrocketed from 33 percent before Week 1 to 70 percent after his arrival was announced last Sunday.

3. 3B David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals -- He hopes to be activated Monday. He's good enough to consider starting in all formats, if he comes off the DL.

4. OF Carl Crawford, Los AngelesDodgers -- Coming off Tommy John surgery, he is off to a good start at the plate and has two steals, but he is sitting against some left-handers in lieu of Jerry Hairston Jr. It shouldn't affect your decision to play in his rotisserie formats in any week, barring a new injury.

5. OF Collin Cowgill, New YorkMets -- A two-homer start is a signal he is going to surprise in deeper leagues. This is a legit talent finally getting an opportunity and he turns 27 in May.

Most traded (

1. OF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers -- A 1-for-18 start is disconcerting, but the fact that he's healthy is good news. "It's baseball," Kemp said. "If I stay within myself, I'll be that 2011 version of Matt Kemp everybody knows." BUY

2. SP Tim Lincecum, San FranciscoGiants -- A seven-walk season debut might seem like a signal we are going to get the 2012 version of Lincecum again, but honestly it makes it a good time to get him for a discount. BUY

3. SP Zack Greinke, Los AngelesDodgers -- That was some statement in his Dodgers debut. That elbow should be of no concern. Don't sell him now. BUY

4. OF/1B/DH Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- He broke out of a brief early funk with a homer Saturday. He is a legit 35-homer, 100-RBI threat behind the likes of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Stay patient with your sluggers early. HOLD

5. SP Roy Halladay, PhiladelphiaPhillies -- The velocity is just not there and the results were bad in his season debut, save for the nine strikeouts. Use the strikeouts as a smokescreen in trade talks. Get what you can before the bottom falls out. SELL

Tout Wars moves

Taking fliers on hot-starting SPs -- With so many middle relievers, I need to find some strikeouts for my slow-starting rotation. I won't reveal my bids here, because this figures to post before the Tout Wars FAAB deadline, but the first bid here will be aggressive, if only to make it hurt for whoever outbids me (the winning bid is $1 more than the second-highest bid in this league):

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

Finding a second catcher -- I sorely need a fill-in for catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who starts the year in the minor leagues. I am dumping some of my draft day middle-relief fliers: first Jake McGee, who gave up runs this week and was pitching before closer Fernando Rodney and setup man Joel Peralta. McGee was drafted for his ERA, WHIP and Ks even if he wasn't the closer. Outside of his implosion on my Tout Wars bench this week, he isn't even the second choice for saves if Rodney disappoints coming off his career year. Both should make him more readily available down the road, if desired.

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

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