Grading the Uptons' First Week as Atlanta Braves

Grant McAuleyContributor IIApril 8, 2013

Grading the Uptons' First Week as Atlanta Braves

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    Just one week into their Atlanta careers, the brothers Upton have already made an impact.

    Consider the start that the Braves have gotten off to, winning five of six games to climb atop the National League East standings. The acquisitions of B.J. and Justin Upton were designed to infuse the lineup with a blend of power, speed and overall athleticism.

    While the sample size is small, both Uptons have provided a glimpse of their many talents. So just what grade has each man earned in his first week on the job? The following slideshow will provide the answers.

Justin Upton: Philadelphia Series

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    Justin Upton opened the season on a home run binge. It was just the kind of thing that Braves fans were hoping for out of the new third-place hitter.

    He went to work immediately against the Philadelphia Phillies on Opening Night, connecting for a solo home run off Cole Hamels in the bottom of the fifth inning. That marked his first hit with the Braves and helped pad the lead in an eventual 7-5 victory.

    Upton provided an encore performance the following day. His two-run homer in the first inning off Roy Halladay set the tone in Atlanta’s 9-2 triumph. Upton also drew a pair of walks and scored another run.

    The Braves ran into a buzz saw in Thursday’s series finale, as Cliff Lee spun eight innings of shutout ball. He allowed just two hits in Philadelphia’s 2-0 victory, though one was a fourth-inning single by Upton.

B.J. Upton: Philadelphia Series

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    While his younger brother was lighting things up against Philadelphia, B.J. Upton was searching for answers at the plate to open the season.

    Upton was held without a hit in the series, including a four-strikeout night in the second game.

    Typically, one would not refer to a series spent facing Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee as a recipe for offensive success.

    Such was the case for Upton, who finished 0-for-11 and struck out seven times against Phillies pitching while batting fifth in the lineup.

Justin Upton: Chicago Series

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    A new opponent rolled into town, but Justin Upton picked up right where he had left off, victimizing Chicago starter Scott Feldman for a home run in his first at-bat of the series. Upton added a sacrifice fly in the third inning and finished 1-for-3 with two RBI in Atlanta’s 4-1 victory.

    There are certain games throughout a season that can define a team. Saturday's dramatic 6-5 win over the Cubs may well be one of those for the Braves.

    For the second straight night, Upton connected for a first-inning home run. It was his first of three hits in the game, each of which proved to be vital in Atlanta’s comeback win.

    Down by a 5-1 score in the bottom of the eighth, Upton sparked a three-run rally by leading off the inning with a hustle double. He reached third on a wild pitch and scored on a Freddie Freeman single. A two-run single by Ramiro Pena capped the scoring and pulled the Braves within one.

    The Atlanta ninth can only be described as one of the most surreal moments in recent memory. After older brother B.J. opened the frame with a game-tying solo homer, Justin stepped up two batters later and delivered a walk-off home run.

    According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Saturday's heroics by the Uptons marked just the fourth time in big league history that a pair of brothers homered in the same inning.  

    Justin finished the game 3-for-5 with a pair of home runs, three RBI and three runs scored. Elias also reported that Upton became the first player since 2006 to hit five home runs in his team’s first five games of the season.

    The finale against Chicago was not quite as memorable, however. Upton struck out in all four at-bats, though the Braves did complete a three-game sweep with a 5-1 victory.

B.J. Upton: Chicago Series

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    While his hitless string would eventually reach 16 at-bats to start the season, B.J. Upton finally showed signs of breaking out during the second series of the season.

    Upton was 0-for-3 in the opener, but he played a role in a fifth-inning rally that helped give starter Mike Minor a little bit of breathing room.

    After Jason Heyward walked, stole second and then advanced to third on a groundout, Upton was hit by a pitch. It marked the first time he had reached base with Atlanta. Upton promptly celebrated the occasion by stealing second base. Both Heyward and Upton scored on Juan Francisco's two-run single and Atlanta held on for a 4-1 win.

    During that game, shortstop Andrelton Simmons injured his left thumb while stealing a base in the third inning. Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to rest Simmons over the weekend and turn the leadoff spot over to Upton.

    It was a move that paid off on multiple fronts.

    Upton walked in the first inning and picked up an infield hit in his third at-bat of the game. While Simmons' replacement at short, Ramiro Pena, lined a two-run single in the eighth, Upton delivered an even bigger hit in the ninth.

    Leading off against embattled Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, Upton belted his first home run with Atlanta. It was a game-tying shot that set the stage for younger brother Justin to deliver the death knell two batters later.

    Sunday saw the elder Upton hitting atop the order once again. He went 1-for-2 with two walks and a pair of stolen bases to finish the Cubs series hitting .333 with a .539 on-base percentage and three steals.

Justin Upton: First-Week Grade

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    Based on the power display and the timeliness of the home runs, It is fairly easy to assign a grade to Justin Upton. Four of his five homers have either tied the game or given Atlanta a lead.

    He concluded his initial week with the Braves tied for the major league lead in home runs and pacing the majors with a 1.045 slugging percentage. However, he is also tied for the most strikeouts in MLB with 11.

    Even that number cannot temper what was an outstanding first week in Atlanta.

    Weekly Stats: .318/.360/1.045, 5 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, 2 BB, 11 K

    Grade: A

B.J. Upton: First-Week Grade

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    The early going was not exactly kind to the Braves center fielder. Signing the largest free-agent contract in franchise history comes with a certain level of expectation.

    It simply took the elder Upton a few games to get things going. As it happened, it also took a move to the top of the lineup as well.

    Upton began his Atlanta career in an 0-for-16 skid with nine strikeouts, but has since reached base in six of his last nine plate appearances (3-for-6, 3 BB). All of that fine work was done after moving to the leadoff spot in place of an injured Andrelton Simmons.

    Though he is batting just .150, Upton is tied for second in the National League with three stolen bases. The rest of Atlanta’s squad has combined for just two steals over the first six games.

    Outside of one poorly tracked fly ball to shallow right center in the third game of the season, Upton has been superb in the field as well. Given his performance as Atlanta’s leadoff man, his clutch home run on Saturday and his nice work on the bases, Upton was able to end a challenging week on an upswing.

    Weekly Stats: .150/.292/.300, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 3 SB, 3 BB, 9 K

    Grade: C