Sunday, April 7, 2013
Braves' Uptons both go downtown
By Christina Kahrl
On a night when folks might have been wondering if Chris Davis was going to hit his fifth home run in his fifth game, somebody did do it. It just wasn’t Chris Davis.
Justin Upton’s two-homer night was just his latest “happy to be here” feat now that he’s a brand-new Brave. It’s an introduction to Atlanta that can only involve less of the same, which takes away nothing from what he’s already done. Justin Upton had to settle for a double to lead off the eighth inning, after all. And I’m sure he’ll hit his second single of the season at some point.
After Justin’s game-winner, which was set up by B.J. Upton’s first homer in a Braves uni that tied the game, Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info passed along the news from Elias that not only was this the first time that two brothers had ever before homered to tie and then win a game in the same inning, it was also the first time a player hit a walk-off home run in a game in which his brother homered earlier since Hank and Tommy Aaron did so for the Milwaukee Braves against the Cardinals in 1962. The Cubs’ flammable tandem of Kyuji Fujikawa and Carlos Marmol might have produced the fuel, but it took two Uptons to light them up.
Let’s set aside the early-season fun with statistrivia, though. Even after this seemingly remarkable set of unlikelihoods, this is nevertheless exactly the sort of thing that GM Frank Wren and the Braves envisioned when they brought in both Uptons, signing B.J. before dealing for Justin. Not in terms of the details, but in the broad strokes, the Braves expected they’d be winning games early and late, having powered up with Upton power.
Getting them both and banking on their upside was an optimist’s exercise. It’s an interesting problem in talking about the Uptons: How much should we expect of them? Great things, of course, but we’ve been guilty of doing that with both of them for a long time, at least since Justin was the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, and at least since B.J. ripped 24 home runs as a 22-year-old center fielder for the Rays in 2007. The anticipation of what they can do is the stuff premature frustration is made of, which might well be why they’re Braves now instead of still being with their original teams.
Remember, Justin is just 25 and should just be entering his prime as a player. How many people get to be considered vaguely disappointing before 25? How reasonable is that? Not very. But because Justin came up at 19, because he was supposed to be great, you could be forgiven for having a nagging sense that he’s supposed to have already done those things.
It’s something that has probably consistently handicapped our assessments of B.J.’s career as well, going back to the seven homers combined that he ripped in the 2008 ALDS and ALCS. You might have thought this was the start of something truly special, but it wasn’t -- B.J. followed it up with an 11-homer season. Even last season’s career-high 28 homers in his last season as a Ray came with a career-low .298 OBP.
It’s to the Braves’ credit that they looked past all of that, that they didn’t focus on what the Uptons haven’t done -- yet -- and instead stuck with the knowledge that there’s a reason why they’ve both been worth waiting for in the first place. Theirs is not to reason why the Uptons seemingly didn’t fulfill one set of expectations or another. Instead, the Braves saw a 28-year-old center fielder who could give them 30 homers and quality defense in center. Instead of giving much thought to what Justin Upton hadn’t done or done yet after a disappointing 2012 season on the heels of his MVP-worthy 2011, they didn’t overthink it; they traded for the three years that Justin is still under contract. How often do potential MVP-caliber players heading into their prime become available? Not so often that you punt on the opportunity to trade for him. You make that deal and gladly accept fortune’s favor.
You can expect that the Uptons will be delivering more magic like this in the months to come. Certainly, Braves fans should be on the edge of their seats with anticipation every time their spots in the batting order approach. There’s no shame in that: For two players so gifted, expecting things has long gone with the territory. Watching them deliver on them as Braves should make 2013 a very special year in Atlanta.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
As Bob Uecker might say, that pitch was just a bit inside on Joey Votto.