Three up, three down: Braves' new world
Atlanta off to best start since 1982; Bucs' Sanchez seeking first win in over a year
UP: Atlanta Braves
Atlanta has made an early statement in the National League East. The Braves went into Washington and swept a three-game weekend series against a Nationals team that came into the season labeled as the best team in the NL. But the Braves have been manhandling every team they have faced so far. They are off to an 11-1 start, their best since they won the first 13 games of the 1982 season. And while Justin Upton has flourished in his move from Arizona, leading the Majors with seven home runs, it's the pitching staff that has been the foundation. Atlanta has a 1.43 ERA during a nine-game winning streak it will take into a two-game series against Kansas City at Turner Field that begins Tuesday, and the club's ERA for all 12 games is 1.81. The bullpen has a 1.30 ERA and has stranded all 14 of its inherited runners.
The two games against the Royals are the only home games in an 18-game stretch for Atlanta, which swept its way through Miami and Washington in a just-completed six-game journey. On Friday, the Braves will begin a 10-game trip to Pittsburgh (four games), Colorado (three games) and Detroit (three games). It will be a return to the Steel City for Paul Maholm, who broke in with the Pirates in 2005 and came into this season with a 66-84 career record. He has opened 2013 with 20 1/3 scoreless innings and three wins in three starts.
DOWN: Jonathan Sanchez
Sanchez is scheduled to start for the Pirates on Tuesday night against St. Louis, which might be a good omen. He is looking for his first win since his Royals debut on April 8 of last season, when he earned a victory against the Angels by pitching six scoreless innings. In 16 starts since then -- with Kansas City, Colorado and Pittsburgh -- he has an ERA of 9.40 and an 0-11 record, the longest current winless streak in the big leagues. Sanchez has given up 79 hits and walked 56 batters in 67 innings since that first start for the Royals. He is not even close, however, to the all-time record of 27 consecutive losing decisions set by Anthony Young of the Mets in 1992-93. Young failed to win a game from May 9, 1992, through July 24, 1993. He was 0-14 as a starter and 0-13 as a reliever. However, Young did fill in for Mets closer John Franco for a stretch during that losing streak, converting 12 saves and even working 23 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings at one point. Sanchez has allowed at least four runs in each of his winless starts.
So what's the good omen? Sanchez is 3-0 in his career against the Cardinals, including a 2-0 record and a 2.61 ERA at the new Busch Stadium.
UP: Boston Red Sox
Last year's fiasco is still having an impact on the Red Sox. Club officials admit it was a big part of why the team's record sellout streak of 794 regular-season games, the longest in major professional sports history, ended Wednesday. But on the field, the Red Sox are shaking off any hangover from 2012. They are in first place in the American League East, a position they never held for a single day last year. They brought in new faces, including Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, Johnny Gomes, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew. More important, Boston has seen a revitalized rotation regain command thanks to a couple of holdovers, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester.
Buchholz carried a no-hitter against Tampa Bay into the eighth inning on Sunday, and he and Lester are a combined 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA. They started back-to-back wins against the Rays on Saturday and Sunday, with Lester getting a no-decision in Saturday's 2-1, 10-inning win. Dempster held Tampa Bay to one run on two hits in seven innings in Monday's Patriots' Day game. That's a strong statement, especially considering the Red Sox had lost 51 of their previous 90 games against the Rays before the weekend visit to Fenway.
DOWN: San Diego Padres
It hasn't been pretty for the Padres, and the next few days aren't offering much hope for a quick turnaround. Off to a 2-10 start, San Diego was swept in a three-game weekend series for a second time by Colorado, which accounts for six of the Rockies' eight wins. The Padres knew their offense would be challenged before the season started. As if losing catcher Yasamni Grandal for the first 50 games for a failed drug test wasn't bad enough, Chase Headley, a legitimate NL MVP Award candidate last year, opened the season on the disabled list with a fractured left thumb. Headley began a rehab assignment with Class A Lake Elsinore last weekend, but San Diego went to Los Angeles to open a three-game series on Monday with a 24-man roster after Carlos Quentin dropped his appeal of an eight-game suspension for charging the mound and sparking a bench-clearing incident on Thursday in which Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke suffered a fractured left shoulder.
UP: John Buck
Prince Fielder of Detroit shares the Major League RBI lead with 19. No surprise. But what about the two other co-leaders? Chris Davis has 19 RBIs for the Orioles, and John Buck has 19 for the Mets. Davis did hit 33 home runs and drive in 85 runs last year, and the Orioles do play in one of the more homer-inviting ballparks in the game. Buck, however, is a different story. He's been in the big leagues since 2004, and the Mets are his fourth franchise in five years (the others being the 2009 Royals, 2010 Blue Jays and 2011-12 Marlins). Buck's most productive big league season was 2010, when he hit 20 home runs and had 66 RBIs. His current RBI total is seven shy of the Mets' record for April, set by Jeff Kent in 1994, and is his personal high for RBIs in a month, surpassing his 17 RBIs in August 2004. Buck has taken advantage of opportunities. He is 6-for-13 with three home runs and two sacrifice flies and 15 RBIs with runners in scoring position.
DOWN: Miami Marlins
The Marlins managed to claim a victory against Philadelphia on Saturday, but it wasn't easy. Rookie Jose Fernandez worked six shutout innings and Miami got a run in the ninth for a 2-1 victory. In losing seven of their past eight games, the Marlins have scored only 12 runs. They rank sixth in the NL with a 3.71 ERA but are only 2-10. They have managed to score just 20 runs and are hitting .204. The 20 runs matches the 1905 Boston Beaneaters for the fewest runs scored in the first 12 games of a season, according to STATS Inc. The 1907 Brooklyn Superbas scored 12 runs in their first 12 games, and the 2004 Montreal Expos scored 19.
The team total of 19 RBIs is the same as the individual total for Buck, who spent the past two years in Miami. Placido Polanco (.333) and Donovan Solano (.250) are the only Marlins regulars hitting better than .229. Polanco, Greg Dobbs and Justin Ruggiano share the team lead in RBIs with four. Dobbs and Ruggiano each have a home run -- the only two homers Miami has hit. There are 92 big league players with at least two home runs and 38 who have hit three or more, which is one more than the Marlins' team total. And what's next for Miami? Three games against Washington, which opened the season with a three-game sweep of Miami in which it outscored the Marlins, 11-1.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.