4/21/2014 2:42 P.M. ET
Three up, three down: No slowing down Crew
By Tracy Ringolsby / MLB.com
After losing two of three to the Braves to open the season, the Brewers have taken charge in the National League Central. They not only have won 13 of 16 to move atop the division, but they delivered a wake-up call by taking six of seven from the Pirates the past 10 days.
Ryan Braun shook off early season struggles, and after going 0-for-5 in the first game of Milwaukee's surge, he has hit .390, and he leads the team with six home runs and 14 RBIs. Kyle Lohse has won all three of his starts. Francisco Rodriguez converted all six save opportunities and allowed only five baserunners (three hits, two walks) in eight scoreless innings.
The Brewers have a homestand against the Padres and the Cubs this week and then get a rematch with the Cardinals at Busch Stadium starting April 28, looking to rebound from losing two of three to St. Louis in Milwaukee last week.
The Mariners made an offseason statement with the signing of Robinson Cano, and they have hopes of being a factor in the American League West. But after winning the first game of a road trip that began in Texas, they not only saw the Rangers win the next three games, but then went to Miami and were swept in a three-game series by a Marlins team that lost nine of its previous 10 games.
Six of nine Seattle regulars combined for 22 strikeouts in 41 at-bats over the six games, hitting .231 or lower -- Abraham Almonte (.231), Justin Smoak (.231), Dustin Ackley (.222), Cano (.200), Kyle Seager (.150) and Brad Miller (.111).
The rotation continues to be troubled with injuries. Blake Beavan, dropped into the rotation last Tuesday in place of the injured James Paxton, came out after four innings with shoulder stiffness, which prompted Brandon Maurer to get the start Sunday in Miami. The same day of Beavan's abbreviated start in Texas, Taijuan Walker was scratched from a rehab start with Triple-A Tacoma because of shoulder stiffness. Instead of returning to the big league rotation this week, Walker was prescribed two weeks of rest.
UP: Kansas City
The Royals rebounded from a weekend sweep by the Twins to win five of six last week, sweeping three games from the Astros in Houston and then taking two of three from Minnesota at Kauffman Stadium. They moved back into second place in the AL Central, with closer Greg Holland converting all three saves and the rotation compiling a 2.56 ERA (1.74 in the five victories).
Six regulars hit .292 or better, led by Alcides Escobar at .381. While Omar Infante only hit .269, he led the team with seven RBIs. Kansas City did lose center fielder Lorenzo Cain to the disabled list with a groin strain, which will give Justin Maxwell a chance for some regular at-bats.
A seven-game road trip that opens Monday night in Cleveland and finishes with three weekend games in Baltimore will provide another test for the Royals.
There was so much excitement in Minute Maid Park when the Astros opened the season with back-to-back victories against the Yankees, but Houston has lost 13 of 16 since, including the last seven games in a row.
Swept by Kansas City and Oakland in three-game series last week, Houston was outscored 34-14 in those six games. The Astros had gone 52 innings without even coming to bat with a lead until their 2-1 advantage over the A's in the fifth inning on Saturday. Oakland, however, left Houston empty-handed, scoring three runs in the ninth for a 4-3 victory.
What kind of week was it last week? Reliever Paul Clemens led the team with 7 1/3 innings. The rotation had a combined 6.83 ERA. Marwin Gonzalez (4-for-8) was the only player on the team with an average above .273. Astros hitters struck out 61 times while having a combined 60 hits (41) and walks (19).
Red flags were raised when the Braves lost expected starters Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen for the season with elbow injuries. Atlanta, however, has done an impressive job of patching the holes. First, the Braves signed free agent Ervin Santana on March 12, and then they picked up Aaron Harang, who was released by the Indians the final week of the spring.
And now look at them. After winning seven of their last nine games, the Braves are sitting atop the NL East, and key factors have been Santana and Harang. Harang is 3-1 with a 0.70 ERA in four starts, and Santana is 2-0 in three starts with a 0.86 ERA, having allowed one run in six innings of the no-decision, which Atlanta eventually won 9-6.
Freddie Freeman (.397, five home runs, 14 RBIs) and Justin Upton (.319, five home runs, 12 RBIs) have been the expected keys to the offense. And B.J. Upton raised his average to .210 on Friday, going 2-for-4 against the Mets. Big deal? It's the first time since he joined the Braves at the start of last season that B.J. Upton has been above .200.
The D-backs got out of Chase Field, where they are 1-11, with a weekend trip to Los Angeles. After a one-night reprieve, when they beat the Dodgers, 4-2, in 12 innings on Friday, it was back to struggling. Arizona lost the final two games in Los Angeles, leaving in a 1-8 funk en route to Chicago, where the club opens a three-game series Monday night.
Paul Goldschmidt continues to established himself as one of the game's best players (.313, three home runs, 12 RBIs) but he needs help. Offseason addition Mark Trumbo is hitting the hoped-for home runs (six) but not much else (.208).
The D-backs' pitching staff has a worst-in-baseball 5.70 ERA. Take Wade Miley out of the mix, and the six others who have started a game are a combined 1-12 with an 8.65 ERA.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.