Not only did B.J. and Justin Upton homer as teammates for the first time Saturday, but they did it in style, launching solo homers in the bottom of the ninth as the Braves came back to beat the Cubs 6-5.
The Cubs were up 5-1 when the Braves rallied for three runs in the bottom of the eighth against closer-in-waiting Kyuji Fujikawa. That left Carlos Marmol with no margin for error in the ninth, and the implosion followed quickly. B.J.’s homer led off the inning. Marmol rebounded to retire Jason Heyward, but then Justin Upton hit his second homer of the game to finish it.
For Justin Upton, it was his fifth homer in five games as a Brave and the second walkoff shot of his career. B.J. had been hitless in 14 at-bats this season before going 2-for-4 tonight. B.J. was making his debut in the leadoff spot because of an injury to Andrelton Simmons; he had previously been hitting fifth in the lineup.
Thanks to the Uptons, the Braves overcame a disappointing season debut from Julio Teheran. The 22-year-old had a remarkable spring, amassing a 1.04 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 26 innings, but he gave up five runs in five innings tonight.
As for the Cubs, they’ll again face questions about how they’ll handle the ninth. While this was Marmol’s first blown save and loss, he’s been awful in all three of his appearances to date. Fujikawa was looking good until tonight, but since he now has an 11.57 ERA, the Cubs might choose to go to a closer-by-committee that also includes James Russell.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.