Three up, three down: Red Sox, D-backs gain steam
UP: Boston Red Sox
Having equaled a franchise record with 18 wins in April, thanks to a four-game weekend sweep of Houston, the Red Sox get a shot at setting a new standard when they open a three-game series at Toronto on Tuesday night. The Red Sox have taken advantage of the American League's three last-place teams, going 9-1 against Cleveland (3-0), Toronto (2-1) and Houston (4-0). And while other teams are trying to survive injuries, the Red Sox are getting healthier. David Ortiz, who missed Spring Training because of problems with his heels, has returned to not only hit safely in his first eight games, but to go 16-for-31 with five doubles, two home runs and 11 RBIs, and John Lackey, who didn't make it through the fifth inning in his previous start at Toronto on April 6, pitched six strong innings to complete the sweep of Houston on Sunday for his first win since Aug. 23, 2011.
On Tuesday, closer Joel Hanrahan will be activated from the disabled list, although manager John Farrell might ease him into the ninth-inning role as Andrew Bailey has converted all six of his save opportunities since Hanrahan was sidelined on April 14 with a right hamstring strain.
DOWN: Toronto Blue Jays
With a chance to make an April statement, the Blue Jays were silenced. Swept in a four-game visit to Yankee Stadium over the weekend, the Jays have lost 10 of 13 games against divisional opponents and are sitting in the AL East basement with a 9-17 record, 9 1/2 games behind first-place Boston. They have lost 11 of 17 games decided by one or two runs, and a rotation that was beefed up with major offseason commitments has stumbled. The 5.26 rotation ERA is higher than that of every team except Houston, Cleveland and San Diego, and only Miami's rotation has fewer wins than the five Toronto starters have claimed.
R.A. Dickey is the first reigning Cy Young Award winner to lose four games in April, and there has been an ERA inflation for the two pitchers added from Miami -- Mark Buehrle (6.35) and Josh Johnson (6.86). Johnson was scratched from his Friday start because of right triceps inflammation, but the losing isn't entirely due to pitching struggles. Rajai Davis (.267) is the only active player hitting better than .250. Shortstop Jose Reyes had a .395 average in 10 games but he's out with a severe ankle sprain, and even though his cast was removed last week, he's not expected back before the All-Star break.
UP: Arizona Diamondbacks
Center fielder Adam Eaton has been out since Spring Training with a left elbow strain. Second baseman Aaron Hill played in only 10 games before suffering a broken left hand that could keep him out until June. Left fielder Jason Kubel was rushed back from the disabled list on Sunday to provide some offensive help because shortstop Didi Gregorius was placed on the seven-day concussion list after taking a Josh Outman fastball to the helmet on Friday night.
The D-backs aren't letting the ailments distract them. Manager Kirk Gibson preaches focusing on today and what is right, not looking for ways to excuse failures, and the philosophy seems to be taking hold. With five wins in their past six games, including three of four against Colorado, Arizona finds itself tied with the Rockies for the National League West lead even though Martin Prado, the prime figure in the Justin Upton deal, is hitting only .208, and free-agent rotation reinforcement Brandon McCarthy is 0-3 with a 7.48 ERA in five starts. Lefty Patrick Corbin, who had to win a three-man battle for the fifth rotation spot, has helped ease concerns about the rotation, rattling off five quality starts, one shy of the best start to a season by an Arizona pitcher since Dan Haren in 2005. Lefty Matt Reynolds, a bargain acquisition from Colorado, not only has pitched 12 1/3 shutout innings but he has helped steady a shaky late-inning bullpen by earning the first two saves of his big league career, which included 165 appearances with Colorado the past three seasons.
DOWN: San Francisco Giants
The defending World Series champions may not have hit bottom but they are close. They were swept in a three-game weekend series in San Diego, even though they were only outscored 16-12, and have now lost five in a row, three in extra innings and the other two by scores of 2-1 and 6-4. Struggling? The Giants have hit .237 overall and .179 with runners in scoring position during the losing streak. They have committed six errors, and the rotation continues to be plagued by long balls, even in a pitcher-friendly environment like their home at AT&T Park, and then San Diego's Petco Park. The five starters have given up 21 home runs, including seven by Ryan Vogelsong, who ran off 16 consecutive quality starts at one point last year but has only one to show so far this season.
UP: Detroit Tigers
Struggling to win and hit home runs, the Tigers found their cure with a three-game weekend sweep of Atlanta, a team that opened the season 12-1 but has since lost eight of 11. And the Tigers beat the Braves at their own game by hitting home runs. A Detroit team that had hit only one home run in seven previous games hit six in three games, including one by Miguel Cabrera on which he unloaded on a 3-0 pitch for only the second time in his career in the seventh inning on Sunday. The Braves had one home run in the series. That wasn't a promising stat for an Atlanta team that is winless in its eight homerless games. Cabrera has a 12-game hitting streak, and is a perfect 6-for-6 in bringing home runners with fewer than two out.
DOWN: New York Mets
With five losses in their past six games, the Mets have lost nine of 12, including a 3-6 homestand, and there's not much relief in sight. New York's bullpen has a 6.90 ERA during the slide, with closer Bobby Parnell converting one of the two save opportunities the relievers have been given during the two-week fade. And it's not like the rotation has been overpowering. Matt Harvey has been the feel-good story and is 4-0 with a 1.54 ERA. That's one more victory and nine fewer losses than the rest of the rotation combined, and an ERA that is more than three runs lower than the combined ERA of the five other pitchers who have started.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.