UP: St. Louis Cardinals
In Edward Mujica's first 321 big league appearances, he had only 17 shots at a save, and converted just four. He bounced from the Indians to the Padres to the Marlins, before finally arriving in St. Louis in the middle of last season. Now look at him. He's come to the rescue of the Cardinals' struggling bullpen. With closer Jason Motte sidelined by Tommy John surgery and five other relievers having blown save opportunities this season, Mujica has stepped into the closer's role and slammed the door on the opposition. He has run off eight consecutive saves since getting the call for the first time April 18, a key element in St. Louis regaining the top spot in the National League Central. The Cards entered Monday with a six-game winning streak in which Mujica has chalked up the final out four times, allowing just three hits -- two singles and a Brandon Phillips home run in a 4-2 win against Cincinnati on Wednesday.
DOWN: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers were swept in a three-game series at San Francisco during the weekend -- all three losses by one run. This came after losing two of three at home to Colorado, which won a series at Dodger Stadium for only the third time in its past 12 visits. The reaction? "We felt like a ballclub the last two nights, a winning ballclub," catcher A.J. Ellis told the Los Angeles Times. The results, however, haven't been of a winning nature. A week ago, the Dodgers were coming off a run that had gotten them back to .500. Today? They are five games below. And the only victory was a 6-2 decision against Colorado in which Jorge De La Rosa started. De La Rosa has now seen his team lose all 14 games in which he has pitched against the Dodgers in his career. And in the finale of the Giants' sweep, right-hander Matt Cain claimed his first victory and improved his season ledger against the Dodgers to one run allowed in 13 1/3 innings. Cain has given up 26 runs in the 28 2/3 innings he has pitched against other teams. The Dodgers' staff, meanwhile, had a 6.02 ERA and one win in the six games.
UP: Detroit Tigers
A year ago, the Tigers had to listen to the cynics question their toughness. Expected to run away with the American League Central in 2012, they didn't secure first place until the 154th game of the season, after which they claimed the AL pennant. This year, the Tigers are making themselves heard. After splitting their first 20 games of the season, they have won nine of their past 10, and the heart of the lineup has given the Tigers offensive life. The rotation has compiled a 2.18 ERA and 7-1 record in those 10 games, while a revamped bullpen has a 1.78 ERA and has converted its three save opportunities. But it's the bats of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder that have made the biggest difference. Cabrera is hitting .436 over the past 10 games and leads the Majors in that stretch with 16 RBIs. Fielder has driven in 11 runs in that span while providing protection for Cabrera in the lineup. The two of them have combined for all but five plate appearances out of the Tigers' third and fourth slots this season.
DOWN: Toronto Blue Jays
Looking to make a run at the AL East title, Toronto beefed up its rotation with the offseason additions of 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, left-hander Mark Buehrle and right-hander Josh Johnson. So far, not so good, and not simply because Johnson is on the disabled list. The three of them are a combined 3-8 in 15 starts, the Blue Jays having lost 11 of those 15 games, and their combined 6.05 ERA underscores it's not a matter of bad luck. The Jays have won back-to-back games once this year -- April 12-13 at Kansas City. They have lost eight of their last 10, which includes being swept in a four-game series against the Yankees. And it's not like the offense can offset a pitching staff that ranks 14th in the AL with a 4.66 ERA -- 5.39 for the rotation -- and had used 20 different pitchers in 32 games. Melky Cabrera's .252 average is tops among Toronto batting title qualifiers.
UP: San Diego Padres
The Padres have already had a season of contradiction. They have been swept in three-game series both home and away by the Rockies, but they are 9-3 against the three other NL West members. San Diego took four of six from the Dodgers, including a sweep at Dodger Stadium, won two of three from Arizona and swept a three-game series from San Francisco. In winning eight of their past 11 games, the Padres have shown offensive life, having scored 47 runs in the past nine games thanks in part to the run production of Yonder Alonso. Alonso may have just one home run in the surge, but he has driven in 11 runs. Closer Huston Street, who had just two save opportunities in the first 20 games of the season, has now converted five in a row in the past 12 days.
DOWN: Houston Astros
The Astros knew they were facing a challenge this year in what they acknowledge was the start of a long-term rebuilding process. That doesn't make the struggles any easier to deal with. Houston has lost nine of the past 10 games en route to an 8-24 record, worst in the big leagues. The Astros are on pace for 122 losses, the most since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders went 20-134. With a worst-in-the-bigs 5.75 ERA, the Astros have allowed six or more runs in 15 of their 24 losses, including being outscored 37-8 by Detroit in a four-game sweep this past weekend. It's a two-man show for the Astros. Bud Norris (3.89) and Bud Harrell (5.03) are both 3-3, accounting for all but two of the Astros' wins. Starter Brad Peacock (1-3, 9.41 in six games, five starts) and reliever Paul (no relation to Roger) Clemens (1-1, 4.79 in eight appearances) have the other two victories.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less