The Braves have had myriad challenges since April. But as even first baseman Freddie Freeman acknowledges, Acuna’s absence is a “whole new animal.”
Acuna was hitting .283/.394/.596 with 24 homers and 17 steals across 82 games before the injury. He was the Braves’ best player. He was the engineer atop the lineup and the team’s primary energy source.
It’s difficult to oversell how important Acuna, 23, is to the franchise. Freeman, speaking Monday in Denver during the All-Star press day, said he was among the small group of people who were with Acuna when he learned his fate.
Freeman, manager Brian Snitker, trainer George Poulis, long-time team associate Eddie Perez, physical therapist Nick Valencia and batting practice pitcher Tomas Perez were among those with Acuna.
“We were just sitting in the ballroom of the second floor (of the hotel), just shaking our heads,” Freeman said. “I brought (my son) Charlie with me because I knew he’d cheer him up. He came in and gave Ronald a huge hug. All you can really say is sorry. He was putting on one of the best seasons we could ever see. He was contending for 40-40, 30-30 for sure. One of the top three players in the game that people aren’t going to get to watch any more. It’s hard. It’s super hard for us when we lose our best player.
“And it’s hard for baseball. You have east coast, Ronald and (Jacob) deGrom, west coast you have Shohei (Ohtani), Fernando (Tatis) and those guys. You take one guy away and it’s sad. It’s just sad for baseball. We just hung out for 30 minutes. I’ve never seen somebody in such good spirits though, because all he wants to do is be back. Then Ozzie came in that night too. It was a late night and it showed Sunday. We struck out nine straight times. A little bit of a hangover from losing Ronald for the whole year. Baseball is going to miss him.”
Acuna had narrowly avoided serious injuries earlier in the season. He’d had scares with his hand and ankle. Acuna plays hard – it’s largely what makes him such a captivating player – and the injury won’t deter him. He recently said he’ll play even harder when he returns.
But that return won’t be this season. If the Braves are going to make their first legitimate run, it will have to come without Acuna.
“It was really tough seeing a play like that,” Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, Acuna’s close friend, told The AJC Monday. “It’s tough to see him out. He’s a superstar. It’s tough for the team and the whole MLB. I hope he can get better soon. I think he’s going to be great (in the rehab process). He’ll be back. He’s young. He’ll be ready to be back.”
Albies added: “All I can wish him is the best, to take care of his body and come out stronger than ever.”
The Braves will continue with an unconventional outfield, which has been the case most of the season, though this time it won’t have its foundation in right field. Guillermo Heredia is manning center. Orlando Arcia is in left. For now, utilityman Ehire Adrianza can handle right field.
Replacing Acuna though, forget about it. As Mark Bradley pointed out in his Monday column, Arcia, Heredia and Adrianza combined for 0.8 bWAR. Acuna alone accounted for 3.6.
“He’s a five-tool player,” Freeman said. “He can beat you in any point of the game. I think he’s a gold glover in right field. He can steal a base. He can hit the ball 500 feet. He’s hitting .280, .290. I don’t know what else you want. That’s excitement right there. He has fun playing the game. He’s bat-flipping walks, doubles. He’s doing everything now. That’s what kids are drawn to. That’s what’s great about this game.
“We have so many young guys who are having fun playing this game. Hopefully that’s getting into people’s households and making them want to play baseball. Baseball is going to miss him. Hopefully, he’s young, he’ll come back soon and we can get him at the beginning of the season next year.”