Ronald Acuña is beginning to look like himself, which is good sign for Braves

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

MIAMI – In addition to determination, perseverance and, of course, talent, winning a World Series also requires some good fortune. There often are unlikely contributors or lucky bounces along the way.

The Braves had some of that when they got hot last season. Every World Series winner does.

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But the Braves suffered an unfortunate blow long before that: Ronald Acuña, one of the game’s top talents, suffered a torn ACL in July that ended his season. At that time, pundits declared the Braves dead because their superstar, the National League MVP frontrunner at the time, went down.

Despite the Braves winning the World Series without Acuña, this probably goes without saying: The Braves’ chances of repeating as champions are much, much stronger if Acuña is healthy and performing up to his potential.

The 24-year-old has struggled this season – well, relative to his past dominance – but appears to be coming around. This is the best news for the Braves, who have managed to compile one of the sport’s best records while Acuña experienced a big slump for the first time in his career.

Well, when Acuña arrived in Miami for four games in three days versus the Marlins, he had hit .340 with an .839 OPS over his past 12 games. That includes two doubles, a home run, five RBIs and eight runs scored. He consistently has hit balls harder than he did in the weeks leading to his encouraging run.

“It’s been coming gradually,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ve been talking about it for about 10 days now. It’s kind of gradually getting there. I hope he just keeps building on it, feels good and can get him back making the difference that we all know that I can. It’s good. The at-bats have been a lot, lot better – a lot better.”

Perhaps most important is that Acuña looks more like himself. The energy is there. He is impacting games in many ways.

He has made a handful of outstanding defensive plays, including robbing a potential two-run homer with a leaping catch at the wall in New York. In Boston, he executed a terrific slide to score a crucial run, and scored another by going from first to home on a ball that was cut off in the gap.

This is the Acuña that the Braves need as they fight to win a fifth consecutive division title. If they want to take home another World Series, their best chance is with Acuña looking like what he is: one of baseball’s top players.

Acuña, who tore his ACL here at loanDepot Park last summer, is facing the right team to continue his roll. Over his career, he has hit .325 with a 1.100 OPS versus the Marlins over 62 games against Miami. He has 16 doubles, one triple, 21 homers and 53 RBIs in those contests.

“He’s working hard, trying hard,” Snitker said. “A lot of times these guys in that position (when they’re slumping) can try too hard, really. They want to do good so bad and all that. I’ve really liked where he’s been.”

Contreras starts behind the plate again

The Braves planned to wait until the Miami series – which is here – to evaluate whether Travis d’Arnaud (lower right leg injury) was healthy enough to catch again.

William Contreras was in Friday’s starting lineup starting at catcher for the fourth consecutive game.

Snitker said d’Arnaud won’t be back until sometime during the Braves’ next homestand, which begins Monday. This means Chadwick Tromp, the backup catcher for now, will catch one game in Saturday’s doubleheader.

“He’s getting better,” Snitker said of d’Arnaud. “But it’s just still bothering him. He can’t squat quite, so we’ll just stay away from him for the weekend.”

The Braves’ schedule has helped them take it easy on d’Arnaud. After Sunday’s series finale in New York, they had an off-day Monday before two games at Fenway Park. Then the Braves had another off-day Thursday.

Contreras has impressed the Braves.

“William’s come a long way in the last year in the improvement, the consistency,” Snitker said. “He’s maturing. He’s another – you forget – he’s just a kid, too, that (we) plug in with the rest of them. But it’s good to see. Good to see the growth and maturity.”

Ehire Adrianza hits the injured list

Not long before Friday’s game, infielder Ehire Adrianza hit the injured list. The Braves did not list an injury designation, which means it is something related to COVID-19.

They recalled outfielder Guillermo Heredia.

This means the Braves don’t have a backup infielder on the roster.

Tough stretch ahead

At 50-61, the Marlins are experiencing another lost season. The Braves will play them four times here before heading back home.

The Braves must make the most of these four contests. They entered Friday seven games behind the first-place Mets and 3-1/2 games ahead of third-place Philadelphia.

“There’s no game that’s an actual given,” Snitker said. “I mean, they’re good players over there and sometimes, over the course of the year, it doesn’t go quite like you want it to. But still, there’s major-league players over there. As I always say, it’s hard to win a major-league game against anybody. Anything can happen. You don’t ever look to take anybody lightly think anything before it happens.

“Baseball will kick you right in the gut and the teeth and everything else if you’re not careful.”

After this, the schedule gets tougher for a week.

The Braves return home Monday for a four-game series with the Mets, who as of Friday sported baseball’s second-best record. Then the Braves will host the Astros – who at this point hold the game’s third-best record – for three games.

The Braves are 21-26 versus teams with a winning record this season and 45-20 against clubs below .500.

Harris, Grissom switch spots in the lineup

In his MLB debut Wednesday, Vaughn Grissom hit ninth and played second base. He earned another start at second Friday, but this time he moved up to eighth.

Center fielder Michael Harris was in the No. 9 spot. The Braves have liked him there because of how he pairs with Acuña, the leadoff man.

Snitker said he put Grissom at No. 8 so that the Marlins need to go through two right-handed hitters (Marcell Ozuna and Grissom) if they bring in a lefty to face Eddie Rosario at some point.

Friday marked Harris’ 61st game batting ninth. He has batted eighth four times and has hit leadoff once.