Ronald Acuña Jr. suffers torn ACL, out for season

Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr. is tended to after being injured while running the bases during the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Credit: Gene Puskar/AP

Credit: Gene Puskar/AP

Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr. is tended to after being injured while running the bases during the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH – Just like that, Ronald Acuña Jr.’s 2024 season is over. It happened in an instant – on a rather meaningless play on a sleepy Sunday at PNC Park. And suddenly, the Braves are faced with a grim, but not impossible, reality.

If they are to win the World Series this year, it will be without the reigning National League MVP. And as they charge forward throughout the rest of the season, Acuña once again will be forced to sit and watch, barred from playing the game he loves and cannot live without.

Meanwhile, the baseball world will go without watching one of its most electrifying talents.

Late Sunday night, the Braves announced that an MRI on Acuña revealed a complete tear of the ACL in his left knee. He is set to undergo season-ending surgery at a date yet to be determined.

“Sorry,” Acuña posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, followed by emojis for a broken heart and a sad face with a tear running down it.

The Braves replied to his post by saying: “All of Braves Country is with you.” They put praying hands and a heart after that.

It is a sad day for all.

There are no winners here.

With one out in the top of the first inning on Sunday, Acuña – who led off the game with a double – began bolting toward third base as the catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher. But he immediately changed his mind and halted, then quickly turned back toward second base.

His knee gave out. He crumpled to the dirt. He writhed in clear pain. He was down for several minutes.

Everyone watching feared the worst-case scenario – especially because Acuña tore the ACL in his right knee in 2021 while trying to make a catch at the warning track in Miami.

But after Sunday’s game, Acuña seemed optimistic that Sunday’s left knee injury was not as serious as his torn ACL.

“(We) think (compared to the one from Miami), this one is not that hard,” Acuña said through Eddie Perez, the Braves coach who interpreted his answers for reporters. “It doesn’t feel that painful and I didn’t hear any pop or anything, so I’m feeling good. We don’t think it’s that bad.”

And here’s what he said about the play on which he suffered the injury: “I saw the catcher throwing the ball back to the pitcher very slow, and then I was timing (it) so I could steal third. But in that moment, he threw it hard, and I had to come back. That’s when I felt it.”

For hours, no one knew the severity of the injury because the Braves couldn’t immediately get imaging on Acuña, with it being a holiday weekend. After beating the Pirates to complete their road trip, they flew home to Atlanta, where Acuña underwent an MRI.

It revealed the worst-case scenario. This is brutal news for Acuña, who is coming off an MVP season. It’s even sadder when considering how long it took for Acuña to look like himself after returning from his first torn ACL. He faces another lengthy journey – one he’s proven he can conquer.

The baseball world is left to mourn the loss of Acuña for 2024, but the Braves cannot afford to do so. They must move forward. They need to keep fighting. There are goals to be achieved, including the ultimate one: Hoisting a World Series trophy at season’s end.

On Sunday, Jarred Kelenic entered the game in place of Acuña and played left field. Adam Duvall, who started in left field, shifted to right field. This is likely how the Braves will align their outfield without Acuña.

Acuña leaves a large hole in the leadoff spot, even if he’d only hit .250 with a .716 OPS, four home runs and 15 RBIs before the injury. When Braves manager Brian Snitker gave Acuña a day off for a mental break earlier this month, Michael Harris II hit leadoff. He would probably be the primary option to do so again, though the Braves could also use others there – like Ozzie Albies, who hit leadoff 20 times in 2022.

Three years ago, Anthopoulos completely rebuilt his outfield. He might be active in trade talks again, but his outfield situation and his team are better this time around, so the Braves might be fine starting Duvall and Kelenic. Context: In 2021, Abraham Almonte, Ehire Adrianza and Guillermo Heredia were getting starts in the outfield until Anthopoulos brought in reinforcements. Duvall and Kelenic are a better duo, but perhaps the Braves would want to bring in a better outfielder at some point if it doesn’t go well.

After Sunday, Duvall is hitting .207 with a .683 OPS and four homers. Kelenic is batting .265 with a .699 OPS and three homers. But it’s important to note that both might benefit from everyday playing time, which should provide them an opportunity to get into a rhythm.

The Braves are now without Acuña and ace Spencer Strider, who underwent season-ending elbow surgery in April. These are big losses, even for a team as loaded as Atlanta.

Even without Acuña and Strider, the Braves have the ability to win the World Series. They proved that three years ago, when they won it all despite Acuña missing the entire second half and postseason run. And now, their lineup and pitching staff are more talented and deeper. Atlanta’s offense, which has struggled, should hit more than it has to this point. And the pitching has been spectacular.

No doubt, though, this is a massive blow for the Braves, who lost their most naturally talented player. Yes, they have won a World Series without Acuña, but the fact is this:

The Braves are much better with Acuña in their lineup, and they won’t have him for the rest of the year.