Even including a hot road trip, Acuna’s initial results were pedestrian. He slashed .265/.326/.453 in 29 games before his violent tumble at first base in Boston on May 27, resulting in injuries that deprived him of a month.
His production wasn’t there as he re-acclimated himself. He hit .212 with two homers in 14 games before the All-Star break.
“He’s breathed life into us,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s brought that energy, excitement, confidence to our whole team since he’s been here. What he’s done has been really, really good. The defense, his legs, the arm; he’s meant a lot to our team. Tremendous lift he’s been since he’s been here.”
- Bradley: Wretched to regal - Braves are division champs once again
The Braves opened the second half in Washington, when Snitker made the decision that perhaps launched the Braves into the postseason.
Acuna became the leadoff hitter. He’s since hit .316 with 19 homers, 41 RBIs, 53 runs scored and 14 stolen bases. He’s posted a .402 on-base percentage and .636 slugger percentage in those 64 games.
He was unquestionably the team’s best player in the second half. Starting games with Acuna – including his team record eight lead-off homers – energized the club in ways stats cannot portray.
“I never have (seen anything like it) in my lifetime,” Snitker said after Acuna’s third consecutive leadoff homer. “Freddie (Freeman) and I are sitting there looking at each other like ‘My God. Are we really seeing this?’ And the explosions when he hit them, too.”
That week was Acuna’s best work. He earned NL player-of-the-week honors after hitting .464 with a .559 on-base percentage. Along with his three consecutive leadoff blasts, he collected nine RBIs and scored 11 while tacking on three steals.
He’s galvanized the Braves in means that are difficult to explain to those who don’t see the team regularly. He may not be the league MVP, but he’s certainly deserving of votes.
- Photos: Braves celebrate National League East title
Much was made of the team’s decision to leave him in the minors for three weeks, motivated by gaining an extra season of contractual control. Blame the system, not the organization.
It didn’t haunt the Braves, who won their division with a week to spare. It didn’t hurt Acuna, who’s likely winning rookie of the year despite a valiant effort from teenage superstar Juan Soto in Washington.
Acuna soon will be witnessed nationwide during the National League Division Series. It’s his chance to show the country what Braves fans have seen for the past few months.
The next great talent in baseball, who’s not only improving individually, but sharing his success with a group that arrived much earlier than scheduled.
In case you missed it ...
- Braves dream season part 1: It all began with a walk-off win
- Braves dream season part 2: Early-season success made for late-season cushion