Braves dream season: Ronald Acuna arrived with a bang

1. His full name is Ronald Jose Acuna, and he was born Dec. 18, 1997 in La Guaira, Venezuela. 2. The Braves signed Acuna in July 2014, and the scout who signed him, Rolando Petit, tried to sign Acuna’s dad in the 1990s. 3. Acuna's dad, Ron Acuna, played in the Mets, Blue Jays and Brewers organizations from 1999-2006, reaching as high as Double-A. 4. Ronald Acuna played in Australia in November and December 2016. In 20 games, he had an OPS of 1.001. 5. In 2017, Acuna became the youngest MVP in the Arizona

The Braves captured the National League East with a remarkable season that was imagined by few. So many things went the Braves’ way that led to the first postseason trip since 2013. In the second of a seven-part series, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will look back at some of the many highlights of the wonderful journey that captured the imagination of the city.

Today: Acuna arrives with a bang

Ronald Acuna likely will be the National League rookie of the year. He should receive MVP votes. The Braves’ second-half surge isn’t palatable without Acuna.

It began in Cincinnati. The Braves were baseball’s pleasant surprise, but they disappointed in the first two of a four-game set. They lacked the energy and enthusiasm that now defines them.

Then came Acuna, finally promoted after a slow start to his minor league season. The Braves won the next two games, the 20-year-old hitting his first homer in the second, before taking two of three in Philadelphia and sweeping the Mets to gain possession of first place.

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.”

BradleyWretched 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.

PhotosBraves 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 1It all began with a walk-off win

Braves dream season part 2: Early-season success made for late-season cushion

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