The Braves lost their finale in Philadelphia, 9-5, to split the series Thursday. But Ronald Acuna moved closer to the record books.
Acuna stole second and third in the first inning, bringing his season total to 36. Acuna later hit his 39th homer. He’s the youngest player to record a 35-35 season and the fifth 40-40 season in MLB history is well within reach.
“It’s day by day,” Acuna said via team interpreter Franco Garcia. “Just have to come out with the same intensity and energy every day. I’m extremely excited, happy to be part of a team like this that’s continuously fighting for a playoff spot.”
Acuna stated his season goal was 30 homers and 30 steals. He’s been less brash about joining the 40-40 club, which members include Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Alfonso Soriano and Alex Rodriguez. But Acuna’s heightened aggression on the base paths in the second half has a historic campaign on the table.
The 21-years-old Acuna’s 39 homers are already the most by a Brave since Andruw Jones’ 41 in 2006. He’s the only Brave to accumulate a 35-35 season. And on Thursday, he became only the second player this season to swipe two bags against Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game (the other was Kansas City’s Adalberto Mondesi).
“We’re all pulling for him,” said starter Julio Teheran, who allowed three homers in the loss. “We all believe he’s going to do it. We don’t want to put any pressure on him because he’s been doing a great job. We’re all pulling for him because we know what kind of player he is and to have this success in the first two years of his career is huge. We’re really happy for him.”
When projected towards October, the Braves need Acuna at his best. He’s beginning to heat up again, seeing the ball better and taking pitches. If he catches fire toward the end of the month, he’s the type of bat who can carry a team in the postseason – though the Braves hope he won’t need to.
“He’s swinging the bat really well,” manager Brian Snitker said. “There was a game earlier in the series he had three hits. He’s starting to swing the bat, get a really good feel for his game. Some of the takes, the at-bats have been really good.”
The Braves, at this point, are peeling days off the calendar until the postseason. Finishing with a split wasn’t optimal, but it isn’t a reason to panic either. Their magic number remained eight.
Teheran’s performance, however, is worth concern. He surrendered three homers, long considered his Achilles heel. The veteran righty has put together a nice bounce-back season, but with the team soon evaluating its postseason options, Teheran can’t afford another start of this ilk.
The Braves open their final series in Washington on Friday. It’ll feature a pitcher’s rematch from five days ago: Mike Soroka vs. Max Scherzer.