Bradley’s Buzz: Acuña’s knee reminds us how fragile baseball can be

Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. smiles as he walks to the field to take batting practice during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Friday, February, 16, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /



Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. smiles as he walks to the field to take batting practice during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Friday, February, 16, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /

The first rule of baseball: Good pitching stops good hitting.

The second rule of baseball: There’s never enough good pitching.

The third rule of baseball: Nothing goes as planned.

Baseball seasons last forever. This is March 4. The MLB playoffs will commence on Oct. 3. That’s seven months away.

Over seven months, even the best players will suffer a slump. Even the hardiest of players will tweak something. Years ago, I mentioned to a Braves manager how remarkable it was that his famous pitchers avoided injury. Bobby Cox rolled his eyes and said, “You have no idea,” meaning that sometimes they weren’t so healthy but, being professional, pitched anyway.

The best Brave left North Point, Fla., and is set for an exam in Los Angeles. Ronald Acuña will see Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the hot doc of the moment. (Previous hot docs: Robert Kerlan, Frank Jobe.) Dr. ElAttrache – of the Kerlan/Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, which we know is a serious place because it inserts an “a” into “orthopedic” – mended Acuña’s ACL in 2021.

The mending seems to have taken. Last season saw Acuña hit 40 homers, steal 70 bases and be crowned MVP in unanimity. But, after an exhibition-game rundown, he felt a twinge in his repaired right knee. When the MVP feels a twinge, his team scrambles the jets.

An MRI – baseball folks once declared the procedure stood for “maybe really injured” – showed only irritation around the meniscus, which is cushioning cartilage. That’s not a dire diagnosis. Still, knees are rather important to athletes, and this knee belongs to the most important Brave, so why not let the hot doc kick this tire? (Besides, the more exhibitions Acuña misses, the less he’s apt to tweak something.)

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos told the AJC’s Justin Toscano on Sunday that Acuña could have played but that the team, not being stupid, chose to err on the side of further examination. Anthopoulos declared himself “highly confident” the MVP will be A-OK for Opening Day, which is all that matters.

Being “highly confident” about the structural solidity of one knee on a March weekend does not, however, mean that something else can’t/won’t go wrong with another player’s knee/elbow. Because, as AA the GM knows too well, something always does. In large measure, every season of every sport comes down to luck. Who stays healthy? Who doesn’t? What team is most able to work around its woes?

Back in his Toronto days, Anthopoulos took to saving a chunk of money for mid-course corrections. He does that still. His rainy-day cash enabled him to buy a bullpen of Martin/Melancon/Greene at the trade deadline in 2019. Two years later, in one of the greatest swoops in the annals of GM’ing, his whole new outfield overrode the loss of the great Acuña and, not incidentally, took the 2021 World Series.

That’s another baseball peculiarity. The team with the best player doesn’t always, or even often, win. From 2011 through 2020, the team with LeBron James reached the NBA finals nine times and took four titles. Since 2011, the team with Mike Trout made the MLB playoffs once and got swept.

The Rangers spent $185 million on the sport’s best pitcher. Jacob deGrom worked 30-1/3 innings last season before needing Tommy John surgery. His team won the World Series without him.

For all we know about baseball – owing to analytics, we know a lot – we’re forever being surprised. The Braves won 101 and 104 games in 2022 and 2023 but were gone in one postseason round. Sans Acuña, the 88-win Braves rode a thrown-together outfield of Soler/Rosario/Pederson/Duvall to claim one of the giddiest championships ever.

Even now, we look back on the autumn of ‘21 and ask, “How’d that happen?” By way of explanation, the best we’ve got comes from the late great pitcher Joaquin Andujar: “You can sum up the game of baseball in one word, and that word is, ‘You never know.’ "

The Braves spent the offseason trying to leave as little to chance as is humanly possible. They convened for spring training knowing that chance will go a long way toward determining how the 2024 team will be remembered. Guys will go cold. Guys will get hurt. And, eight months from now, they could be champs.

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