What will we recall about the series against the Cubs that just ended? Ronald Acuna’s 70th steal, which led to him lifting second base on high and then scoring the 10th-inning winner, his 146th run of 2023, the most any Brave has managed since 1900, the most any player on any team has scored since 2000.
We’ll also remember Matt Olson, whose season is likewise epochal. On Thursday, he reset the franchise standard for RBIs. (He’d already claimed the record for home runs.) The greatest position players in Braves annals are Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. Between them, they worked 40 big-league seasons. Neither hit more than 47 home runs. Neither drove in more than 132. Olson’s 2023: 53 HRs, 136 ribbies.
These are not cold numbers. These glow white-hot. These Braves became incapable of playing a dull inning. Five of them have 30 homers and 90 RBIs. The MLB average for OPS+ is 100; all nine regulars are at/above that number. They’ve hit 55 more home runs than the runner-up Dodgers. They need four more to become the homerest-hittin’ team ever.
This lineup was the tide that lifted all boats. Marcell Ozuna was hitting .043 with an OPS of .397 on May 1. He’s at .268 and .878 today. He has 37 homers, 93 RBIs. Michael Harris was hitting .163 with an OPS of .490 on June 7. He’s at .290 and .802 today. Harris and Eddie Rosario have 21 homers, tying them for sixth among Braves. The Central Division-winning Brewers have one man with more than 19.
Orlando Arcia replaced Dansby Swanson and became an All-Star. Bryce Elder cracked the rotation and became an All-Star. Raisel Iglesias went two months without a blown save. Spencer Strider has 274 strikeouts, 40 more than Blake Snell, second among NL pitchers. Max Fried and Kyle Wright made 21 starts between them – they made 60 last season – and this team still has a chance to become the winningest of all Braves teams.
These guys could have dialed it back in September, but they kept reminding us – and certain opponents – they aren’t done yet. They took three of four in Philadelphia, two of the wins in extra innings. They swept the Cubs, coming from behind in all three, damaging the Wrigleyville club’s postseason chances in a way nobody has since Steve Bartman.
Come Monday, things will change. We recall the 14-division-titles-in-succession more for the 13 times they failed in postseason. We remember the 2021 Braves less for being sub-.500 in August than for becoming World Series champs on Nov. 2. To borrow Alex Anthopoulos’ phrase from that team’s raucous celebration, flags fly forever.
Still, no matter how these next weeks play out, it will be difficult to reduce this golden summer to an afterthought. There might have been better Braves’ teams. (Then again, there might not.) There has never been one so much fun to watch. There should be a flag for that, too.
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