By RahimAli Merchant
Have you been watching what’s happening in the Major Leagues? Are there any teams who may have surprised you by the way they are playing? How about the Atlanta Braves? Did you ever imagine the Atlanta Braves would be in first place in their division in the middle of August? How about them having four All-Stars in this year’s All-Star game? Could they have a Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year on their team?
As much as you may be surprised in the Braves having a two-game lead over their division, you should also be surprised in how they are doing it. With the four All-Stars, first baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Ozzie Albies, outfielder Nick Markakis, and starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, the Braves have managed to maintain first place and are getting hotter as the season goes on.
Freeman and Markakis have been playing their best baseball all season long, which has put Freeman in the talks for MVP. However, the one small little detail you may have forgotten was their struggles before the All-Star break. I would say one player has changed the attitude in the Braves clubhouse, and it’s not Freeman.
As of Wednesday, August 15th, the Braves are 68-51, which is 1st place in NL East and only a game back for the best record in the National League. They are looking to have their best record in five years and reach for 90 wins or more. The only way that can happen is if rookie outfielder, Ronald Acuna Jr., continues to light it up.
Remember earlier when I said it was one player who changed the attitude of the clubhouse? Well it’s Acuna who’s done that. Whether or not you’re a Braves fan, you’ve got to love Acuna for rookie of the year. Acuna (20) is the youngest to hit a homer in four straight games. He’s also the youngest in five consecutive games. He has eight homers in eight games and is really helping his case for R.O.Y.
Acuna only played in 68 games of the team’s 119 so far due to contract issues and injuries that placed him on the DL. With the Braves lineup the way it is, we could expect to see Acuna and others remain hot. By the way, Acuna is the leadoff batter in this lineup, and he has hit three leadoff homers during this streak. He’s had 264 at-bats, 49 runs, 76 hits, 43 runs batted in, 19 home runs, and 8 stolen bases, all while batting a .288. Although the Homers and RBIs are lower than we’d like, what Acuna is doing now is making everyone afraid to pitch to him.
In case you missed the Braves-Marlins game on Wednesday, let me tell you what happened! Unfortunately, there weren’t any leadoff homers, but there was a leadoff hit-by-pitch which caused a benches-clearing scuffle where Braves manager Brian Snitker and Marlins pitcher Jose Urena were ejected. Acuna would leave the game an inning later after trying to shake it off in his left arm. The only good thing that came from this was that Acuna’s streak will still remain, so hopefully Acuna doesn’t have to miss any time because the Braves go as he goes. The Braves have won five straight games and 14 out of the last 18 to take a 17-game lead in their division. With Acuna as leadoff, the Braves lineup is complete, and anyone in the lineup can carry them behind Acuna, so let’s see where the Braves and Acuna will finish.