As the Atlanta Braves slid into the All-Star break on a 3-8 skid, it was apparent that some holes needed to be filled.
One of the concerns involved figuring out who can produce from the lead-off spot. Ender Inciarte has long been a staple in the Braves lineup as the lead-off guy. However, the career .288 hitter has seen a massive drop in production this year. Manager Brian Snitker has explored many variations of the order, including having Ender bat ninth in the lineup.
Yet, the Braves still couldn’t figure out the best option at the top of the order. After the All-Star break, they might have found a solution. Enter Ronald Acuna Jr.
The first game for the Braves post-break was against division rival Washington. The Nationals were looking to get off to a hot start after a disappointing first half. The Venezuela native had other plans.
Acuna went 3 for 5 with a home run, a double and two stolen bases. That kind of production doesn’t seem to be a blip on the radar either.
Since that day on July 20th, Acuna has gone 18 for 55 at the plate. He has produced 13 runs during that span including four home runs and nine RBI. Also noteworthy, out of the six stolen bases on the season, four of them have come during his time at the lead-off spot. Not only has he seen a rise in numbers from the number one hole, Acuna seems to relish being the first guy to face a pitcher no matter the inning. Here are some fascinating numbers from David O’Brien (formerly AJC, now with The Athletic).
Arguably more important than the numbers, Acuna brings swagger to the game. He is flamboyant and confident. He is an aggressive hitter, who probably swings at too many pitches. But you want an aggressive hitter at the plate to lead things off, especially when it produces these numbers.
Behind Acuna, the Braves have one of the best 2-3-4 options in the National League. Ozzie Albies is third in the league in runs scored and fifth in total bases. Then there is Freddie Freeman, who is putting on a campaign for league MVP. Freeman is third in the league in batting average and second in on-base percentage. Not to mention, he and Nick Markakis (who hits behind Freeman) are in a constant battle for the league lead in hits. Acuna doesn’t just add pop with his bat, he brings elite speed so the bats behind him can get home in an easier fashion than say, Inciarte.
With Acuna’s agressive style at the plate, coupled with his speed, it makes total sense to keep him at lead-off while Ender struggles, and maybe even beyond. Even though he struggled against the Mets on Sunday (1 for 5), Acuna was still able to make his mark by bringing in no other than Ender Inciarte for a go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning.
After the Mets responded by tying the game in the bottom of the ninth, the Braves eventually claimed the victory 5-4 thanks to a 10th inning homer from Markakis.
Next up for Atlanta is a trip to Washington on Tuesday where they will start off with a double-header. With many divisional games left, the Braves need to rely on sure-to-be MVP candidates Freeman and Markakis. But it all starts at the top with their catalyst Ronald Acuna.