If you would have asked any baseball guru a week ago who should be Rookie of the Year in the National League, they probably would have told you that Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals has that award securely in place. If you pose that same question today you will probably get a different answer, thanks to Ronald Acuna, Jr.
Since August 7th, Acuna is batting .470 with eight home runs and 15 RBI in eight games, according to Baseball Reference. The Braves are 7-2 during that stretch. It is clear that Acuna is capitalizing in his new lead-off role . He entered the All-Star break with a batting average of .249. That average has excelled to .288 since. Neither the Braves management or players could have predicted this type of production. Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Ender Inciarte (former lead-off hitter prior to Acuna) stated “He’s the best lead-off hitter I’ve ever seen. He’s the best player I’ve ever seen. I mean, he’s just been unbelievable.” When the same source referenced skipper Brian Snitker’s thoughts, the manager responded by emphasizing this is “something probably not any of us have ever witnessed.”
On Tuesday night, the phenom became the youngest player to homer in five straight games. The last Brave to do so was Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones. If that is not impressive enough, Acuna has homered four times in two days. On Monday he hit a lead-off homer in each of the double-header games against the Miami Marlins. On Tuesday night, he sent the first pitch he saw into the left field bleachers. To top it off, he also went “oppo” with a three-run dinger in the 7th inning to expand the Braves lead to four over Miami. The Braves won the game 10-6.
When comparing stats between Soto and Acuna, you have to split hairs in order to determine who deserves Rookie of the Year. According to Baseball Reference, Soto is batting .301 compared to Acuna’s .288. Acuna has more home runs (17) than Soto (15). However, Soto has produced three more runs in five less at-bats. That said, the deciding factor should be how much impact the player has contributed to their respective team. On Tuesday night, Acuna became the youngest player to homer in five straight games.
The Braves currently hold a two game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies and an eight game lead over the Nationals. Atlanta is 15-9 since the All-Star break, while Washington is 12-11. Amazingly, four of those losses are walk-offs. Both players are phenomenal. Should the edge go to the player with the higher WAR (Acuna with 2.5) and the division lead (also Acuna) or the player who got off to a hotter start?
Acuna would be the first Braves’ outfielder to win the award since David Justice in 1990. Rafael Furcal won the award as a shortstop in 2000 and Craig Kimbrel achieved the feat in 2011 as a reliever. If Acuna keeps pace, he will be the eighth Brave to win the Award, and sixth to do so since the move to Atlanta in 1966. Actually, if he maintains his current pace, he might effectively join two other Braves in consideration for MVP.