The Braves slugged past the Gnats once again last night by a 9-6 score. But before we do anything else, I recommend that we all take a moment to stand in awe of Ronald Acuña, Jr. The headlines everywhere this morning are celebrating his joining the 40/40 club. He did indeed hit his 40th home run of the season, making him the fifth person in MLB history to slug 40 dingers and steal 40 bases.
As wonderful as that accomplishment is, Ronald has done so much more. As JonathanF has been reminding us for a couple of months now, RAJ has several combined accomplishments (runs, hits, rbi, homers) that have never been done before by anyone. As to runs, he scored three more last night, giving him 143 for the season. That is already the Braves’ franchise record, but if he can score nine more in the next eight games, he will have scored more than any player since the run-bloated 1930’s. The stolen base and runs scored combination is already unprecedented, and he’s doing that with triple crown stats of .337 with 40 homers and 101 rbi.
Ronald is doing all this at the head of a lineup that is itself in unprecedented territory. The team is still on pace to hit the most home runs in mlb history. The team is slugging .501; no team has ever slugged 500 for a season.
Last night began as these Braves’ games so often do, with an Acuña home run, on a laser to left field, 116 mph off the bat, 20 degree launch angle. It looked like it barely got over third baseman’s head and just kept going. Albies stroked a sharp single, followed by an Austin Riley home run. Bam—3-0, before we had settled into our seats.
In the third inning, Ronnie knocked a leadoff double, an Ozzie fly ball got him to third, and a Riley sac fly made it 4-0. And of course that sequence prompted Frenchy to say “ABC baseball—get him on, get him over, get him in.”
Before last night, Patrick Corbin in his last eleven starts against the Braves was 0-10, with an ERA over 7. Make that 0-11, with an increase in his ERA. Francouer attempted to compliment Corbin, by pointing out that despite his struggles he never misses his turn, starting over 30 games every year. Braves fans devoutly wish that Corbin will continue this admirable trait.
I’d like to keep on celebrating the Braves’s offense, but I shouldn’t put off the unsettling news. Charlie Morton only pitched one inning. He held them scoreless, but he wasn’t sharp: 24 pitches, 12 strikes, 12 balls. He walked a couple but left them stranded. Apparently he experienced discomfort in the index finger on his pitching hand (sound familiar?), so he was removed after that one inning. Reports say that x-rays were negative, but that they will do an mri today.
So Snit brought on Michael “Gulf of” Tonkin. The Resolution has been a revelation this year. He tossed the next two innings, giving up a single run in the third, making it a 4-3 game. It took him 42 pitches to work those two innings, so he yielded to Darius “Hootie” Vines. Vines ran into immediate trouble. He surrendered two runs, on a single, a triple, and a sac fly. He then walked three batters, loading the bases with two outs. This led to the critical moment of the game, facing lefty Dom Smith with the bases loaded and the Braves clinging to a 4-3 lead. At this point, Vines had thrown 25 pitches, only 10 of them strikes. It went to a 3-1 count, so he’s now at 28 pitches, only 11 strikes. What are the odds of this working out well?
Somehow, Vines managed to strike out Smith on the next two pitches to end the inning. He then tossed a seven pitch, 1-2-3 inning in fifth. He gave up a single run in 6th, and got the first batter in the 7th before yielding to Brad Hand. His totals for three and a third innings were three runs on 61 pitches, 35 of them strikes. Not particularly good in the abstract, but given his beginning, it was a remarkable turnaround. For his final 33 pitches, Darius managed to find the strike zone 24 times. I believe there is a lesson to be learned there.
Fortunately, by the time Vines had given up another run in the sixth, the Braves had padded their lead. In the fifth, Davy Martinez knew better than to let Corbin face top of Braves order for third time. So he turned to Jordan “Parson” Weems. The Braves scored two in the fifth, on a HBP to Ronald, a double by Ozzie, and yet another sac fly by Riley.
In the top seventh, Marcell “Big Bear” Ozuna stroked a three run homer to center, into the teeth of hurricane headwinds blowing straight in. He had been 0 for 8 in the series up to that point, but none of these Braves’ hitters stay down for long.
The Natspos scored two in the 8th to cut it to 9-6, but Iglesias held them scoreless in the ninth for his 30th save on the season.
The Dodgers and the Orioles both lost, so the Braves’ lead for home field advantage is 4.5 over the Dodgers and 4 over the O’s, with just eight left to play. The aforementioned tropical storm has already caused cancellation of the Saturday game; they will try to get in two on Sunday, Ophelia willing.
Reminds me of one of my favorite songs by the Band:
Was it something that somebody said?
Honey, you know we broke the rules
Was somebody up against the law?
Honey, you know I’d die for you
They got your number
Scared and running
But I’m still waiting for the second coming
Of Ophelia, please come back home
The big news is the index fingers of two of the Braves top three starters. Max Fried had just been placed on the 15 day IL for his blister issue. Let’s hope this is just a precaution, and he will be good to go in the NLDS. Morton’s injury is still a mystery as of this writing, but if the injury is serious, the Braves’ playoff rotation is cause for some concern. That is especially so if Fried is limited. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see that any of the 11 or 12 “fifth starters” the Braves have used this season is ready for October baseball.
On the other hand, against the Dodgers in the 2020 NLDS, I remember Bryce Wilson pitching a gem and A.J. Minter starting and tossing three shutout innings in another game. And Tucker Davidson and Dylan Lee started games in the 2021 World Series, with the then unproven Kyle Wright turning in a key performance in game five.
With this offense, I like our chances no matter who pitches. Having said that, the crapshoot odds are a lot better with a healthy Fried and Morton. So prayers for a couple of pointer fingers.