Let’s just get it out of the way, the Atlanta Braves bullpen is not a lot of fun to watch — unless of course you’re rooting against the Braves.
The last two months the staff hasn’t met a lead it feels comfortable with. Even when it does get the job done, Braves fans heart rates spike as if they’re in an Orangetheorgy class.
Last night the Braves ‘pen gave up five runs in an 8-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Atlanta has been rather mediocre the last month or so and with 38 games to go, the Braves enter Saturday’s game against Los Angeles with a 4.5 game lead in the National League East.
That championship-caliber offense’s depth is being tested — and then some — thanks to injuries. Yet I refuse to feel down about watching the Braves.
I won’t let the joy of watching Ronald Acuña Jr. play baseball be sapped from me due to blown leads, injuries and a mounting sense of doom that generally comes with being an Atlanta fan.
Because what this kid is doing is special.
He enters Saturday with a .297 average, 35 home runs and 29 stolen bases. He also has scored an NL-best 103 runs, second only to Mookie Betts’ 113 in all of Major League Baseball.
His next stolen base will give him just the fourth 30-30 season in Braves’ history and first since Ron Gant in 1991.
At just 21, he also has a chance at 40-40 season. He’d be the youngest member of what would then become a five-person club if he pulls off, joining Alfonso Soriano (Nationals, 2006: 46 HR, 41 SB), Alex Rodriguez (Mariners, 1998: 42 HR, 46 SB), Barry Bonds (Giants, 1996: 42 HR, 40 SB) and Jose Canseco (Athletics, 1988: 42 HR, 40 SB).
Just about every time I’ve turned on the Braves the last two seasons, Acuña has made me laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of something he does. Sometimes it’s how hard he hits a baseball, or his ability to track down a ball in the gap, throwing out a base runner or even just goofing off with fellow phenom Ozzie Albies.
Let’s take a look at some of the Venezuelan’s handy work from just this month alone shall we?
We’ll start with this 463-foot homer on August 2 against the Reds.
The next night he delivered the first walk-off of his career with a single to left in the 10th inning.
In the series finale he mashed a two–run homer to tie the Reds in the bottom of the ninth inning. He swagged it — and then some. Side note: how are these not the Braves normal Sunday uniforms?
Yes the Braves bullpen did go on to lose this one in the 10th, but we decided not to talk about that remember?
August 5, he threw out a Minnesota runner at second base from left field with an absolute laser. This was the Braves’ lone loss of the series, as Acuña homered each of the next two nights.
This August 9 homer was one of two he hit in the game. He hit four overall in the four-game series against the Marlins.
August 11 he threw out a Marlins runner at first from right field after he wandered too far from the bag on a single.
Two days later he threw out Todd Frazier at home, this time from left field. He also homered in this game.
On Thursday he homered again in the ninth inning, part of a four-run rally that came up short. But the highlight of the day was this robbery of a catch, in which he added just a bit of theatrics to.
In Friday’s loss he was 1-for-5 with an RBI-single. He’s driven in 85 runs this season, a total that would certainly be higher if he wasn’t such a valuable leadoff hitter.
So to conclude, don’t let the Braves’ bullpen and fading division dominance get you too down. This club was unwatchable for a few seasons in a row there, but now thanks to Acuña, win or lose the Braves are worth tuning in for.
I don’t plan to miss the show.
(Photo: Logan Riely, Getty Images)