ATLANTA -- One week after Ozzie Albies broke his left foot, the Braves are still generating plenty of power and creating reason to wonder whether they might join the 2019 Twins as the only teams to have eight players hit at least 20 homers in a season.
Unfortunately for the Braves, the four homers they hit in a 12-10 loss to the Giants on Tuesday night at Truist Park were not enough to overcome Spencer Strider’s rough start and a rare shaky outing from the bullpen. But the reigning World Series champs should be just fine if they extend the power surge that has helped them win 16 of their past 19 games.
Especially, if Matt Olson’s two-homer performance in this loss was a sign he is going to start trending toward his anticipated home run total. Olson hit a three-run homer in the third inning and added a two-run shot in the ninth to increase his season total to 10.
Olson, who hit 39 homers for Oakland last year, entered Tuesday having hit .208 with two homers and a .644 OPS in June. The Braves’ lineup has proven to be deep enough to remain scary even while one of its most intimidating pieces has slumbered.
“He had a really good series [this past weekend] in Chicago,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He didn’t have a whole lot to show for it because of the [windy] elements. But he’s been swinging the bat pretty well.”
While dropping to 27-5 in games they have scored at least five runs, the Braves couldn’t alter the tone set as Strider allowed six runs over just 3 2/3 innings. The bullpen allowed six more runs over 5 1/3 innings and Atlanta fell to 15-2 when hitting three home runs or more this year, and 33-5 when hitting at least four homers dating to the start of 2018.
Here’s the good news. The Braves entered Tuesday with a National League-best 2.89 bullpen ERA. Even after a rough night, the relief corps remains one of the team’s strengths. But while pitching is always the key to success, Atlanta’s greatest strength might be an offense that leads the NL with 105 home runs. The Yankees (112) are MLB’s only team with a higher total and the Brewers rank second in the NL with 90 homers.
Austin Riley (18), Marcell Ozuna (13), Olson (10), Travis d’Arnaud (10), William Contreras (9) and Dansby Swanson (9) are all on pace to hit 20 home runs this year.
Adam Duvall, who hit 38 homers last year, has only recently heated up to increase his season total to eight, which puts him on pace to hit just 18. He could easily surge and Ronald Acuña Jr.’s seven home runs have come in just 40 games. If he keeps his pace over the remaining 93 games, he will end up with 23 homers.
So, even without Albies, who had a 20-homer campaign each of the past three full seasons, the Braves could end up with eight players who hit at least 20 homers. This would require both catchers (d’Arnaud and Contreras) to maintain their current paces while sharing time. Recent production has indicated this is at least a possibility.
The Braves are also doing this without the currently injured Eddie Rosario, who was one of the eight Twins players to hit 20 homers in 2019.
Chipper Jones was in his seats behind home plate to see this latest power display. Television cameras caught the Hall of Famer looking impressed after Acuña drilled a two-run homer off Giants reliever Zack Littell in the fourth inning. This was Acuña’s seventh homer, but it was just his first extra-base hit since June 11. He entered Tuesday 4-for-34 in his past eight games.
“You knew it was just a matter of time before he began barreling balls,” Snitker said. “You keep sending them up there to the plate and they’re going to eventually get it going.”
Ozuna’s two-run homer in the second inning was also encouraging. The veteran outfielder entered Tuesday with just two homers and a .670 OPS over his past 17 games.
Riley and Ozuna are both on pace for a 30-homer season, and history has created reason to think Olson and Acuña could carry them toward this same total. An abundance of power doesn’t guarantee success. But it can create a lot of comfort over the length of a long season.