Et tu, Olson? 1B making MVP push to rival Acuña's

July 30th, 2023

ATLANTA -- Ronald Acuña Jr. might be the clear-cut favorite to win the National League MVP. But he isn’t the only player who is constructing one of the finest seasons in Braves history.

padded his own MVP resume as he added a pair of homers to his National League-leading total on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park. His go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth allowed the Braves to complete a three-game sweep with an 8-6 win over the Brewers.

“He’s a monster,” Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna said. “He can hit the ball a long way, and we know he can do a lot more than that.”

Nobody is currently hotter than Ozuna, who tallied four homers during this three-game series. Well actually, you could argue that the description fits Austin Riley, whose first-inning blast on Sunday gave him eight homers over his past 40 at-bats.

But going back to the start of the season, no other National League player has homered more frequently than Olson, who hit his 34th homer in the third inning and then tallied his NL-leading 35th in the eighth. The All-Star first baseman is four homers shy of his career high and is on pace to end the season with 55 homers.

Andruw Jones hit a franchise-record 51 homers in 2005. Coincidentally, Jones also hit his 34th and 35th homers on the same day (Aug. 6) that year.

“The goal is to kind of steadily progress throughout the season and look back and be happy with it,” Olson said.

Nobody was panicking when Atlanta entered this series having won just three of its past 10 games. But this series sweep did at least prove that the club is entering the final two months in good shape. The Braves have gone 5-1 over the past two weekends against the Brewers, who fell half a game behind the Reds in the NL Central.

Speaking of the Reds, when Olson hit four homers during a three-game series in Cincinnati last month, he said he was looking to find a little more consistency. Conversations with Ozuna and some other teammates have certainly proven quite beneficial.

Olson entered June 15 hitting .228 with an .830 OPS, a 29.9 percent strikeout rate and a 14.4 at-bats per home run ratio.

In the 35 games that have followed, Olson has hit .319 with a 1.116 OPS, a 20.4 percent strikeout rate and a 7.9 at-bats per home run ratio.

“He’s an amazing player,” Ozuna said. “I’m happy for him with the season he has had. He’s going to do a little more with the average and maybe he’s going to hit .300.”

Olson’s incredible six-week stretch has improved his batting average to .259 and his OPS to .945. He’s certainly not aiming to hit .300. But as he has produced a .388 on-base percentage in his past 35 games, he has certainly enhanced the possibility that Acuña won’t be the only Braves player to finish in the top five of NL MVP balloting.

“[The numbers] are going to be what they’re going to be at the end of the year,” Olson said. “You can’t get too bogged down with that. I just want to continue to have a solid approach.”

Olson’s game-winning homer off Joel Payamps preserved a solid effort from top prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, who returned to the Major League level to allow three runs over five innings. The Brewers tallied three runs in the sixth against Collin McHugh. Ozuna slugged a game-tying homer in the bottom half of the inning.

Riley got the Braves rolling with the 463-foot homer he hit in the first inning. The Braves now have 20 450-plus-foot homers; no other team entered Sunday with more than 10. This is the highest total amassed by any team since Statcast began collecting this data in 2015. The 2021 Rockies tallied 19 such homers.