Olson sets Braves' RBI mark as Atlanta clinches MLB's best record

September 29th, 2023

ATLANTA -- Matt Olson grew up in suburban Atlanta loving Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and the Braves. He dreamed of one day playing for his hometown team. But he never imagined having a season greater than any of those produced by the Joneses or any other former Braves legends.

Now that Olson owns the franchise record for home runs and RBIs (since RBI became an official stat in 1920), he has constructed one of the greatest seasons in Braves history. It might be considered the greatest had Ronald Acuña Jr. not become the first player to ever produce a previously unthinkable 40-homer, 70-steal season on Wednesday night.

Olson set the RBI record when he drove in his 135th and 136th runs with a two-run homer in the first inning of Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the Cubs at Truist Park. His MLB-leading 54th homer of the season broke the RBI record Eddie Mathews set in 1953, when he tallied 135 RBIs during a 154-game season for the Milwaukee Braves.

“It's cool,” Olson said. “Obviously, some of those guys up there [on the lists] are people that I grew up watching and idolizing, being a Braves guy. When you are in the middle of the season, you don’t think about it too much. You just carry on. But maybe when we get into the offseason, I’ll enjoy a beer over it.”

With the win, the Braves clinched the best record in the Majors and secured home-field advantage throughout the postseason. This is the first time the Braves have had at least a share of MLB’s best record since they tied the Yankees with a 101-61 record in 2003.

If the Braves sweep the Nationals during this weekend’s regular-season-ending three-game set, they will finish with 106 wins, which would match the franchise record set in 1998.

Olson broke Andruw Jones’ franchise record with his 52nd homer on Sept. 16. With three games remaining, he likely won’t break the record Hugh Duffy set with 145 RBIs in 1894 with the Boston Braves before RBI became an official stat. But setting the modern era (since 1900) mark and the homer record in the same year is quite impressive, when you consider Hank Aaron, Mathews, Dale Murphy and the Joneses never reached either of these marks.

“You are talking about big-time Hall of Fame players who have played here over the years,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “There are some really big-time guys who have come through here for just a couple of years. It’s quite an accomplishment.”

Olson’s 54 homers have positioned the Braves to set the MLB record for home runs in a season. They’ve tallied 304 homers, three shy of the mark the Twins set in 2019.

“That lineup is incredible,” Cubs starter Marcus Stroman said. “One through nine, they're solid, man. You have to be locked in from pitch one. They don't give you any breaks in that lineup. So [it’s a] very lethal lineup that's very hot right now. They've been doing incredible things. So they're gonna be a hard team to beat."

Stroman was the latest pitcher to fall victim to the Braves’ quick-strike ability. Olson’s two-run shot was the Braves' 47th first-inning homer, breaking the record the 2019 Reds set when they went deep 46 times in the opening frame. Austin Riley has hit an MLB-best 13 first-inning homers, and Olson ranks second with 12.

Olson stands as one of just five Braves to tally 130 or more RBIs in a season during the modern era (since 1900). Hank Aaron reached the mark twice (132 in 1957 and 130 in ‘63). Mathews (‘53), Gary Sheffield (132 in 2003) and Wally Berger (130 in 1935) each reached it once.

Olson has constructed this incredible campaign in just his second season as former Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman’s successor. He dealt with the pressures of playing in his hometown and succeeding a legend last year.

This year, Olson has shown he, too, has the potential to become a Braves legend.

“There’s some iconic baseball players who have played for this organization,” Riley said. “For him to do this is pretty special. I hope he’s able to soak it in and enjoy the moment, because he has earned it.”