KANSAS CITY -- As much as Brian Snitker would like to achieve a 100-win season and see Ronald Acuña Jr. realize his bid for a 40/40 season, the Braves’ manager is much more interested in entering the postseason as healthy as possible.
So when Acuña felt tightness in his left hip as he pursued a fly ball during the second inning of Tuesday night’s 9-6 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, Snitker did not hesitate to remove his young National League MVP Award candidate and provide him a chance to receive treatment for what appears to be a minor ailment.
“He’ll just be day to day,” Snitker said. “We’ll treat him up and see how he is tomorrow.”
Acuña did not rule out the possibility of returning to the lineup for Wednesday night’s series finale against the Royals. But given the Braves have locked themselves in as the No. 2 seed for the NL playoffs, it seems unlikely Snitker will pass on the chance to give his 21-year-old outfielder at least two days’ rest leading into Friday’s series opener against the Mets at Citi Field.
“If he puts me in the lineup, I’m playing,” Acuña said. ”Those decisions aren’t for me to make. If it’s up to me, I’m playing. But if it was up to me, I’d have stayed in the game.”
Acuña felt the hip discomfort just before he gingerly approached a Bubba Starling flyout that Nick Markakis caught in the right-center-field gap to begin the bottom of the second. The All-Star outfielder played the remainder of the inning, but he was replaced by Billy Hamilton in the top of the third.
“I’ve been feeling it before,” Acuña said. “But I’m a warrior and I’m going to keep playing through these types of things. That’s just the way that I am. I was dealing with it and pushing through it. But eventually, it came to the point where it became a little more intolerable.”
Even if Acuña returns within the regular season’s final four games, it seems unlikely he will realize his bid to become just the fifth player in MLB history to have 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in a season. He has built a strong NL MVP Award resume while tallying 41 homers and 37 stolen bases during his first full big league season.
Julio Teheran's bid to make a playoff start weakened when he allowed three homers against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Sept. 12, and then he surrendered two more homers to Philadelphia last week in Atlanta. The veteran’s bid to still earn a spot on the postseason roster as a long-relief option also took a big hit when the Royals tagged him for six runs over just 2 1/3 innings.
“They have got to make the decision,” Teheran said. “The last three outings doesn’t [overshadow my whole season].”
Given that Teheran entered the series opener against the Royals with MLB’s third-highest walk rate (4.28 walks per nine innings) and the NL’s third-highest Expected Fielding Independent Pitching mark (5.21), it was going to be hard to justify giving him a start over Max Fried in the NL Division Series, which starts next week.
Now, the Braves will have to decide whether it’s better to carry Teheran or Josh Tomlin, who will start Wednesday’s series finale against the Royals, as a long-relief option during the NLDS. Tomlin has capably handled the role throughout the regular season.
If Teheran does not pitch in the postseason, there will be reason to wonder if this outing against the Royals was his last in an Atlanta uniform. The Braves will need to decide whether to exercise his $12 million option for 2020.
Cervelli homered in the fifth inning and he will get more at-bats as Atlanta’s starting first baseman in Wednesday’s game. The veteran would provide a third catcher during the postseason. But while hitting .375 (9-for-24) with two homers and a 1.361 OPS in 27 plate appearances for the Braves, he’s shown he could also be a quality right-handed pinch-hit option.