Braves' bats on fire, Acuña the spark

Outfielder has 4 of Atlanta's 20 hits in series finale vs. Phillies

May 29th, 2023

ATLANTA -- is the major reason the Braves have produced so many impressive first-inning statistics. But his MVP-caliber contributions extend far beyond the opening frame.

Acuña began his first four-hit performance of the season by tallying a pair of singles during a seven-run first that propelled the Braves to an 11-4 victory over the Phillies on Sunday night at Truist Park. The offensive eruption provided more than enough support to , who reached 100 strikeouts in a season in fewer innings than any other starting pitcher in modern AL or NL history.

“That game felt like it was over pretty quick,” Strider said. “Getting a lead in the first is big, especially when you can get that big of a lead. It’s a good problem to have when I have to wait because we can’t make three outs offensively.”

There were plenty of good developments as the Braves ended a 10-game homestand by securing a split in this four-game series. enjoyed his second multi-homer game of the season and Strider struck out seven of the last nine batters faced.

When Nick Castellanos went down looking to begin the fourth, Strider had 100 strikeouts through his first 61 innings. Jacob deGrom had previously set the record for starters when he tallied his 100th strikeout through the first 61 2/3 innings of his 2021 season.

“It’s incredible,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “Every time he pitches, it feels like he’s going to strike everybody out.” 

Like Strider,  Acuña has the potential to chase many different records this season, especially those of the first-inning variety.

Acuña singled to begin the game and jogged home when Olson followed with a 464-foot home run, the third-longest hit by a Braves player this year. followed with a solo drive to mark the fourth time the Braves have hit consecutive homers this year. This was the third time these back-to-back homers were hit in the first inning.  

Olson and Riley have accounted for two of these first-inning back-to-back homers. Acuña and Olson combined to tally the other set.

Displaying early power has been a regularity for the Braves, who lead the Majors with 17 first-inning homers. The Dodgers and Cardinals are tied for second with 13.

Olson and Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge are tied for the MLB lead with seven first-inning homers. Riley ranks second with six. No other players have more than four.

The Braves also lead MLB in first-inning runs (51) and first-inning hits (77). These numbers shouldn’t be too surprising given Acuña has 25 first-inning hits, five more than any other MLB player, and also leads the Majors with 17 first-inning runs.  

But the leadoff spot is not the only place opposing pitchers are encountering trouble against the Braves. Acuña has a 1.317 OPS in the first inning. He is followed in the lineup by Olson, whose  1.014 first-inning OPS is topped by the 1.115 OPS Riley has produced out of the three hole in the opening frame. 

“I haven’t looked at any of the numbers, but I know we’ve been good in the first inning,”  Acuña said.

After Olson and Riley went back to back, and Acuña capped the first-inning scoring with two-run singles. Most of the damage was done against Phillies starter Dylan Covey, who retired just two of the nine batters he faced.  

Every starter in the Braves’ lineup recorded at least one hit. made an incredible catch to rob Kyle Schwarber of a homer in the second and also tallied a fifth-inning single that positioned him to score on Acuña’s triple.  

Acuña ranks fourth in the Majors with a .982 OPS and is on pace for 33 homers and 67 stolen bases. No player has ever had a 30-60 season. There’s also the possibility the outfielder could produce the fifth 40-40 season in MLB history.