MINNEAPOLIS -- Ronald Acuña Jr. has spent a little more than a year validating his status as an elite superstar. Blessed with incredible power, speed and confidence, the Braves’ 21-year-old outfielder has positioned himself to spend this season’s final two months vying to record the fifth 40-homer, 40-stolen base season in Major League history.
“Obviously to reach the 40-40 club would be a lot better, but for right now, the goal stays at 30-30,” Acuna said through an interpreter.
Frankly, Acuna has a chance to record the fifth 30-30 season in Braves history by the end of this weekend. The young slugger drilled his 28th homer and notched his 26th stolen base while fueling the much-welcomed offensive eruption that resulted in a 12-7 win over the Twins on Tuesday night at Target Field.
“The first day [we put him back in the leadoff spot] in Arizona, I got excited and so did he,” manager Brian Snitker said. “[Hitting leadoff], he’s going to have the offensive year I had hoped he’d have hitting fourth. It was just me being a dumb you know what.”
Acuna propelled the Braves toward a National League East title when he moved to the leadoff spot after the 2018 All-Star break and he’s strengthened their bid to defend that title since Snitker removed him from the cleanup role and placed him back at the top of the lineup 39 games into this season.
Foltynewicz was tossing a shutout until allowing a one-out sixth-inning homer to Nelson Cruz, who further cut into what was once an 11-run deficit with a three-run homer in the seventh. But Cruz’s power barrage was not enough to overcome the contributions of Acuna, who began his three-hit night with his 14th career leadoff homer -- three shy of Felipe Alou’s franchise record.
On his way to allowing a career-high nine earned runs in just 5 2/3 innings, Twins All-Star starter Jose Berrios saw Acuna hit the game’s first pitch a projected 426 feet per Statcast over the center-field wall. Acuna entered the day leading MLB (minimum 20 homers) with an average home run distance of 423 feet.
“I hadn’t seen him for a long time, so that was a nice welcome back present,” Foltynewicz said.
This latest monstrous shot puts Acuna on pace to hit 39 homers this season. He has homered once every 15.8 at-bats and averaged 4.3 at-bats per game since moving back to the leadoff spot on May 10. So if he were to maintain both paces over the season’s final 47 games, he would finish with 40 homers.
Acuna is on pace for 36 stolen bases, but he has significantly enhanced this aspect of his game recently. The 13-for-16 success rate he has produced in 24 games since the All-Star break matches what he did in 90 games before the break. So, it’s certainly not out of the realm to think he could record 14 more and exit the season with 40 stolen bases.
Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006) are the only players in MLB history with a 40-40 season. The only Braves to record a 30-30 season are Hank Aaron (1963), Dale Murphy (1983) and Ron Gant (1990 and '91).
Whatever happens over the remainder of the season, Acuna will continue to energize the Braves with his production and youthful exuberance. After delivering a two-out RBI single to account for the first of the six runs tallied in Tuesday’s six-run sixth, he scored easily when Ozzie Albies highlighted his four-hit night by tripling off the top of the tall wall in right-center field.
As the umpires reviewed the play to see if it was a home run, Acuna stepped out of the dugout, got Albies’ attention and then mocked his strength by doing a couple pushups.
“[Acuna and Albies] at the top of the lineup, that was pretty fun to watch,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “What they do on the bases and what they do at the plate, they are both five-tool players. So, when you get them both going, it’s usually a good night.”