Braves could have a historic trio at plate in 2023
NORTH PORT, Fla. -- The top three spots in the Braves’ batting order will be filled by a little more than 10% of the players who have hit at least 38 homers during any of the past four seasons.
Long gone are the days when a lineup began with a speedy high on-base percentage player who was followed by a player who could consistently move the leadoff hitter over to the next base. Power reigns in today’s game, and the Braves have plenty of it with Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson and Austin Riley projected to fill the lineup’s first three spots.
“I’m sure it’s a very stressful bus ride to the park every day when you’re game planning against that power,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “It’s very unique.”
Well, with Acuña, Olson and Riley, Atlanta is the only team to have three players who have tallied 38 or more homers in at least one season since the start of 2019. There are 27 players within this group, meaning the Braves’ trio accounts for 11.1% of the list.
The Angels (Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout), the Yankees (Gleyber Torres and Aaron Judge), the Red Sox (Adam Duvall and Rafael Devers), the Blue Jays (Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer) and the Padres (Nelson Cruz and Fernando Tatis Jr.) are the only other teams who have two players with this distinction.
But what really sets this lineup apart from nearly any other in MLB history is its top.
Alfonso Soriano (2006) and George Springer (‘19) share the record for most home runs (39) hit from the leadoff spot in a season. Acuña hit 41 homers in 2019 (34 from the leadoff spot) and was on pace for 44 homers before tearing his right ACL two days before the 2021 All-Star break. Now that he’s healthy, Acuña is certainly capable of becoming the first player to tally 40 or more homers out of the lineup’s first spot.
“When I was playing for Oakland, Springer was batting leadoff for the Astros,” Olson said. “When a guy like that has power right out of the gate like [Acuña] does, it changes the pitcher’s ability to get out there and find a first-pitch strike and work himself into it.”
Of course, once the opposing hitter is done with Acuña, he must deal with Olson, who stands with Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Eugenio Suárez as the only players who have hit at least 29 homers four times over the past five seasons.
Olson and Riley account for two of the 13 big leaguers who have hit 30-plus homers each of the past two seasons. They were the only set of teammates to tally at least 75 extra-base hits each last year and just the third Braves duo to do so in one season, joining Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones (2000) and Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez (‘03).
“That’s tough duty for opposing guys,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I grew up with [traditional lineup structures]. But now that I’ve seen this, it’s really a nice weapon to have.”
Power potential exists throughout the Braves’ lineup, especially if Eddie Rosario’s recent success in the World Baseball Classic is a further indication he’s ready to bounce back from last season’s vision issues. The challenge for opposing pitchers becomes imposing when you account for the fact Acuña, Olson and Riley will be positioned to get more plate appearances than they would if placed in the middle of the lineup.
If Acuña, Olson and Riley each have a strong season, the Braves may find themselves with a record-setting trio.
The 2019 Twins set the MLB mark when they produced 132 homers from the top three spots in their lineup. The Braves set a team record in ‘19, when they got 110 homers from these three spots; Acuña, Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman accounted for a majority of this total. The ‘21 Braves generated 106 homers above the lineup’s fourth spot.
Once Tatis Jr. returns from his suspension for using a banned performance-enhancing substance, the top four spots of the Padres’ lineup should include him, Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts. It seems San Diego might be the only NL club that has a top of the lineup with as much power potential as the Braves. The Yankees and Astros possess the American League’s most comparable lineups.
But what might set the Braves apart is that Albies, Michael Harris II and Rosario are all capable of producing 30-plus homers while combining to fill three of the lineup’s final five spots.
“It’s dangerous, very dangerous, one through nine,” d’Arnaud said.