'A class by himself': Acuña ties Braves' modern era stolen base mark

September 30th, 2023

ATLANTA -- got just two plate appearances in the Braves’ 10-6 loss to the Nationals on Friday night at Truist Park. Before getting a chance to rest his legs ahead of the postseason, he matched the modern era franchise record for stolen bases since 1900.

Acuña stole a base in both the first and second innings to raise his MLB-leading total to 72 steals. This matches the modern era franchise record set by Otis Nixon in 1991.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Braves starting pitcher Allan Winans said. “He’s putting himself in a class by himself.”

Thoughts of the record being broken in this series opener were erased when Braves manager Brian Snitker replaced Acuña with Kevin Pillar at the start of the third inning. Matt Olson, who set the modern era franchise RBI record on Thursday, was lifted after he completed his second plate appearance in the third.

With their Thursday night win over the Cubs, the Braves clinched home-field advantage through the World Series. So Snitker can moderate how much his regulars play during this final regular-season series. Atlanta also got another look at Winans, who allowed six runs over 5 1/3 innings while auditioning for a potential role in the postseason.

The Braves won’t begin play in the National League Division Series until Oct. 7. But they will spend Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday playing games against members from their Triple-A Gwinnett squad.  

So, this weekend serves as a chance to rest some players, make some preparations and see how far the Braves can push their record-setting pursuits.  

Acuña highlighted his NL MVP resume on Wednesday, when he became the first player to hit 40-plus homers and notch 70-plus stolen bases in the same season. Nobody had previously flirted with 40-60 or reached 40-50. In fact, before this year, no one had stolen more than 46 bases during a 40-homer season.

Snitker doesn’t believe the significance of Acuña's stolen base total is lessened by the new rules put in place this year that encourage teams to run more frequently. The Braves outfielder has seven more stolen bases than A’s outfielder Esteury Ruiz and 18 more than D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll, who ranks third in the Majors with 54 steals.  

“Pitchers still have to control the running game, even with the bases [bigger],” Snitker said. “Some guys do [control it] and some guys -- it doesn’t seem to bother them. You’re a hit away from a run being scored all the time.”

Acuña tore his right ACL two days before the 2021 All-Star break and was limited throughout the 2022 season. But from the start of this season, it was evident he was at full speed. He stole 13 bases in March/April and ended up with a double-digit total during each month of this season. 

The stolen bases added to the splendor of Acuña, but his production has been historically incredible without accounting for steals.  

Acuña has hit .336 with 41 homers, 79 extra-base hits and 147 runs. He has tallied 215 hits and struck out just 82 times. He is positioned to be one of six players to hit .330, with 40-plus homers, 75-plus extra-base hits, 145 runs and less than 90 strikeouts.  

The other five players are Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Hack Wilson and Chuck Klein. DiMaggio was the most recent to do this way back in 1937.

But the stolen bases do set Acuña apart. King Kelly set the Braves’ franchise record with 84 steals in 1887. But before this year, the only Braves of the modern era to notch at least 50 stolen bases in a season were Nixon and Hap Myers (1913).  

On Aug. 31, Acuña joined Barry Bonds and Eric Davis as the only players to steal 50-plus bases during a 30-homer season. Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. is just one steal away from becoming the fourth member of this group.

Nixon didn’t hit a single homer when he set the stolen base record in 1991. Acuña has the two highest stolen base totals by a Braves player within a 30-plus homer season. He finished three steals shy of a 40-40 season when he hit 41 homers in 2019. This year, he took that total to a record-setting level. 

“This guy is doing something that’s never been done before,” Winans said. "So, getting a front-row seat is pretty special.”