Strider (281 K's), Acuña (73 SBs) set Braves' modern era records

Right-hander passes Smoltz, earns 20th win in final tuneup before NLDS

October 1st, 2023

ATLANTA -- and  added to the long list of franchise records the Braves have broken this year.

Strider set the club’s modern era single-season strikeout record and notched his first 20-win season in a 5-3 victory over the Nationals on Saturday night at Truist Park. Acuña set the franchise’s modern era stolen base record during the third inning.

“With the amount of records we have this year, team and individual, it’s great to do that at home,” Strider said. “It would be cool to do it anywhere. But to do it here and have the fans here to experience it is pretty special.”

This has been an incredible season for the Braves, who saw Matt Olson break the franchise’s single-season records for home runs and RBIs in the modern era (since 1901). Atlanta will enter Sunday’s regular-season finale needing three homers to break the MLB season record set when the Twins homered 307 times in 2019.

Marcell Ozuna added to the Braves’ total with a go-ahead three-run shot in the fifth. His career-high 38th homer positioned Strider to join Kyle Wright (2022), Russ Ortiz (‘03) and Tom Glavine (‘00) as the only Atlanta pitchers to construct a 20-win season during the 2000s.

This was Strider’s final tuneup before likely starting Game 1 of the National League Division Series against a to-be-determined opponent next Saturday.

“I think he’s one of the best pitchers on the planet, and I’m not just saying that because he’s on my team,” Acuña said through an interpreter.

Acuña added to his record-setting season by walking and immediately tallying his 73rd steal in the third. He didn’t raise the second base bag above his head like he did on Wednesday, when he became the only player in MLB history to hit 40-plus homers and record 70-plus stolen bases in a season. But there was certainly reason to be satisfied with breaking the record Otis Nixon set when he had 72 steals for the 1991 Braves.

“I never ever thought that I was going to steal 73 bases, but I think the new rules definitely helped a little bit,” Acuña said. “With the pitchers being able to throw over limited times and everything, that plays into it a little bit.”

Strider surrendered four hits and issued a walk while also recording three strikeouts during the first. That third punchout pushed him past the record John Smoltz set when he notched 276 strikeouts during his 1996 National League Cy Young Award-winning season.

Smoltz compiled that total over 253 2/3 innings. Strider ended this season with 281 strikeouts over 186 2/3 innings.

“I had him sign my lineup card,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “To set a single-season strikeout record a Hall of Famer held and to become a 20-game [winner], that’s the ultimate, man.”

Strider stopped the bleeding after the first and was far more effective, surrendering just two more hits and holding the Nationals scoreless over the remainder of his five-inning effort.

Snitker planned to let Strider pitch to one batter in the sixth, but he changed his mind when the hurler experienced stomach issues during the long bottom of the fifth in which the Braves scored four runs. So Strider went to the mound looking like he was going to pitch another inning and then exited to a standing ovation. 

“I don't play necessarily to achieve records or break records,” Strider said. “My satisfaction comes from us winning and giving my team a chance to win.”

Strider’s second-inning strikeout of Lane Thomas pushed him past the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole for the most K's (483) since the start of the 2022 season. Cole entered Saturday having thrown 96 1/3 innings more than Strider within that span.

That is even more impressive when you account for the fact that Strider was a reliever for the first two months of the 2022 season. How impressive was his first full season as a starter? Well, the 24-year-old has tallied 44 more strikeouts than any other Major Leaguer this year. The Blue Jays' Kevin Gausman is next with 237. 

“I’m not surprised he broke the record,” Acuña said. “I hope he keeps breaking more and more records.”