Riley makes 'legit' MVP case in key series W

August 30th, 2021

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman was last year’s National League MVP and Ronald Acuña Jr. was a preseason favorite to win this year’s Award. But with a little more than a month remaining this season, the Braves’ top candidate for the honor is .

Riley padded his MVP resume as he drilled a two-run homer that backed ’s successful return and helped the Braves claim a series victory with a 9-0 win over the Giants on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park.

“I don’t think [about MVP candidates], because I’ve got too many other things,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “But when I hear [Riley mentioned], I think absolutely. I mean, why wouldn’t you? You look at that [batting] average and OPS and what he’s doing. It’s legit.”

With Riley’s assistance, the Braves (70-59) took two of three from the Giants (84-46), who possess MLB’s best record. This series win legitimized the 16-2 stretch they enjoyed before beginning this homestand with consecutive losses to the Yankees. They now head to Los Angeles to begin a three-game series against the Dodgers and possibly strengthen their NL East lead.

“The way we bounced back here against the best team in baseball, or team with the best record, was awesome,” said Anderson, who threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings while making his first start since being placed on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation during the All-Star break.

With recent additions like Jorge Soler, who has seven homers since being acquired from the Royals on July 30, the Braves now have one of the game’s most capable offenses. Freeman has been one of the game’s most productive hitters since early June, and Ozzie Albies leads the NL in extra-base hits. But the most dangerous hitter in this lineup is arguably Riley.

“He’s locked in as a [No.] 4 hitter, and he’s definitely putting fear into the other team’s pitching,” Anderson said. “It seems like every time he comes up, he’s ready to do damage.”

After Soler hit a leadoff homer off Anthony DeSclafani in the fourth, Riley capped a three-run inning by drilling a two-run big fly. The 24-year-old has hit 14 of his 28 home runs over 40 games since the All-Star break. Before Acuña in 2019, the last Braves player to enjoy a 30-homer season at age 24 or younger was Andruw Jones in ‘01.

Riley leads the National League with a .359 batting average since the All-Star break. He ranks second in homers to Joey Votto (17) and his 1.091 OPS ranks third, trailing only Bryce Harper (1.192) and Juan Soto (1.162) within this span.

To put this successful stretch in perspective, Chipper Jones hit .340 with 12 homers and a 1.169 OPS in the first 40 games he played after the All-Star break during his 1999 MVP season.

“He’s having a good year, and he’s a really young guy,” Eddie Rosario said. “He has a good future, and he’s having an awesome year.”

To his credit, Riley has persevered through some rough stretches. He struggled after initially flourishing in 2019 and then hit .182 with a .456 OPS through his first 15 games this year. But as fans were calling for him to be replaced at third base, he suddenly became one of the game’s most productive middle-of-the-lineup hitters.

Going back to April 18, Riley has hit .317 with 28 homers and a .963 OPS. Over this 113-game span, he ranks third in batting average, trailing only Trea Turner (.327) and Nick Castellanos (.318); second in homers, trailing only Fernando Tatis Jr. (33); and third in OPS, trailing only Tatis (1.028) and Bryce Harper (1.025).

“He’s got just a great ability to hit and do some serious damage,” Anderson said. “He’s definitely a guy, amongst the other guys we have, that you have to put a ton of emphasis on when you’re scouting before the game.”