Riley's record-breaking July puts him in NL MVP conversation

August 1st, 2022

ATLANTA -- Austin Riley began July with a homer and ended it in walk-off fashion. In between, he constructed one of the greatest months in Braves history.

Riley concluded his tremendous month with a walk-off double that backed Max Fried’s great start and gave the Braves a 1-0 win over the D-backs on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park. The game-ending contribution was the third baseman’s 26th extra-base hit of the month, besting the franchise record Hank Aaron had set with 25 extra-base hits in July 1961.

“Anything to help the team win and in that fashion was awesome,” Riley said. “It was hot out there. So, I was ready to get in the AC.”

Riley hit .423 with 11 homers and a 1.344 OPS in July. He led all MLB players in OPS. His homer total ranked second, two shy of Aaron Judge’s monstrous mark. Judge ranked second in extra-base hits, with eight fewer than Riley.

“I don’t even have words,” Fried said after allowing four hits over seven scoreless innings. “I don’t even think ‘hot’ is giving credit to what he’s been able to do. You see guys go through stretches where they are seeing the ball well and hitting it hard for a series or a week. But for him to do it for the whole month, that’s extremely special.”

Riley is sure to be named the National League Player of the Month when MLB announces the July winners later this week. The question is whether this month may put him in position to become the Braves’ first third baseman to be named MVP since Chipper Jones won the award in 1999.

Riley’s 1.344 OPS in July ranks as the second-best monthly mark (min. 90 plate appearances) recorded by a Brave, trailing only the 1.470 Jones recorded in July 1999.

But Riley can always say he did something Aaron never did during his iconic career. He tied Aaron’s club record when he doubled in the first inning off D-backs starter Merrill Kelly. His record-setting 26th extra-base hit of the month was the game-ending double he drilled off former Braves closer Mark Melancon.

Riley stands with Albert Belle (Aug. and Sept./Oct. 1995), Frank Robinson (July 1961), Richard Hidalgo (Sept./Oct. 2000) and Randy Winn (Sept./Oct. 2005) as the only players since 1951 to record at least 26 extra-base hits in a month.

“He's a tough hitter,” Kelly said. “When I went 3-0 against him in the seventh, I'm not gonna lie, I got a little nervous. I just said, ‘Please don't throw the ball right in the middle.' He’s hitting .300, and he’s got almost 30 homers. He might be the best right-handed hitter in the league right now.”

Riley is hitting .301 with 29 homers and a .964 OPS, which ranks second among NL players, trailing only Paul Goldschmidt’s 1.012. The 25-year-old third baseman is aiming to join Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones as the only Braves to have 30-plus homers in consecutive seasons since the turn of the century.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s either hitting balls through the wall or over the wall. His at-bats are just incredible.”

Riley homered off Mike Minor during his first plate appearance in Cincinnati on July 1, tallied the first walk-off hit of his career July 10 and then gained his first All-Star selection a few days later. So, it was only fitting for him to end the greatest month of his career in celebratory fashion.

“It’s been fun to watch,” Snitker said.