How Braves have handled their first week without Acuña

June 3rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. This edition was contributed by's Joe Trezza. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ATLANTA – For any lineup, there is never a good time to lose your most important player, and how the Braves continue to move forward without Ronald Acuña Jr. will be a major key to the team’s overall success this season.

Their first week without him is in the books. Here are four observations from the Braves’ offense’s first seven days sans Acuña.

1. Who’s up first?

At the outset, Braves manager Brian Snitker said he’d approach the leadoff spot as a “day-by-day thing,” but seven days in, an obvious pattern has emerged. Against left-handed pitching, it’s been Ozzie Albies at the top of the lineup, and against righties, it’s been Michael Harris II, which makes sense. Harris is the fastest Brave by sprint speed, and Albies ranks third on the team in on-base percentage, behind Marcell Ozuna and Acuña.

Albies and Harris are also the two healthy Braves with the most experience in that spot. Expect to see them continue to get the reps there.

2. Left-on-left

One big ripple effect of losing Acuña is how it has forced the Braves to abandon their platoon in left field and shift both Jarred Kelenic and Adam Duvall into everyday roles. That means facing left-handed pitching for the first time in a while for Kelenic, who struggled against lefties in limited exposure in his career.

• Kelenic career vs. RHP: .221/.299/.403 in 812 plate appearances
• Kelenic career vs. LHP: .192/.255/.311 in 310 plate appearances

So it was encouraging for the Braves to see Kelenic come through in a big spot against a southpaw on Friday, when he drove a two-run double off JP Sears to pace Atlanta’s win over Oakland. Kelenic had just seven plate appearances against lefties this season before Acuña's injury. Since then, he’s 2-for-9 with two strikeouts.

“You try not to make it different in your head, but it is.” Kelenic said. “There are no two ways about it. I hit lefties better than I hit righties last year, so I’m not really concerned about it. I just need to keep getting reps.”

3. The reinforcements

One silver lining about the timing of Acuña’s injury was that it came right as the Braves were getting two important lineup pieces, Austin Riley and Sean Murphy, back from long absences. Murphy hadn’t played since straining his left oblique on Opening Day, while Riley was sidelined for three weeks with a tight left intercostal muscle.

Neither has come out of the gate raking, though Murphy did benefit from some serious good fortune to bloop in the go-ahead double in Sunday’s victory. Still, Murphy is only 3-for-16 (.188) since returning. Riley is 5-for-28 (.179) since coming back and has only homered once in his past 37 games. Getting those two back on track would go a long way for Atlanta’s lineup.

“Everyone in here knows what we’re capable of," Riley said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”

Day by day, the Braves sound increasingly confident that that time is soon coming. Matt Olson seems to be heating up, hitting .288 with four homers and 10 RBIs in his past 15 games. Riley is 3-for-8 with two doubles over the past two games.

“I see light at the end of the tunnel,” Snitker said. “Individually, I see a lot of positives with some guys offensively, which we’ve been trying to do.”

4. What’s luck got to do with it?

Murphy’s very unlikely big hit went a ways toward making up for what’s been a very unlucky streak for the Braves, at least by the numbers. Even though they’ve had trouble scoring runs since before Acuña went down, the underlying metrics suggest they aren’t as lost in the woods offensively as they appear. Atlanta still leads the Majors in average exit velocity (90.4 mph) and hard-hit percentage (44.5%), just as it did last season. With a little more luck, the results should start lining up with those metrics.

“That feels like the name of the game for us, for whatever reason,” Riley said. “We’ve got to just keep squaring up balls, and we’re doing that.”

Take Harris, who is tied with Shohei Ohtani and Matt Chapman in the National League in outs made on balls hit harder than 105 miles per hour, with 15. On the year, Harris II is batting .528/.528/.972 on balls hit harder than 105 mph. That sounds good. But the Major League average on balls hit that hard is .673/.670/1.464. The difference is a bunch of big hits that Harris probably deserves, and the Braves could’ve used.

“That stuff all evens out over six months,” Snitker said. “That’s why you always need to handle the bad. If you handle the bad, the back end of that is always really good.”