ATLANTA -- When asked about the possibility of recording 30 homers and 30 stolen bases this season, Ronald Acuña Jr. flashed his confident smile and showed more of the youthful excitement the baseball world has enjoyed since he brought his dynamic talents to the big leagues last year.
“30-30 is the goal,” Acuna quickly answered without the usual assistance of an interpreter.
Acuna moved closer to the possibility of realizing the rarity of a 30-30 season and enjoyed a three-hit night as the Braves snapped a three-game losing streak with a much-welcomed 4-3 win over the Nationals on Friday night at SunTrust Park. The 21-year-old outfielder extended his recent stolen-base barrage and fittingly capped his impressive night by scoring on Josh Donaldson’s walk-off single.
“He’s a five-tool player,” Donaldson said. “That’s one of the tools right there. He has some goals for himself, and that’s one of them, to steal a bunch of bags.”
There was plenty of reason for the Braves to feel good at the end of this win, which allowed them to regain a 6 1/2-game lead over the second-place Nationals. Julio Teheran delivered a strong start, and Donaldson’s first walk-off hit since his 2015 American League Most Valuable Player Award-winning season negated Luke Jackson’s blown save. Jackson allowed Victor Robles to hit a game-tying, two-run homer with two outs in the ninth.
At some point before the July 31 Trade Deadline, the Braves will have to address the concerns that have grown as Jackson has allowed at least one run in 11 of his past 24 appearances. But they have reason to feel really good about an offense that ranks second in the National League with 5.59 runs per game dating back to May 10, when Acuna moved back to the leadoff spot.
Acuna has tallied the Majors’ fifth-highest home run total (42) dating back to last year’s All-Star break. But along with being one of the game’s best power hitters, he has proven to be much more of a threat on the bases as he’s been successful in six of seven stolen base attempts through the first eight games of the second half. He tallied 16 attempts during the first half.
“Stealing bases is probably one of the favorite parts of the game for me,” Acuna said through an interpreter. “Any chance when I get on base, I’m going to try to steal one.”
Acuna’s RBI double off the right-center-field wall in the sixth inning showed the opposite-field strength that has helped him tally 23 homers thus far. One inning earlier, he had shown his ability to help manufacture a run, when he singled, stole second base and scored on Freddie Freeman’s single against Patrick Corbin.
Acuna needs just one more stolen base to join Jason Heyward (2012) and Andruw Jones (‘00) as the only Braves to record a 20-20 season this decade. But his goal is to become the franchise’s first player since Ron Gant (1990 and ‘91) to record a 30-30 season.
“I think you have to pick your spots and you have to be smart,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “If he does that, he’ll end the year with a lot of stolen bases. He’s capable of doing that. He’s been stealing off some [catchers] who can really throw and some [pitchers] who get the ball to the plate.”
How rare is a 30-30 season? Before Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts last year, no MLB player had realized this achievement since 2012. Other than Gant, the only other Braves to produce this combo were Hank Aaron (1963) and Dale Murphy (1983).
But there is certainly reason to believe Acuna can achieve entry into this exclusive club. The young slugger, who will turn 22 in December, is currently on pace to tally 37 homers and steal 31 bases.
Acuna would become just the second player in MLB history to gain membership to the 30-30 club during their age 21 season or younger. The first was Mike Trout, who hit 30 homers and stole 49 bases during his 20-year-old season in 2012.