CINCINNATI -- Matt Olson chuckled when asked if he would consider naming one of his children Citizens Bank Park or Great American Ball Park. His reluctance to commit might have something to do with the success he’s had at many ballparks this year.
But the Braves’ first baseman really took a liking to Cincinnati this weekend, as he moved into a tie for the Major League home run lead. Olson hit four homers during the three-game series, including a go-ahead three-run shot in the sixth inning of a 7-6 win over the previously red-hot Reds on Sunday afternoon.
“What he’s doing right now is impressive,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “We know when he gets hot, he’s fun to watch. He’s doing that right now.”
With Olson’s assistance, the Braves went 4-1 on this road trip that began in Philadelphia. They swept a two-game set against the Phillies, who entered the series having won 13 of their past 15 games. Atlanta then bid adieu to its eight-game winning streak on Friday night before claiming two straight against the Reds to snap their 12-game win streak.
Each of the six games played between these teams this year was decided by one run. On Sunday, the Braves allowed a pair of eighth-inning runs and then breathed a sigh of relief in the ninth inning after a game-ending double play with runners on the corners.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been this exhausted after a series before,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That was something else. Fans got their money’s worth in this series.”
The Braves and Reds combined for 19 homers to match the record for the most hit during a three-game series in Cincinnati.
Olson totaled five homers during the five-game trip, but the one that stands tallest was the go-ahead three-run shot he hit off Ian Gibaut in the series finale. The opposite-field blast was his 25th homer of the year, tying him with Shohei Ohtani for the MLB lead. Olson's homer surge has also helped him increase his NL-leading RBI total to 60, one behind the Angels slugger's MLB lead.
“RBIs are the most important stat to me,” Snitker said. “It doesn’t even show up on some stat sheets. The guys that are driving in runs are the most important piece of this game. It’s not all the other stuff they talk about.”
Olson’s critics have focused on his 28.1 percent strikeout rate or his .236 batting average. But four games shy of the season’s halfway point, he has a .891 OPS. That number hasn’t fluctuated much. He posted a .932 OPS in March/April, an .851 OPS in May and an .888 OPS so far in June.
The power has always been there for Olson, who entered this season standing with Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Eugenio Suárez as the only players who have hit at least 29 homers in four of the past five seasons.
What has bothered Olson this year, though, has been the lack of consistent production.
“I’m making them count when I’m getting hits and producing,” Olson said. “But at some point, it’s not sustainable to have, I don’t even know what percentage, of your hits be home runs.”
Thirty-six percent (25 out of 70) of Olson’s hits have been home runs. But he has still been more consistent than he might think. His .350 on-base percentage isn’t much lower than Ohtani's (.377), and it’s higher than the one produced by Pete Alonso (.318), who is the only other player to hit at least 24 homers this year.
Olson has recognized some progress, as he has struck out in just 23.7 percent of his plate appearances this month. He also showed the ability to go the other way, as two of his homers this week were hit down the left-field line.
“He’s just a big, strong guy and really talented,” Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton said.
Riley was also among the many impressed to see Olson homer against a pitch below the strike zone on Saturday and then highlight Sunday’s win by homering on a 97.4 mph fastball above the zone.
“That last one, I was like, ‘That’s a good swing,’” Riley said. “Then I went and looked at it and saw it was like four balls above the zone at 97. I was like, 'I’m going to need to take some notes.'”