Acuna's HR worthy of Derby; Donaldson hits two

July 13th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- hit two more opposite-field home runs and delivered a third consecutive strong start. But the loudest blast heard at Petco Park during the Braves’ 5-3 win over the Padres on Friday night came courtesy of , who has never worried about dealing with a potential Home Run Derby hangover.

“It felt like business as usual,” Acuna said through a translator. “It’s the second half of the season. We’re just starting.”

The Braves, who have won 22 of 30 dating to June 7, started the season’s second half much like they ended the first. They have reason to be confident about what they’ll continue to receive from two of their top veterans -- Keuchel (Cy Young Award) and Donaldson (MVP) -- who captured the American League’s top awards after the 2015 season.

At the same time, they’re anxiously looking forward to seeing another strong second half from Acuna, who was the National League’s most productive player not named Christian Yelich after last year’s All-Star break.

Acuna’s insane power potential was displayed yet again when he gave Keuchel a 4-0 lead by beginning the fifth inning with a 455-foot homer that had a 113.3 mph exit velocity per Statcast. The solo shot that landed in the second deck beyond the left-center field wall was the third homer he has hit this season that traveled at least 450 feet.

The only MLB player who entered Friday with more home runs of this length was the Pirates’ Josh Bell (five), who was eliminated by Acuna in the first round of the Derby on Monday.

“Right when it comes off the bat, you don’t have to look at it to know if it’s going to be gone,” Acuna said. “You know right away.”

Acuna has certainly become well-acquainted with the thrill of hitting a no-doubt home run. Eighteen of the 48 homers (37.5 percent) he has hit since debuting last year have traveled at least 430 feet. The Rangers’ Joey Gallo (21) is the only player who has hit more of this length since the start of 2018.

The Braves have 38 homers that have traveled at least 430 feet since the start of last season. Acuna has accounted for 47.4 percent of that total.

Opposite-field power

Maybe the Padres should have been worried when Donaldson chose to hit off a curveball machine a few hours before the game. This was the same machine he utilized before he broke out of his funk in June and began his current surge, during which he has produced a 1.178 OPS over his past 22 games dating to June 15.

Donaldson gave Keuchel an early lead with the opposite-field, three-run homer he hit off Dinelson Lamet in the first inning. The former MVP capped his second multi-homer game of the season when he went the other way again with an eighth-inning leadoff shot against Matt Strahm.

“It seems like every time I hit off that machine, I end up having a pretty good day,” said Donaldson, who has 20 homers this season and 11 of those within a span of 97 at-bats dating back to June 11.

As Donaldson spent much of this decade proving to be one of the game’s most intimidating hitters, he has always shown the ability to drive the ball to all fields. Seven of his home runs this year have been hit to the opposite field.

Donaldson’s opposite-field home runs have averaged 394 feet. Entering Friday, that would have ranked seventh among all MLB players who had tallied at least five opposite-field shots. Acuna (417 feet) leads this category, and Braves teammate Freddie Freeman ranks third (399 feet).

“You never really know about a player until you really play with him,” Keuchel said. “Facing [Donaldson] was a tough challenge. He won MVP. So you really can’t say enough about the guy.”

Exchange of compliments

Donaldson was also providing high praise after watching Keuchel limit the Padres to one run over seven innings. Manny Machado’s sixth-inning leadoff homer accounted for the only damage against the veteran left-hander, who looks like he’ll be worth every penny of the $13 million the Braves committed to him in June.

“I think it’s so undervalued in today’s game, guys that can go out there and give you seven or eight innings,” Donaldson said. “I feel like in today’s game if you can go out there and give us five and give up one or two [runs], walk five and punch out 10, you had a great outing. That’s not his game. I appreciate it as a guy behind him because he keeps us involved.”

Keuchel has allowed five earned runs while totaling 21 1/3 innings over his past three starts. He has lasted at least seven innings in each of these three outings. The only other Braves starter to record 21 outs in a game since the start of June was Mike Soroka, who did so on June 7, which was the day Keuchel signed his one-year deal.

“He’s got a track record,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Everybody else is developing their track record. He’s good for our club.”