In rough stretch, Acuña foresees 'good things ahead'

May 20th, 2024

ATLANTA -- could have displayed a fake smile and provided an inauthentic positive spin when asked about his rough start to this season. But the reigning National League MVP instead chose to be brutally honest.

“I don’t know if it’s timing [of the swing] or not,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “But right now, I’m not that good.”

A tough few days grew a little rougher as the Braves suffered a 9-1 loss to the Padres on Sunday night at Truist Park. Atlanta has endured two three-game losing streaks this month, but it still has the National League’s third-best record.

In fact, the Braves have the same record (26-16) they had through the first 42 games of last year’s 104-win season.

“You’ve just got to grind through that and keep your head above water and get back to hitting on all cylinders again,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re not. It’s something we’ve been through every year.”

The Braves had the NL’s second-worst record from May 10-June 2, 2023. All of this was forgotten by the time the team celebrated a sixth straight NL East title in September. It was also easier to deal with that frustration as Acuña was building what would become the only 40-home run, 70-steal season in MLB history.

Acuña through his first 41 games played:

2023: .344 BA, 9 HR , 17 SB, 1.024 OPS
2024: .242 BA, 3 HR, 14 SB, .689 OPS

Acuña might have been affected by the lights when he misplayed a fly ball during San Diego’s four-run sixth on Sunday night. But it’s more difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt given he was picked off first base three consecutive times last week.

“It’s pretty hard when you lose a ball in the lights,” Acuña said, “but at the end of the day, that’s no excuse. I just dropped it.”

Acuña isn’t looking for excuses, he’s just wanting some relief.

His Baseball Savant page shows a lot more swing and miss than there was last year, when he reduced his strikeout rate to 11.4%, remarkably better than his 23.6% rate in both 2021 and ‘22.

Acuña’s barrel rate was in the 93rd percentile in 2023. It was in the 63rd percentile entering Sunday. His whiff rate is in the 22nd percentile, and his strikeout rate in the 28th percentile this year. They sat in the 84th and 97th percentiles last year.

“I’m not sure what to tell you; it feels like I’m missing everything right now,” Acuña said. “But I’m confident it will get turned around and there will be good things ahead.”

Once it turns, it should be easy to see why the Braves entered this year confident they could win the World Series for the second time in four years.

Even with Spencer Strider making just one healthy start before suffering a season-ending elbow injury, the rotation has been one of the team’s strengths.

But Charlie Morton lasted just three innings on Thursday, and Max Fried was chased after 4 1/3 innings on Friday. Then Bryce Elder surrendered seven runs -- six earned -- over three-plus innings on Sunday. Amid a stretch like that, Acuña’s struggles become more magnified.

Check that. The struggles endured by basically every Braves hitter other than Marcell Ozuna become more magnified. It doesn’t help that third baseman Austin Riley has missed five games with a tight left side and catcher Sean Murphy has been sidelined since Opening Day.

Ozuna ranks third in the Majors with a 1.004 OPS. Ozzie Albies ranks second on the team at .754 and Matt Olson third at .718. Riley checks in at .707.

Star players are going to go through slumps. This is essentially the same lineup that tied a MLB record with 307 homers and also became the only AL/NL team to produce a slugging percentage above .500.

“It’s pretty frustrating, because we all know what we’re capable of and the potential we have as a group,” Acuña said. “But there’s nothing we can do, other than to keep fighting and keep playing hard.”