50 steals, 24 HRs: Acuña eyes possible 40-40 season

MVP candidate powers six-run first inning as Braves blow out Brewers

July 30th, 2023

ATLANTA -- When folks were wondering whether might steal 50 bases this year, they should have used “before August” as a qualifier.

Acuña sparked yet another first-inning eruption and took another step toward a potential 40-40 season as the Braves rolled to an 11-5 win over the Brewers. The All-Star outfielder highlighted a three-hit night with a homer, tallied his 50th stolen base and neared the franchise record for first-inning runs.

In other words, this was just another highly productive evening for the MVP candidate, who is constructing one of the most dynamic seasons baseball has seen. He is the first MLB player to reach 50 steals since 2017. He’s also the first player to ever tally 20-plus homers and 50-plus steals before Aug. 1.

“He does it every night, so you almost get used to it,” Braves starting pitcher Bryce Elder said. “That’s what is so impressive about it. There’s a lot of guys who can do that one night or two nights out of five. But he does it every night. It’s kind of sad that you get used to it. But it’s pretty impressive what he’s done.”

Acuña singled, stole a base and scored before his good friend and former Atlanta teammate Julio Teheran recorded his first out of the night. This sparked a six-run first for the Braves, who have scored five runs or more in the first inning six times this year. No other team entered Saturday having done so more than twice this season. The 2000 A’s set the record with eight such innings.  

“I don't know if I've ever seen this at any level at any time,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of his team’s first-inning firepower. "It's just crazy what they do in the beginning, you know. It’s been a long time now, that they’ve been doing this.” 

As Acuña exited the stadium, he carried the base into which he had slid for his 50th steal. Moments after reaching that milestone, he scored on an Ozzie Albies single.   

Acuña has scored an MLB-best 32 runs in the first inning. He needs just two more to break the single-season franchise record Chipper Jones set in 1999. This is just one of the many marks he could surpass while padding his MVP resume over the season’s final two months. 

“I feel like the MVP is chosen based on stats,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “My baseball is about the way I go out and play the game and enjoy it. That’s literally all I focus on.”

Acuña and the Braves have had fun while distancing themselves from a 3-7 stretch, opening the series vs. Milwaukee with consecutive wins. Elder’s second consecutive strong start might lessen rotation concerns moving toward Tuesday’s Trade Deadline. Marcell Ozuna has also broken out of a 4-for-49 funk by hitting three homers over the past two games. 

There’s incredible firepower in the Braves’ lineup, which includes five players who have already hit 20 homers. The Dodgers are the only other team that entered Saturday with four players who had hit at least 20. 

Acuña furthered his bid for a 40-40 season when he belted his 24th homer of the season in the fourth inning. He has spent this season’s first four months distancing himself from his 2020 ACL tear and showing how special he can be when healthy.

Acuña is on pace to hit 38 homers and steal 79 bases. He has a chance to record what would be just the fifth 40-homer, 40-steal season. There are even better odds he’ll join Eric Davis (1987) and Barry Bonds (1990) as the only players to record 30-plus homers and 50-plus steals in a season.

With two months remaining, Acuña already stands as one of just three Braves to record at least 50 stolen bases in a season in the modern era. Otis Nixon stole 72 bases in 1991, and Hap Myers swiped 57 bags in 1913.

“I’m really happy with 50 stolen bases,” Acuña said. “That said, there’s still a long way to go, and I’m hoping to steal more bases.”