Olson, Acuña show signs of '23 form in HR-heavy win

May 11th, 2024

NEW YORK -- Watching and homer in the same game seemed commonplace while they were constructing two of the greatest seasons in Braves history last year.

But there was certainly reason to take notice when they accounted for two of the three third-inning homers that propelled the Braves to a 4-2 win over the Mets on Friday night at Citi Field. Acuña’s monstrous shot was just his third homer of the year and Olson’s blast snapped the longest homerless drought of his career.

“I was happy, especially knowing obviously that as hitters we’ve had our tough times,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “But it’s a long season and our moments are going to come.”

Charlie Morton allowed one run over seven innings and joined Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto as the only active pitchers with at least 2,000 innings pitched. His effort was supported by the three two-out homers hit in the third.

Mets starter Jose Quintana had never previously allowed three homers in an inning, and the Braves hadn’t achieved the feat since Acuña, Austin Riley and Sean Murphy all went deep against the Twins in the first inning of a win on June 27, 2023.

Could these homers be the spark Acuña and Olson have been awaiting?

“You square one up like that and feel good, and that’s amazing what that will do for a hitter,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Just the one swing, and the one outcome can be huge for a guy.”

Acuña and Ozzie Albies began the two-out barrage with back-to-back homers. Olson’s two-run shot snapped a 26-game homerless drought that stretched back to April 7.

Those 26 games marked the longest stretch of Olson’s career without a home run. His longest previous drought was an 18-game stretch he endured last year on the way to setting a franchise record with his MLB-best 54 home runs.

Acuña also hasn’t regained the form he had last year when he produced the game’s first 40-homer, 70-steal season. But there certainly didn’t appear to be anything wrong with him when he drilled Quintana’s elevated sinker deep over the center-field wall. The homer traveled 461 feet and had a 114.2 mph exit velocity, making it his longest and hardest-hit ball of the season.

“It felt really good, I’m not going to lie,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “It’s been a while since I felt that way. It was nice to regain that feeling. But the most important thing and most satisfying thing was to be able to help the team win.”

Acuña now has 12 career homers of at least 460 feet, three more than anyone else in MLB since the start of his 2018 rookie season. But this was just the second time he has hit a ball 400 feet this year.

One of Acuña’s most impressive stats last season was his 11.4% strikeout rate, down from 23.6% in both 2021 and 2022. He entered Friday having struck out in 26.1% of his plate appearances. His home/fly ball ratio was 24 percent last year, but just 8.7 percent entering this series opener.

His quality of contact hasn’t been the same. His barrel rate has dropped from 15.3 percent last year to 8.6 percent entering Friday. The Barrel classification is assigned to batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented in 2015.

“Honestly, that’s the part that frustrates me a little bit, knowing I’m just missing by a little bit,” Acuña said. “But I’m confident that if we keep putting the work in, things are going to continue to get better.”

The Braves have produced one of MLB’s best records despite the fact that Acuña, Olson and Riley have all started slow. If these three begin producing like they did when they all finished among the top seven in National League MVP balloting, Atlanta could satisfy its bid for a seventh straight division title and third straight 100-win season.

“We’re not even close to hitting on all cylinders yet,” Snitker said.