Acuna speeds into history, closes in on 40-40

Braves' star becomes youngest player to reach 35-35 plateau

September 13th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- is inching closer to an historic 40-40 season, and the Braves are closing in on their 19th division title.

One could happen as soon as this weekend in D.C., while the other won't be possible until Atlanta returns home next week. While the Braves could clinch a postseason berth any day now, they will be unable to clinch the division in this weekend's series against the Nationals following Thursday's 9-5 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Atlanta's magic number to seal the National League East crown remains at eight.

Despite the loss, Acuna hit his 39th homer and swiped a pair of bases -- both in the first inning -- to bring his season total to 36. He's the first player in franchise history with a 35-35 season, and at 21 years old, he's the youngest player in Major League history to reach those plateaus. He sits just one homer and four steals away from joining Alfonso Soriano (2006), Alex Rodriguez (1998), Barry Bonds ('96) and Jose Canseco ('88) as the only players with a 40-40 season in big league history.

“My excitement and enthusiasm comes from just seeing my name in that lineup every day," Acuna said through an interpreter, when asked about getting closer to a 40-40 season. "So we’ll just take it day by day and see what happens.”

While Acuna may not be focused on the milestone, his teammates have certainly taken notice.

"We’re all pulling for him and we all believe that he’s going to do it," said , who allowed five runs over four innings after yielding only three runs over his previous four starts. "Obviously we don’t want to put any kind of pressure on him, because he’s been great, but we’re all pulling for him and we all know what kind of player he is. To have this success in his first two years of his career is huge. I'm really happy for him."

Acuna wasted no time upping his stolen base total against the Phillies. After reaching on an error to start the game, Acuna immediately swiped second and third base -- no small feat against Phillies catcher , who has been by far the most proficient catcher at throwing out baserunners this season. Acuna later teed off for a 425-foot solo homer into the Philadelphia bullpen in the seventh inning, marking the fourth time this season he's had at least one homer and one stolen base in the same game.

It capped an impressive series for Acuna, who was scuffling when the team arrived in Philadelphia for this four-game set. He was hitting .172 (15-for-87) with 33 strikeouts over his past 23 games before crushing a solo homer and drawing two walks in Monday's series-opening victory. Acuna followed it up with a three-hit performance on Tuesday, then worked three more walks on Wednesday.

He saved the best for last with Thursday's home run and two stolen bases.

"I’ve been feeling good lately, which obviously is the most important thing," Acuna said. "The important thing to understand is baseball is a game of highs and lows. You’ve just got to get through the lows and enjoy the highs."

While Acuna could certainly join the exclusive 40-40 club as soon as this weekend, that's not the only record within striking distance for the Braves.

Acuna's home run was Atlanta's third of the game -- hit a two-run homer in the first and crushed another two-run shot in the fourth -- and 234th of the season. That's one shy of the franchise record set by the 2003 club. Five teams (Astros, Twins, Yankees, Dodgers and Padres) have already set their respective single-season home run records.

So while Atlanta could rewrite its record book in a number of ways this weekend, the one thing everyone is working toward -- a second straight division title -- will have to wait until next week at the earliest.

"Like I said, it's just day by day," Acuna said. "You've just got to come out there with the same intensity and the same energy every day. I'm just happy to be part of a team like this that seems to be just constantly fighting for the playoffs."