Braves' Acuña is on pace to set new baseball standard for power-speed dominance


ATLANTA (AP) — Ronald Acuña Jr. is on pace to do more than just join an elite 40-40 club in baseball history.

The Braves outfielder is threatening to obliterate the previous high mark for power-speed combination in a season.

Of the four players who have delivered seasons with at least 40 homers and 40 stolen bases, none accomplished the feat with more than 46 steals. Acuña is on pace for 41 homers and 77 steals. He could become the charter member of baseball's 40-50, 40-60 and 40-70 clubs.

“It would mean a lot to me personally just because I feel like not a lot of players have been able to accomplish something like that,” Acuña, who is from Venezuela, said Sunday through a translator. “But my goal maintains the same, just try to stay as healthy as possible and help the team win.”

Acuña's 23 homers and 43 steals, already a career-high, are big reasons the Braves (61-31) boast the majors' best record as they prepare to open a three-game home series against Arizona on Tuesday night.

Even after losing two of three to the Chicago White Sox to end their streak of 11 consecutive series wins, the Braves led second-place Miami by 9 1/2 games in the NL East entering Monday night's games.

Acuña is only part of a powerful Atlanta lineup that also features Matt Olson's NL-leading totals of 30 homers and 77 RBIs. Even Olson is blown away by Acuña's all-around dominance.

“He’s doing things that I’ve never seen before,” Olson said Sunday. “He’s got all the tools. He works good at-bats and hits the ball 500 feet and steals bases and throws guys out and makes great plays in the outfield. He does it all. We love having him on our squad and leading off every night.”

Acuña already is the first player to hit 20 homers with 40 steals and 50 RBIs before the All-Star break.

He ranks second in the National League with his .333 batting average while leading the majors in runs and hard-hit balls.

Perhaps most impressive is the plate discipline Acuña has demonstrated even while being an aggressive batter who attacks first pitches. Acuña's strikeouts have declined each month this season. He has only two strikeouts with seven walks in 43 July at-bats.

“I think he’s going up there and I think he’s keeping it simple but keeping a precise plan and he’s going up there and executing,” said Braves third baseman Austin Riley. “I think there’s something to be said about keeping things simple, especially in this game, and I think he’s doing that.”

Riley has played with Acuña since low Class A. He says he's always seen five-tools talent in Acuña's game. Riley says he's seeing something different this season as Acuña is determined to take advantage of his good health, now fully recovered after tearing the ACL in his right knee in 2021.

A healthy Acuña is seizing every opportunity to run. His 43 stolen bases are tied with Oakland's Esteury Ruiz for the major league lead.

“You’ve always seen the talent there and now I feel like he’s got that will or something,” Riley said. “I don’t think he’s trying to prove a point or anything, I just think he’s got that sense of urgency about him this year, especially when he’s running the bases. I think that’s been the most impressive thing about him this year. He gets on first and the next thing you know he’s on third. It’s been very impressive to watch.”

Oakland's José Canseco had 42 homers and 40 steals in 1988. San Francisco's Barry Bonds also had a 42-40 season in 1996. In 1998, Álex Rodríguez hit 42 homers with 46 steals for Seattle, and Alfonso Soriano hit 46 homers with 41 steals for Washington in 2006.

Acuña came close to a 40-40 season in 2019, when he hit 41 homers with 37 steals before he was shut down late in the season by a hip injury.

The 2021 knee injury prevented Acuña from participating in the Braves' World Series championship. Atlanta is in position to make another postseason run, and Acuña says he's driven by that team goal more than his chance to make statistical history.

“I think the conversations are always going to be had,” he said. “That’s just because of the data. That’s just not what my focus is on. My focus is on the team winning and helping the team win.”