Acuña, Olson have Braves on a roll with majors' most powerful lineup

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Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., left, and Marcell Ozuna, right, celebrate after defeating the Minnesota Twins in a baseball game Monday, June 26, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA – A deep lineup led by Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson has the Atlanta Braves one homer away from matching their most prolific month in franchise history.

The Braves enter Friday night's series opener against the Miami Marlins with 55 home runs this month, one shy of the franchise record for a month set in June 2019. The power surge is no fluke. Atlanta has improved its homer total each month this season and its lineup boasts seven players with at least 13 homers.

“I just ask God to keep this team healthy so we can keep executing and have the results we’ve been seeing,” Acuña said through a translator.

The Braves aren't a collection of free swingers. They lead the majors with 147 homers but also have decreased their strikeout total each month, providing the foundation for the NL's best record (53-27).

“We’re a better hitting team now, with the power,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I think we’re maturing as a team and still keeping the power. Just really good at-bats. Like I say, I love the fact we’re not striking out as much.”

Olson leads the NL with 26 homers and 62 RBIs.

Acuña, who hit two of Atlanta's five homers in the first two innings of Tuesday night's 6-2 win over Minnesota, is hitting .331. He is building a formidable MVP case with 19 homers, 51 RBIs and 36 steals.

Acuña has set the pace for the Braves' improved plate discipline by hitting .347 this month with eight homers, 13 steals, 11 walks and only 13 strikeouts.

“I just think he’s getting more experienced and confidence, the whole thing,” Snitker said. “It just kind of translates to better production, especially when you have a skill set like that. He’s just really kind of slowing his at-bats down a lot, I think. He looks really good, really good. He’s taking his walks. The whole thing has just been really impressive.”

Acuña, now fully recovered from a season-ending right knee injury on July 10, 2021, has regained the form he showed when he hit 41 homers with 37 steals in 2019. He had to watch as the Braves won the 2021 World Series but now is a leading reason the team could contend for its second title in three years.

“Ronald is so special,” said third baseman Austin Riley. "It’s a treat to come to the yard and watch him play every day, not only offensively but defensively. I think he’s great out there. You catch yourself on the edge of your seat every time he’s at the plate. To see him finally 100% healthy after the knee injury, it’s awesome.”

Braves Hall of Famer Chipper Jones says Acuña, 25, is the most talented player in the history of a franchise that also includes Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, two-time MVP Dale Murphy and 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones.

“I believe the young man is the most talented player to ever don a Braves uniform,” Jones said recently of Acuña. “He may not be the best player yet, but he is the most talented.”

Acuña received the most votes among NL players for the July 11 All-Star Game in Seattle. He has a chance to become the first player to hit 20 homers, drive in 50 runs and steal 40 bases before the All-Star break.

He also has a chance for the 40-homer, 40-steals season he narrowly missed in 2019. He's on pace to join Eric Davis (1987) and Barry Bonds (1990) as the only players with at least 30 homers and 50 steals in a season.

“My hope is I can stay healthy the rest of the season and hopefully break some records,” Acuña said.

The resurgence of No. 9 hitter Michael Harris II, who has raised his batting average from .163 to .266 since June 7, has been a key to Atlanta's 20-4 record in June with eight consecutive series wins.

Ozzie Albies has 18 homers and is second on the team with 56 RBIs. Marcell Ozuna, hitting .325 in June, has 16 homers. Riley has 14 homers.

“It just goes to show how deep this lineup is,” Riley said. “One through nine can change the game with one swing. When we’re all clicking on all cylinders, it puts a lot of pressure on the pitcher. It’s not ‘I can get through one through five or six and then take a breather.’ It’s one through nine and then you’re back at the top.”


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