Ronald Acuña Jr., the star outfielder of the Atlanta Braves, has achieved a feat that no other player in Major League Baseball history has ever done: hitting 40 home runs and stealing 70 bases in a single season. Acuña reached the milestone in a thrilling 6-5 win over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night at Truist Park, securing the Braves’ home-field advantage through the National League playoffs.
Acuña joins the exclusive 40-40 club and adds 30 more steals
Acuña, who is only 25 years old, had already joined the elite 40-40 club earlier this month, becoming the fifth player ever to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season. The other members of the club are Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006). Acuña is the youngest of them all and the first to do it in the National League.
But Acuña was not satisfied with just 40 steals. He kept running and swiping bases, reaching 50, then 60, and finally 70 on Wednesday night. He is the second Braves player to steal 70 bases in a season since 1900, joining Otis Nixon in 1991 (72). He is also the first player to steal 70 bases since Jacoby Ellsbury in 2009 (70).
Acuña’s combination of power and speed is unprecedented in baseball history. No one had ever stolen more than 46 bases in a 40-homer season before him. He is also the first player to have at least 40 homers, 70 steals and 100 runs scored in a season.
Acuña delivers clutch hits and runs in extra innings
Acuña’s historic season was not only impressive in numbers, but also in impact. He helped the Braves win their fourth consecutive NL East title and clinch the best record in the NL with 102 wins and 56 losses. He also came through in clutch situations, especially in the final game of the regular season against the Cubs.
The Braves were trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning, when Marcell Ozuna hit a game-tying solo homer to force extra innings. In the 10th inning, Acuña singled with one out and then stole his 70th base in what became uncontested fashion. Catcher Yan Gomes’ throw to second base seemed to slip out of his hand as it traveled toward the left side of the infield. Acuña then scored the winning run when Ozzie Albies followed with a single to end the game.
Acuña finished the game with two hits, two runs, one RBI and one steal. He ended the season with a .287 batting average, 41 homers, 106 RBIs, 70 steals and 119 runs scored. He led the NL in runs, steals and total bases, and ranked second in homers and slugging percentage.
Acuña looks forward to the postseason and the MVP race
Acuña’s historic season has also put him in the conversation for the NL Most Valuable Player award, along with his teammate Freddie Freeman, who won it last year, and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Bryce Harper, who had a strong second half. Acuña said he is not focused on the individual accolades, but on the team’s success.
“I’m just happy to be part of this team and to help them win games,” Acuña said. “I’m not thinking about the MVP or anything like that. I’m just thinking about the playoffs and how we can go all the way.”
The Braves will have a first-round bye and will face the winner of the NL Wild Card game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals in a best-of-five NL Division Series starting on Oct. 7. Acuña said he is confident in the Braves’ chances to reach the World Series for the first time since 1999.
“We have a great team, a great lineup, a great pitching staff, a great bullpen, a great manager, a great coaching staff, a great fan base, everything,” Acuña said. “We have everything we need to win it all. We just have to play our game and have fun.”