Ronald Acuna Jr. – hero or goat? Last year’s Rookie of the Year has all of Atlanta on his back today after he took it easy and hot-dogged watching a well hit fly that he assumed was a homer end up bouncing back in and be deftly played by Dexter Fowler of the Cards. Acuna’s slow jog after standing to watch the ball kept him to a single, whereas he could easily have been on second with a stand up double. He was doubled off by the next batter. Mistakes like that loom big in the playoffs, very big in a game that ends up being a one-run loss.
Fans, and the rest of his team, let him hear it. Especially the one other legitimate superstar on roster, Freddie Freeman. “It’s kind of frustrating,” the first baseman said, “I think you have that conversation once. Kind of beat the dead horse if you keep having the same conversation,” a not-too-veiled reference to previous times Acuna has been criticized for not hustling or giving it his all. Catcher Brian McCann agreed, saying “that can’t happen.” The manager, Brian Snitzker said Acuna should have been on second, but “we’re kind of shorthanded to do anything about it,” referring to the idea he should have pulled Acuna and benched him.
To be fair, Acuna hit a home run in his next at bat to keep his Braves in the game. And let’s not forget that he had a potentially-MVP season for the NL East winners, hitting .280 but with 41 homers, 37 stolen bases and a WAR over 5. Without that, Atlanta might have been looking up at Washington in the standings, not winning the division. But still, talent will get you only so far. It takes effort and dedication to go that final mile to become a “superstar”. Let’s hope Atlanta don’t have to keep beating that dead horse anymore with Acuna.
With that, the ALDS is just about to kick off right now. We don’t have time for detailed analyses but here’s a brief look at the four playoff series as I see them:
Houston over Tampa Bay, in 3. Yes, the Rays are the darlings of many, being the feisty small market, small budget team that somehow kept on winning and kept last year’s champions (Boston) out of the post-season. But just as talent will only get you so far, as said with Acuna, so too will a good attitude. Houston – especially that 1-2-3- of Verlander, Cole and Greinke on the mound – is far too talented to be knocked off this early. The Rays’ 48 road wins and +113 runs on the season look great… until compared to the Astros, with home advantage, and their 60 home wins an +280 runs.
New York over Minnesota in 4. Gotta give the Twins credit, for so dominating most of the year and well exceeding expectations. But the Yanks have been even better, and better with a largely improvised roster for much of the year. Now they have Judge, Stanton and Encarnacion back and healthy, and Game 1 starter has settled into the ace they expected when they first signed him. With over 600 home runs between the two, expect to see some longballs… although now that cool air has settled over the northern states, pehaps not as many as some think.
LA over Washington in 4. If young Walker Buehler could shut them down like he did last night, how will the Nats rise up to crush Kershaw or Ryu? Dodgers shut out Washington twice in seven regular season games (they took 4 out of the 7.) Washington now needs to win 3 of 4 … too tough a path to hike.
St. Louis over Atlanta in 5. Ok, I flipped on this one. Before the series, I thought Atlanta would win a close series. After last night’s game, and the clubhouse furor, I think the Cardinals can win it, especially with Paul Goldschmidt starting to hit like Paul Goldschmidt again.