Ronald Acuna’s lack of hustle changed the complexion of an inning for the Atlanta Braves Thursday night, and it’s clearly become a problem internally.
There’s no denying Ronald Acuna Jr’s talent level, as a left groin strain is really all that kept him from having a 40-40 season this year at 21 years old as he finished with 41 home runs and 37 stolen bases. Thursday night, in Game 1 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year went 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and two RBI.
But Acuna should have had two doubles. In the bottom of the seventh inning, he admired a fly ball to right field, holding his bat as he casually moved down the first base line. Cardinals right fielder Dexter Fowler played the carom off the wall perfectly and fired a strike to second base, holding Acuna to a long single.
Braves shortstop Ozzie Albies followed with a ground ball, advancing Acuna to second (when he should have been there already, and gone to third). After first baseman Freddie Freeman was hit by a pitch, Josh Donaldson hit a line drive to Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, and Acuna was doubled off.
The Cardinals would rally to tie the game at three in top of the eighth, then they added four more runs in their half of the ninth. Acuna hit a ninth inning home run to create the final 7-6 losing margin for Atlanta, but the damage was already done in revisionist history as the Braves lost an opportunity to pad their lead two innings earlier.
After the game, Acuna’s lack of hustle drew plenty of ire.
Freeman is referencing Acuna doing the same thing he did Thursday night back in August, and being pulled from that game for it. Manager Brian Snitker could have justified in doing so again Thursday night, but he sighted a shorter bench in the postseason as a reason he couldn’t make the move.
He should have been on second,” Snitker said, according to FOX 5 Sports. “And (we) were kind of shorthanded to do anything about it right there. You hate to see that happen.
Even Albies was openly critical of his teammate and close friend.
To be fair, spurred partially by Chris Martin leaving the game with an oblique strain, the Braves’ bullpen got stretched a bit and surrendered six runs in the final two innings. But Acuna’s lack of hustle Thursday night may not be easily forgotten inside the clubhouse, and that is a big problem for the Braves heading into Game 2.