Shaky Knees

By: Robert Craft news services

Baseball is a metaphor for life, one of its most enduring lessons is that the universe gives not one whit for our collective desires; it will mete out blessings and hardships as it sees fit.

Last year, Ronald Acuña Jr. became the first player to hit 40+ home runs and steal 70+ bases in the same season, winning NL MVP for his efforts. It was a truly remarkable and historic season, one that fans of the Braves and the MLB will never forget.

In the first two months of the season, the Braves lost Spencer Strider, the 2023 MLB wins and strikeouts leader, with season-ending elbow surgery after two starts.

The Braves also lost Acuña, the first player to have as many as 40 homers and 70 stolen bases in a season, to an ACL tear. Acuña finished with 41 and 73 in 2023, while batting .337 with an NL-best 1.012 OPS.

Even with his early struggles this season, he still had a solid .351 OBP and was a threat every time he was at the plate and made opposing pitchers uneasy from the first pitch.

Leading off the first inning, he had a .333 average with an .857 OPS, and leading off any inning he hit .356 with a .420 OBP and .886 OPS. Not up to his lofty standards, but still the majors’ ninth-best average when leading off innings. A year ago, Acuña hit .384 with 18 homers and a 1.134 OPS leading off innings.

2023 was a triumphant return to form for Acuña after he tore his right ACL in July 2021. He returned to action in late April of 2022, but it took time to regain his mojo, posting a career-low 2.6 bWAR upon his return. (Not counting the shortened 2020 season.)

If that timeline is the career roadmap, then we may not see Acuña in peak form again until 2026. He will miss the remainder of this season.

Needless to say, Acuña’s absence is a huge blow to the Braves, who are currently chasing the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. Of course, it was a big blow when Atlanta lost him in 2021 — and they went and won the World Series.

Which likely brings us to-gulp- 2026 for the next potential glimpse of Acuña at an MVP level. He will be 28 that year, still in his baseball prime.

If he stays relatively healthy from that point forward, he can still fulfill his Hall of Fame potential. But who can predict how this all might play out, especially now that he has twice suffered these freakish knee injuries?

Acuña is still just 26 years old. He’s been through this injury and rehab before, and there’s little doubt that he’ll be back to electrifying the baseball diamond soon enough.

The results of that work were not fully apparent when he returned in late April 2022, and did not become truly evident until ’23.

Acuña undoubtedly will adopt the same mindset again, knowing what steps he must take, literally and figuratively, to return to MVP form.

That will not make his rehabilitation any less lonely or frustrating. The last thing Ronald Acuña Jr. wanted was to go through this again. Forgive him if he wants to scream.

Man, what a huge bummer.