Sunday’s game was eventful, to say the least. For starters, the Braves picked up a huge, morale-boosting series win over the Dodgers, with the bullpen coming up big for the second day in a row and Rafael Ortega (of all people) hitting a grand slam to put the Braves ahead against arguably the best team in all of baseball. It was a bit of a statement weekend from the Braves, which added onto their series victory against a somewhat surging Mets team. They needed to play better at home and they’re currently on the right track.
What made Sunday’s game eventful was what happened in the third inning. That’s when Ronald Acuna Jr. did what a lot of 21-year-old players do in the big leagues: He made some dumb mistakes in very short order. His first mistake was that he didn’t bust it out of the box on a fly ball that he figured was destined to reach the seats out in right-center. What should have at the very least a situation with runners on second and third [with the runner on third being Max Fried. Yeah, I know.]) turned into runners on the corners. The Braves went on to squander their chance at that point, and Brian Snitker was rightly disappointed in Acuña. This resulted in the young phenom being sent to the bench for the rest of the game.
I’ll tell you right now, everybody involved is very lucky that the rest of the team rose up and were able to pull off the victory. A second consecutive day of great bullpen work against Los Angeles’s offense was amazing. Also, I don’t think that anybody would have had Rafael Ortega penciled in as the man of the hour at any point during this season — much less during a game where the team leader in fWAR (and going into Sunday’s action, tied for 9th in all of baseball in fWAR) was benched by the manager for being a knucklehead. Had the Braves gone on to lose this game and drop another series to the Dodgers, the post-mortem of this game would have been ugly to witness and maybe things would have been different.
However, I think that regardless of the result of Sunday’s game, things would have been handled pretty well by all involved parties. Brian Snitker is still very much rooted in the old-school ideology of how baseball is supposed to be played. Still, one of the reasons why I’m personally still going to support him is that he doesn’t come off as a “my way or the highway” type of manager and is willing to learn and improve as he adds onto his already vast amount of experience in the game. So while I absolutely disagree with pulling Acuña at that point of the game with there being a quality shortage at outfielder and especially in a game against the Dodgers, I’m not going to sit here on the internet and get huffy about it.
Instead, Snitker explained his reasoning during postgame and it seemed like Acuña understood his mistake and accepted the punishment. It was a big deal until the moment the Braves got the 27th out of the day and even if the Braves lost, this would have only been a big deal until the press conference. This is far from being a major controversy, but this is about as professional of a reaction from all involved parties that you could ask for, and that’s definitely a reflection of the positive culture and atmosphere that Brian Snitker has helped to cultivate in that clubhouse since he’s taken over as manager.
Lest we forget, this was Brian Snitker following last year's HBP of Ronald Acuña Jr. by Miami's Jose Ureña. He's a player's manager. You'll get the support, but you'll also get the teaching moments. It's why this #Braves team respects Snit and would run through a wall for him. https://t.co/ZbPdr5xQEU— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) August 18, 2019
While I still strongly disagree with the decision to pull him due to the circumstances that the Braves were in, it’s pretty clear that Acuña has learned his lesson. I’d be willing to bet that we’re probably going to see Acuña set a team record in Statcast’s Sprint Speed stat during his next home run trot. He’s still going to pimp home runs any chance he can get — that’s just part of his passion and swagger and it would be detrimental if you took that away from him. He’ll just try to be a tad bit more discerning when it comes to that sort of thing. Plus, it sends a message to the rest of the guys, that even the best players aren’t immune to a little bit of criticism.
Basically, both Acuña and Snitker should be applauded for handling this with a high level of professionalism. Plus, they should both chip in to cover Rafael Ortega’s next big meal, since he was the one who bailed both of them out on Sunday with that shocking grand slam. I’m dead serious — if Ortega asks for filet mignon cooked by Gordon Ramsay, they better foot the bill for the dinner and Gordon’s transportation. In all actual seriousness, winning cures all — and it sure helps to paper over a mini-controversy.