For a three-and-a-half seasons now, Ronald Acuña Jr. has played an energetic, charismatic, and dynamic brand of baseball that has helped to reinvigorate both this fan base here in Braves Country and fans across the baseball landscape. At times during this underwhelming season for the Braves, seeing him come to the plate was must-see TV. It was even hard to look away when he was in the outfield, as his work with the glove and his rocket cannon of an arm made it so that very few baserunners were safe to roam the basepaths. Simply put, Ronald Acuña Jr. has already become one of the premier players to put on a Braves uniform during their time in Atlanta, and he’s still got plenty more left to offer before he’s done with the Braves.
With that being said, it’s a gigantic bummer to see that he’s suffered a torn ACL and will be out for the remainder of this season. Shoot, to say that it’s a bummer is a mass understatement. It just really sucks and it’s yet another massive blow in a season that’s been full of them for this year’s Braves team. To go from being one win away from winning a pennant in 2020 to being in a situation where the Braves have lost their recently-signed left fielder due to deplorable conduct, their presumptive starting center fielder turned out to not be ready for The Show just quite yet, then they lost their MVP-caliber right fielder to a serious injury in addition to losing their starting catcher for months while also losing their best starting pitcher to injury for the second season in a row — it’s a lot for anybody to handle, much less for a team that was so close to reaching the proverbial promised land not too long ago!
It’s also a reminder that championship windows are about as fragile as an actual window. For all the promise and talent that a team can have, nobody is immune to bad luck and this year’s Braves are going to go down as a case study when it comes to that particular theory. While there’s still a chance that things could somehow magically get better for the Braves from here on out, I’d say that those chances have taken a dramatic hit following Acuña’s injury. However, the Braves are still fighting and there’s actually been talk of the Braves potentially being buyers at the trade deadline now that there’s been a glimmer of hope that the team could actually get over .500 and start to make this NL East race interesting. They’re now in desperate need to replace Acuña’s production and it would be mighty tempting to see what the trade market has to offer going forward.
With that being said, Atlanta’s schedule immediately after the break is brutal and now they’re going to have to navigate that stretch without one of the best players in all of baseball. I’m no insider by any stretch of the imagination, but I honestly can’t legitimately envision a scenario where the Braves should (or would) try to buy at the deadline. They’ve been reluctant to dip into their prospect pool when they’ve had a surefire shot at the postseason, so it would be shocking if they did so as a team that’s going into the latter stage of the season in a worse position than they’ve been in a few years.
I’d say it’s more likely that they attempt a mini-reset (which could be likely anyways since there’s still no guarantee that Freddie Freeman will be in a Braves uniform by this time next year) than it is that the Braves try to go in on strengthening a team that is struggling like they are right now. It’s been tough to watch and tough to follow and both of those things are about to get tougher!
As painful as it is to think of watching Braves baseball without the joy of seeing Acuña out there having fun, I think the Braves may just stand pat and ride this season out with who they’ve got in the majors and anybody who they feel like seeing from the rest of the organization. That probably spells doom for this season but at this rate, the chances of 2021 being a season that met expectations for the Braves were already about as slim as a string of spaghetti, so there’s really no reason to mortgage the future when they can just take the “L” on this season, play out the string and finish as strong as they can while taking the offseason to regroup and reflect on the avalanche of issues that helped tank this season for them.
It’s no fun to talk about — just like it was no fun seeing Ronald Acuña go down for the season this weekend. The good news is that assuming he makes a full recovery and there are no setbacks (which Braves fans this season have learned is absolutely not a guarantee when it comes to injury recovery), we shouldn’t see too much of a dropoff for Acuña once he returns. He’ll probably sit out more games than usual just to make sure he’s not overtaxing the knee but this also isn’t a death sentence on his career.
He may be done for the 2021 season and this may be a huge blow to the Braves in general for what’s been an absolutely wretched season, but there’s no reason to write him off going forward in the 2022 season and beyond. We’ve seen Acuña bounce back from some extremely rough-looking injuries in the past — he’s just unlucky that this time, it was one that he would need more than just a day-or-two to come back from. I’m sure he’s more sick over this than anybody else, too.
He was only a couple of days away from returning to the All-Star Game as a starter and he was on track for a monster season. 40/40 may not have been a lock but he was surely going to take a major run at accomplishing that feat this year. Things may not have been going well for the team, but Acuña was still playing hard and passionately like they were at the top of the division again, and that wasn’t going to change going forward.
Let’s face it: It absolutely sucks that Acuña’s been robbed of the rest of this season. While this is definitely yet another black mark on a 2021 Braves season that should hopefully be running out of proverbial ink for said black marks, all we can do as fans is send love and encouragement towards Acuña’s direction as he works his way back onto a baseball diamond in time for the 2022 season. The Braves are just better and more fun to watch when he’s around and the game of baseball in general is better off when he’s on the field doing his thing.
Whether that’s hitting a ball nearly 500 feet or attempting to gun down a runner at third base all the way from deep right field, it’s an absolute necessity to have Ronald Acuña Jr. back on the diamond and healthy. When will that day come? I can’t tell you — hopefully it’ll be by the time next season rolls around. The Braves need him and the game of baseball needs him, and here’s hoping for a full recovery and a timely return for one of the most dynamic players in the sport right now.