With less than two weeks left in the truncated 2020 baseball season, Latino Power is pushing the Atlanta Braves toward their third straight NL East division crown.
Their outfielders include Ronald Acuña Jr., Ender Inciarte, and Marcell Ozuna, with blue-chip prospect Cristian Pache virtually certain to land a full-time berth in 2021.
Also in the mix are slumping Nick Markakis, an Atlanta product who is the oldest position player on the club at 36, and Adam Duvall, who enjoyed a pair of three-homer games within a seven-game span.
Duvall, who just turned 32, tied a club record with nine runs batted in during a 29-9 thrashing of the Miami Marlins in Atlanta Wednesday night. Just last week, Ozuna and Duvall became the first pair of teammates to enjoy consecutive three-homer games.
The Caribbean basin is well-represented in the Atlanta outfield. Acuna and Inciarte are Venezuelans, while Ozuna and Pache are Dominican.
Acuña, who missed time with a nagging wrist injury, knocked in five runs from his customary leadoff slot in the 29-run game, which ranks first in National League history during the modern era. He also came within a few feet of producing a 30th run when a potential solo home run in the eighth was snagged at the warning track. But he did hit a double and home run earlier.
Age is on Acuña’s side; he won’t turn 23 until December. Pache, who also bats righthanded, is a year younger.
Ozuna, whose prowess in the power department has made Braves fans forget 2019 cleanup man Josh Donaldson, is making the most of his one-year, $18 million contract, a pact that surprised observers who thought he would snag a big-dollar, multi-year deal. He still might but that will depend on the willingness of teams to spend after losing millions playing without spectators.
Inciarte, a three-time Gold Glove winner, is unlikely to return because of his age, contract, and a bat that can best be described as suspect. His position, center field, will almost certainly be Pache
territory next season. The fleet newcomer is considered the best defensive player in the Atlanta farm system and perhaps the best defensive center-fielder to reach Atlanta since Hall of Fame candidate Andruw Jones won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves at the position.
Duvall had expected to form a right-left platoon with Markakis this season but has won a starting job against all pitching with his prodigious power. Last year, he had 42 home runs but all but 10 came against Triple-A pitching while he was reshaping his swing at Triple-A Gwinnett. Obviously, the time in the minors paid off.
With nine runs batted in Wednesday night, Duvall tied Tony Cloninger’s club record for RBI in a game. He also became the first Brave ever to have a pair of three-homer games. No, Hank Aaron never did it. Nor did Eddie Mathews, Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, David Justice, or Ron Gant.
To win the division again, the Braves may need to out-slug opponents. Their starting pitching, other than southpaw Max Fried and recently-recalled rookie Ian Anderson, has been horrendous. But they began a four-game series in Washington Thursday with a two-game lead over the charging Philadelphia Phillies, their closest challengers.
Atlanta has not won a postseason series since 2001 but will have Fried, Anderson, and former World Series MVP Cole Hamels as their primary postseason starters. Throw in a solid bullpen and the Braves will have a chance — especially with that lineup.
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