After the Monday morning media conference at the Denver All-Star Game, Ozzie Albies admitted his team was down in the wake of the season-ending injury to star right-fielder Ronald Acuña, Jr.
Acuña, elected a starter in both fan and player polls, suffered a torn ACL in his right knee while trying to snag a drive by Miami second baseman Jazz Chisholm Saturday night.
He’s at the All-Star Game, where he will be introduced Tuesday night, but cannot play. In fact, the early prognosis is that the Venezuelan slugger will also miss the first two months of the 2022 season.
Albies, Acuña’s best friend, said it will be difficult for the team to focus without its leadoff man and leader but that the players will do the best they can.
Without a trade, free-agent signing, or promotion of blue-chip prospect Drew Waters, however, Atlanta is not likely to win the National League East title chase for the fourth straight year.
The brash Acuña, still just 23, had predicted before the season that he was aiming to become the first player in baseball history with 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases. But his style of play seems to preclude that possibility.
He slides head-first on the bases – against the advice of coaches and managers – and also goes all-out on every play in the outfield, where he has emerged as a strong Gold Glove candidate. His throws, like his hits, have exit velocities that approach or exceed triple digits.
As for Albies, the switch-hitting second baseman has picked up the slugging slack in his new role as the No. 3 hitter for the Braves. Mets fans remember vividly his two-homer, seven-RBI game of recent vintage.
As a native of Curaçao – the same island that produced Hall of Fame contender Andruw Jones – Albies speaks four languages, including English, and often acts as interpreter for Acuña, who still uses a Spanish-language interpreter for interviews.
Generously listed as 5’8″ tall but actually a couple of inches shorter, Albies is the shortest player in the National League. Only José Altuve, the injured second baseman of the Houston Astros, is allegedly shorter – though a back-to-back pairing could prove interesting.
There’s nothing short about the pitching match-ups for the All-Star Game at Coors Field Tuesday.
Max Scherzer, an eight-time All-Star, will be making his fourth start and is among the five pitchers who have opened for both leagues.
He’ll be opposed by Shohei Ohtani, who joins Hideo Nomo as the only Japanese-born pitchers to start an All-Star Game.
Ohtani, the only man ever elected at two positions for the same All-Star Game, will lead off for American League manager Kevin Cash. A right-handed pitcher but left-handed batter, Ohtani has 31 home runs, tops in the majors, but has also pitched well enough to be one of five pitchers chosen for the game by the players.
“You prepare differently as a hitter than you do as a pitcher,” said Ohtani, the two-way star of the Los Angeles Angels. In his All-Star debut, Ohtani will stay in the game as a DH even after he’s done as a pitcher.
“I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to do at his level what he has done,” Cash told the media throng gathered at Wynkoop Square across from the stadium.
Scherzer just laughed about his opposing pitcher. “He has 31 dingers and I haven’t even gotten my first hit yet,” he said.
On Monday night, Ohtani will become the first performer in the annual Home Run Derby who has also started a game on the mound.
“We wanted him,” admitted National League manager Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “We’re all fans of baseball but to see something that’s never been done is exciting.”
Ohtani said he was not expecting to voted onto the team as a pitcher – let alone a starter.
He was almost opposed by Colorado hometown favorite Germán Márquez, a man Roberts admitted he considered. “German’s having a great year and he would have been a great choice,” the manager said.
The All-Star Game begins at 5:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time.
The last time Coors Field hosted an All-Star Game, in 1998, the AL won, 13-8, as the leagues combined for 21 runs, an All-Star record for runs scored. With Vladimir Guerrero Jr. gunning for a Triple Crown and Ohtani challenging him for MVP honors, the big guns could be out in force again.
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