Ronald Acuña Jr., Adolis Garcia and Jesse Winker: Around the Diamond in MLB Week 8
Fernando Tatis Jr. also recently made a triumphant return for the San Diego Padres
After New York Yankees ace Corey Kluber held the Texas Rangers hitless less than 24 hours after Spencer Turnbull of the Tigers did the same thing to the Mariners, most of the focus in Major League Baseball last week was on what was happening on the mound.
Deservedly so, as the rate of strikeouts in MLB is at an all-time high — to the point that strikeout king Nolan Ryan can no longer stand watching baseball — and hitters are struggling at the plate more than at any point in recent memory. At least some of them …
Although they flew a bit under the radar due to all the headlines the surge of no-hitters has attracted, there were plenty of batters — some household names and some not — swinging hot sticks over the last week or so.
Here, in a slightly different twist on our typical weekly look back at the MLB week that was, is a look at five of ’em.
Fernando Tatis Jr.
While leading the Padres to a 9-2 win to complete a three-game sweep of the Mariners on Sunday, Fernando Tatis Jr. went 3-for-3 with two home runs, three runs scored, six RBIs and a walk. Tatis also had a couple of his signature bat flips, including one after he belted a grand slam in the seventh to propel the Padres to the ninth win straight win of their now-complete homestand.
The first team to 30 wins on the season, the Padres are the first team with a perfect homestand of at least nine games since the Mets went 10-0 in April 2015.
Though Tatis only played in four games of the homestand after a stint on the injured list, he has put up a month’s worth of stats in the games since his return. Over his last four games, Tatis has gone 11-for-14 with four home runs, 12 RBI, three steals, three walks and 27 total bases. Hitting .240 when he returned to the lineup on May 19, Tatis raised his batting average to .309 by the end of the series against Seattle after going nuclear in the batter’s box over the weekend.
“He looks so under control,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “He’s on fastballs. He’s on breaking balls. He’s not trying to do too much, and he’s finishing with balance.”
Tatis and the Padres will be tested in the coming weeks with series against the Brewers, Astros, Cubs and Mets on the docket, but it looks like everything is going smoothly in Slam Diego.
Called up to the big leagues by the Texas Rangers after injuries made it necessary, 28-year-old rookie Adolis Garcia is making the case that he deserves to stay in the majors for good — and it appears to be airtight.
After hitting .375 with four home runs, three stolen bases and 13 RBIs in spring training, Garcia has been on a tear since being called up to the majors and helped lead the Rangers to a three-game sweep over the intrastate rival Houston Astros over the weekend.
Fast (five steals) and powerful (14 home runs), Garcia went 1-for-5 in Sunday’s 3-2 extra-inning win over the Astros and walked the Rangers off with a 10th-inning single and a game-winning RBI. It was Garcia’s second walk-off in three games; he also hit a game-ending home run Friday before belting two more homers Saturday.
Including the home runs, Garcia was 5-for-15 with four extra-base hits, eight RBIs and three runs scored during the series and is now hitting close to .300 on the season.
A Cuban defector by way of Japan who hit his first career home run in MLB three times due to poor umpiring and instant replay, Garcia has drawn comparisons to Yasiel Puig.
“I don’t want to say anything bad about Yasiel, because I know him and I love him dearly,” Texas manager Chris Woodward told The Athletic. “I think [García] is just a more consistent version of Puig. Puig hit the ground running, and the numbers speak for themselves in his first couple years. But I feel like where Adolis is at, I feel like it could be a little more consistent (than Puig). But he’s got to prove that; he’s obviously got to prove that, but we’re all in his corner.”
Ronald Acuña Jr.
When most MLB players get into a slump, they can’t hit their way out of a paper bag. When Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves slumps, he takes over the league lead in home runs.
Just 7-for-38 over his last 11 games with 15 strikeouts, Acuña hit his league-leading 15th home run on Sunday, the 22nd leadoff blast of his career. Five of those 15 home runs have come over this recent stretch of sub-.200 hitting, which proves that the 23-year-old is a real threat at the plate even when he’s not hitting for average.
Despite the cold streak at the plate, Atlanta’s superstar outfielder is still hitting .276 on the season and has six steals, 31 RBIs and 37 runs scored to go along with the 15 home runs.
Two of those taters came Friday in a 20-1 beatdown of the Pirates that saw every position player for the Braves recorded at least one hit and Atlanta hit seven home runs on the night. Acuña and Ehire Adrianza each had grand slams, and the Braves became the first team in MLB history to have seven or more home runs and two or more grand slams in a single game.
With the game out of hand in the eighth inning and position player Wilmer Difo on the mound, right-handed hitting Acuña attempted to head to the plate to bat left-handed, but manager Brian Snitker wasn’t having it and called him back from the on-deck circle.
“He tried. I told him I’ve got three grandkids I’ve got to put through college,” Snitker told reporters after the game. (Snitker meant he didn’t want Acuña to get hurt swinging lefty.)
MLB’s home run leader clearly isn’t sweating his slump … so we won’t either.
The Reds lost to the Brewers 9-4 on Sunday, but Cincinnati outfielder Jesse Winker went deep for the third straight game and had hit a home run in four of his last six contests entering play on Monday.
After clubbing five home runs in three games against the Brewers, including three in a 4-for-4 performance on Friday night, Winker has 13 homers on the season and is just three short of tying the career-best mark of 16 he established during the 2019 season. Per Elias Sports, Winker is the first Reds batter with five homers in a three-game series since September of 1996. He also received the first curtain call of his career after his third home run of the night on Friday.
“I’m really at a loss for words right now,” Winker said of being called out of the dugout by the fans. “It was really, really cool … It was special. It was very special to me. I’m very thankful. I have amazing teammates. And the fans, they packed it out, man. It was an honor. And a moment like that, it’s what you dream of as a kid, really. I’m very thankful and very honored and I just appreciate everything.”
One of the league leaders in average, slugging and OPS, Winker is hitting .306/.401/.563 with 31 homers in his last 162 games dating back to May of 2019, and it appears that his strong start to the 2021 season might actually be sustainable despite a documented history of struggling with left-handed pitching.
As cool as Acuña has been at the plate (in some ways) lately, his teammate Austin Riley has been just as hot.
Riding a seven-game hitting streak into Sunday’s game, Riley went 2-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs in a 7-1 win over Pittsburgh to extend his streak to eight games. During the hitting streak, Riley has gone 14-for-28 (.500) with six homers, 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored.
Now hitting above .300 on the season with an OPS that has surged to .963 in the last week, Riley has nine homers, 21 RBI and 27 runs scored across 181 plate appearances this season. Six of those home runs, 11 of those RBIs and nine of those runs scored have come in 24-year-old Riley’s last seven games.
Apparently there’s just something the young third baseman likes about mid-May …
“Coming up (in 2019) I was more just red-hot, it really didn’t matter,” he said. “Now I feel like I’m gonna maybe be able to sustain in a little bit longer, just because I do know how they’re pitching me, and I have plans to then attack them as well … Going forward it definitely helps a lot. But like I said, I’ve been very hot in this game, I’ve been very cold in this game. So I know it can humble you quick. So, never satisfied. The work isn’t done, that’s for sure.”
Riley, who collected 10 extra-base hits overall over the last week, is the first Braves player since the modern era began in 1920 to have as many as six homers and 10 extra-base hits in any seven-game span.
Keep it up young man.
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