The Braves finally hit a bump in the road, losing two out of three to the division leading Mets. Still, this is a team that once sat 10.5 games back in the NL East at the start of June; now, the Braves are just 2.5 games back with a four-game series remaining against the Nationals before the All-Star break.
Two of the most impactful decisions that led to the Braves’ recent tear are moving Spencer Strider to the rotation and calling Michael Harris up from Double-A, both occurring in the final days of May. But it’s not just them. The club is getting contributions from everywhere, evident in the five players headed to the All-Star game — Ronald Acuña Jr., William Contreras, Max Fried, Dansby Swanson, and Travis d’Arnaud.
The most notable snub, however, is Austin Riley, who might be the hottest hitter in baseball right now, fourth in the NL in OPS and second in homers coming into Wednesday. There’s no reason he should be left off the roster, but he’s doing something even more impressive, flirting with a record only Chipper Jones has been able to reach.
#Braves' Austin Riley hit his 20th double Wednesday, the first MLB player this season w/ at least 20 doubles & 20 homers (21 HRs). He's on pace for 39 doubles and 40 homers. The only player in team's Atlanta era to have at least 40 doubles & 40 HRs was Chipper in '99 MVP season.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) July 7, 2022
Now, Jones’ 1999 season was unbelievable, and it’ll take quite the performance over the second half from Riley to replicate. During his MVP campaign, Chipper slashed an unbelievable .319/.441/.633 with a 1.074 OPS, 45 homers, 41 doubles, and 110 RBIs. Riley’s season averages aren’t as impressive as Chipper’s MVP numbers, but his stats since June 1 are rather similar.
Riley is slashing .315/.370/.638 with a 1.007 OPS with 12 bombs, ten doubles, and 32 RBIs over 37 games since the beginning of June. Over a 162-game stretch, Riley is on pace to hit 40 doubles, 44 homers, and 106 RBIs, making him the first player since Chipper to hit 40 doubles and 40 home runs. If he keeps up this pace, he’ll certainly force his way into the MVP conversation.
What’s amazing is, during that 1999 season, Jones also failed to make the All-Star game. He began the year lackadaisically for his standards, and things really didn’t pick up until late May. However, his final four months of the season were probably the best of his career, and he ended up taking home the MVP award. It may be difficult for Austin Riley to replicate, but if he stays anywhere close to as hot as he’s been recently, he will have a great chance to follow in the footsteps of Chipper Jones in more ways than one.
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