Braves: Is Austin Riley human?

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The Braves have finally hit their stride, and there is no coincidence it is happening at the same time as the arrival of Austin Riley. The slugger from Mississippi was on a torrid hot streak before receiving the call after Ender Inciarte injured his back, hitting .299 with 15 homers and 39 RBIs in 37 games. That is supposed to stop once you reach the majors, but Riley has not only arrived, he is carrying the team on his back.

The first thing you’ll notice about this budding star at the plate is his sheer size. At 6’3″, 225 pounds, he’s an intimidating presence in the batter’s box before he even takes a swing. Then you see him toss the bat around like a toothpick and realize why he is projected to be a 30+ home run guy at the top level. However, his poise and understanding of the game at such a young age may be his most noteworthy trait.

On May 15th, Riley made his major league debut in front of a monstrous crowd at SunTrust Park. The 22-year-old delivered in his second at-bat sending a towering home run to the left centerfield gap off of Michael Wacha. The tank job triggered an offensive onslaught as the Braves cruised to a victory over the Cardinals. He would have five hits over his next two games before a crucial Saturday night matchup against the Brewers. With the Braves trailing late, Riley reached into his bag and launched one the other way into the ChopHouse, giving Atlanta a 3-2 lead. The Braves would go on to win in extras on a Freddie Freeman walk-off, but they never get there without Riley.

The rookie continued his trend of clutch hitting two nights later by the Bay. With the game tied, Riley delivered the eventual game-winning two-run shot over the Giants. Another surreal moment for a rookie in his first ten games, but it pales in comparison to what would happen yesterday.

The Braves were one out away from going quietly in the eighth, trailing by two runs. Dansby Swanson stood on first, as Riley came to the plate with two outs. You could almost feel it coming, and like clockwork, the rookie hit another moonshot into the left-center field gap to tie the game. But he wasn’t done there.

Five innings later, the score had not changed, and Riley hovered over the plate as Dansby Swanson stood on second. With a base open, one has to wonder why the Giants even pitched to him. They did, however, and Riley made them pay.

His change in approach was so pleasant to see. He didn’t go up there looking for a home run, knowing a single would get the job done. And that’s what the Braves’ newest sensation did. Riley lined a ball that was down and away to right field scoring the winning run and capping off another series win for the Braves – their fourth in a row.

In his first nine games in Atlanta, Riley’s slashing .389/.421/.681 with a 1.254 OPS. YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THAT AT 22 YEARS OLD WITH NO MAJOR LEAGUE EXPERIENCE. Hell, Riley doesn’t even have 80 AAA games under his belt. This man was sent from another planet to save the Braves season. I’m convinced. To put this into perspective: Only two players have had five homers in their first nine games before turning 23 years old – Carlos Delgado and Austin Riley (Courtesy of Andrew Simon).

Beyond his awe-inspiring ability with the bat, however, Riley has been equally as impressive with the glove, considering he just started playing in the outfield this year. There have been no blunders to this point, and he’s even made a few highlights, including a sliding grab on a critical play in yesterday’s game versus the Giants.

So one might ask: Is this sustainable?

The answer is of course not. No human being can stay this hot throughout an entire season. Although, I would like to see proof Riley is indeed human. He will eventually slow down and go through some growing pains as every rookie does, but one thing is for sure – Ender Inciarte is going to have to find a new role or learn how to hit 30+ bombs fast because Austin Riley isn’t going anywhere. Health providing (for the whole team) he will be the left fielder for the remainder of the season and will continue to make those people who wanted to trade him for J.T. Realmuto bite their tongues.

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