Acuna & Snitker Take NL Top Honours
A truly stellar and unexpected season for the Atlanta Braves got even better this week, as 20 year old phenom Ronald Acuna Jr was named National League Rookie of the Year on Monday and manager Brian Snitker was crowned Manager of the Year on Tuesday. Expected by many to finish fourth in the NL East this year, the Braves defied their critics to win 90 games and take their first division crown since 2013.
As all Braves fans have been painfully aware, Atlanta is coming out of a long process of rebuilding and four consecutive losing seasons, yet all the promise and expectations placed on the young lineup had been centred on 2019, with the expectation of further tough times to endure in 2018.
Two of the main reasons that the Braves were able to find success this season were the shrewd managerial decisions and player management skills of Snitker combined with the raw talent and youthful spark provided at the top of the lineup by Acuna.
At only 20 years of age, Acuna entered the season as the number 2 overall prospect in MLB. Initially kept off the opening day roster, Acuna was promoted to Atlanta on April 25th and hit his first of 26 home runs the following day in Cincinnati. He spent a month on the sidelines after spraining his ACL on May 27th, but following the All-Star break went on a streak that included nine home runs in two weeks and propelled the Braves into first place in the division.
In mid-August, Acuna became the youngest player to homer in four straight games, a streak that concluded after his fifth in as many games. His final batting average was a more-than-respectable .293. “I’m just flattered” he said. “I’m so honoured to receive this award. My career is just beginning. There are just so many things I need to do to become a better player. I like to take in all the advice from other people to improve every year, to become a better person and a better player”.
In becoming the first Atlanta Braves player to win a postseason award since Craig Kimbrel won the same award in 2011, Acuna took 27 of the 30 total first place votes in the ballot and of the three others, he took second place making him the clear winner of what at one stage was a close race with Washington Nationals rookie Juan Soto.
Snitker took over the managerial duties from Fredi Gonzalez early in 2016 when the Braves were 9-28. Having spent four decades in the organisation, Snitker had coached at every level and was finally given a shot at the highest level in what was initially a temporary role. Snitker inspired a mutual loyalty with his team and the Braves recovered to win 68 games that year. In 2017 in his first full season in charge, Atlanta improved to 72-90, but it was the improvement to 90-72 in 2018 that caught the eyes of the voters.
Less clear cut than Acuna’s winning margin, 63-year old Snitker was still the overwhelming choice taking 17 first place, 9 second place and 4 third place votes. Despite all the negativity surrounding expectations of the team in 2018, Atlanta spent 115 days in first place and never lost more than four consecutive games. Yet for all his achievements, Snitker remained humble in victory and gave credit to his players. “It takes a lot of people to accomplish what we did this year”, Snitker said, “Managers get awards because of their players. It’s all about them. I’m so proud of our players and what they accomplished this year”.
The two awards followed a golden week for the ballclub in which center fielder Ender Inciarte, right fielder, Nick Markakis and first baseman, Freddie Freeman were awarded Gold Gloves and Freeman was named the Wilson defensive player of the year at first base.
14th November 2018