As the month of August came to a close, both the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers prepared to face off in a series featuring two of baseball's best teams.
However, this series also featured two of the best overall players in all of baseball. Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mookie Betts were both in the midst of MVP-caliber performances at the time and had the chance to prove once and for all who was the rightful MVP.
That rightful MVP ended up being Ronald Acuña Jr. who was unanimously selected as NL MVP on Thursday evening.
Before that series in Los Angeles began, it was still unclear who would come away with the award. Betts had just completed one of the best offensive months fans have ever seen while
Acuña Jr. was on the cusp of creating history. All eyes turned to Chavez Ravine for a blockbuster event.
A day to remember
Before the series even started, on August 31, Ronald Acuña Jr. was enjoying one of the most special moments of his life. Somewhere just outside of Los Angeles, he and his girlfriend had a private wedding ceremony which was a surprise to a lot of people.
However, Acuña Jr. has always shown he values the importance of family and the role it plays in his life. So, no matter the outcome of the series, Acuña would remember this weekend for eternity.
Later that evening at Dodger Stadium, it was time to get down to business as Acuña and Betts squared off in the battle of the MVPs. At that point in time, it was a toss-up between who would win the award at the end of the season.
After a jaw-dropping performance in the month of August, Mookie Betts had started to convince a lot of people he was going to cruise to the end of the season and take home MVP.
How good was Betts' month of August? Including the game on August 31, Bett's ended the month with a line of .455/.516/.839 and a 1.355 OPS. He had 51 hits which featured 11 home runs and 30 runs batted in. That made him just the third player since 1900 (including Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth) to have a .450 average, 50 hits in a month, and 10 home runs in a single month.
However, being overshadowed in all of this was the consistently incredible season Ronald Acuña Jr. was in the middle of. Through 132 games, Acuña was batting .334/.416/.567 with 29 home runs, 79 RBI, and 61 stolen bases.
He was also having an amazing month of August but not on the level that Betts was. That's what made this series so intriguing. A lot of people had determined that the only thing that made Acuña special was the number of stolen bases but wrote that off because it was "easier" due to the offseason rule changes and base sizes increasing.
It didn't take long for the Braves to put the Dodgers on notice as they went on a scoring tirade in the second inning. Atlanta loaded the bases with one out in the inning and got their first run via a walk to Nicky Lopez. Enter... Ronald Acuña Jr.
Acuña Jr. etched himself in history
Acuña is no stranger to game-changing grand slams against the Dodgers as he did so against Walker Buhler in the 2018 NLDS. Sitting on the cusp of creating history in 2023, Ronald was up to the challenge as he hit one of the most impactful home runs of his life.
He sent a pitch from Lance Lynn screaming into the night sky on a 2-2 count, giving the Braves a 5-1 lead. More importantly, this set MLB history for Ronald Acuña Jr. as he became the first player to ever hit 30 home runs and steal 60 bases in a season.
If there was any doubt that Acuña was deserving of the MVP, it was crushed the moment that baseball left the yard.
Betts kept it interesting as he homered twice in game one of the four-game set between the two bitter rivals. The Braves ended up holding on and winning game 1 by an 8-7 final. Acuña homered two more times in the series as Atlanta won 3-out-of-4 games that weekend.
Betts ended the series 5-for-15 with 2 homers and 5 RBI versus Acuña who was 6-for-17 with 3 HR and 6 RBI. This shows just how amazing both players are but the importance of this series for Acuña is that it put him on the National stage.
In that moment, he proved to everyone why he was going to take home the MVP. His incredible performance continued throughout the end of the season while Mookie Betts tailed off dramatically for the remainder of the season.
Acuña Jr. in Sept/Oct: .340/.403/.708, 1.111 OPS, 11 HR, 23 RBI, 11 SB
Betts in Sept/Oct: .244/.393/.326, .718 OPS, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 SB
Those are drastically different finishes to the season and had Ronald not performed as well as he did in the final two months and become the first-ever player with 40 home runs and 70 stolen bases in a season, we may be speaking about a different outcome.
Luckily for Ronald, that didn't happen and he rightfully walked away with the NL MVP. Acuña accepted the award during the first game of the season in Venezuela with his teammates cheering him on as the announcement was made on MLB Network.
That series in Los Angeles will not soon be forgotten by him or Atlanta Braves fans. It was one of the most exciting matchups of the regular season and I hope we get more of those in the future. Who knows, Acuña could become the first player with a 50/70 season in 2024 and walk away with another unanimous MVP award.