Ronald Acuña Jr. proves stolen bases absolutely still matter on historic night

Atlanta Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. has proven that the rule changes surrounding stolen bases haven't made them any less important, despite what others have said.
Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves
Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

What a season it has been for the Atlanta Braves in 2023. They are breaking records every single night at this point and it's been so much fun to witness.

This team may be the best Braves team that we will see for some time and that's saying a lot with how many great teams there have been for this franchise.

Ronald Acuña Jr. has been a massive part of that success this season as he returned to MVP form in 2023 after fully healing from his knee injury. The idea that he would reach 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases this season was incredible to consider.

What Ronald has ended up accomplishing is out of this world. Not only did he reach the coveted 40/40 club but he created 3 new clubs as well. He is the only player in MLB history to reach 40/50, 40/60, and 40/70.

Acuña reached the milestone of 40 home runs and 70 stolen bases during Wednesday's extra-inning win over the Chicago Cubs. He ended up stealing two bases during that contest to reach the milestone.

However, we apparently shouldn't be impressed by the Venezuelan native reaching 70 stolen bases in a season because it's just "too easy" due to the new rules implemented by Major League Baseball. In the offseason, MLB decided to increase the size of the bases from 15 inches to 18 inches (except for home plate).

That's just 3 inches more of the base to allow for fewer collisions to occur on the base paths. It does encourage more stolen base attempts but you'd think they added 3 feet of base with how some people are treating Acuña's accomplishment.

Bill Plaschke, a sports columnist from the LA Times, seems to think that Mookie Betts locked up the MVP award with a piece he released on September 14 deeming "the race is over". That's news to most Braves fans because if the race is over, it certainly wouldn't be in favor of Betts. With what Acuna has now accomplished in those two weeks since that article was released, the MVP is a lock for the Atlanta outfielder.

Plaschke has long had some odd issues with the Atlanta Braves (see his comment on the sterile shopping mall stadium) and seems to think Betts has the edge over Acuña and that stolen bases don't mean anything anymore because of the rule changes. Somehow, bigger bases mean stolen bases aren't important. He isn't the only one who feels this way as he's created an echo chamber of people looking to discredit Acuña for being able to steal that many bases.

It's baffling that many seem to believe that's all Acuña has done this season. He's the rightful MVP winner and there's no way around that. He's done everything you'd expect an MVP to do. The only thing he hasn't done is pitch.

Plaschke even was laughed at during a recent appearance on ESPN's Around the Horn because he's just outlandishly being a homer for Betts. Even uttering "Don't give me that stolen base stuff." He doesn't seem to have the ability to admit Acuña is just that good and has the edge over Mookie in that race.

Even if you go by the diagram on MLB's website which shows the change theoretically makes the distance from first and second base 4.5 inches closer, it doesn't take away that players have to make good jumps to steal the base.

Yes, I know, there is a limit to the amount of time a pitcher can throw over to keep a runner on base but the runner still has to make the right move or they risk being caught stealing.

Those changes should not diminish or take away from Acuña being the rightful MVP. Mookie Betts exploded in the month of August and played some of the best baseball I've ever seen but he's not been the consistent presence Ronald has been all season for the Braves. He's not had a single bad month of baseball.

He proved on Wednesday night that stealing bases is absolutely still a valuable statistic to pay attention to. Acuña stole two bases during that game and both times, he scored important runs for Atlanta.

The first stolen base came in the 8th inning with the Braves trailing 3-2 with one out. Yan Gomes made one of the worst throw-down attempts you will ever see trying to catch him. Ozzie Albies then guided a ball through the infield that scored Acuña to tie things up. He doesn't steal that base, there's a chance Atlanta doesn't score.

Then, in the bottom of the ninth, the Braves were losing 5-4 with one out and a runner on third in extra innings. Acuña lined a pitch into right field to tie things up 5 apiece and give the offense a chance to stun the Cubs for a second night in a row.

Ronald didn't stay at first very long as he took off to secure his 70th and historic stolen base of the season. He immediately removed the base to keep it as a memory of this historic moment. That action apparently didn't sit well with the Cubs broadcast for some reason.

Afterward, just like in the 8th inning, Ozzie Albies came to the plate, laced a single to right field, and scored Acuña from second. This run was the most important as it completed the comeback and Atlanta walked off the Cubs 6-5.

If that doesn't prove just how important stolen bases are, I don't know what will. Acuña leads all of baseball in runs scored with 146 of them. You can attribute a majority of those runs to his ability to get into scoring position so often. Stolen bases are, in fact, important and that will be even more apparent in the playoffs.

I get that I'm a Braves fan and will be on Ronald's side more often than not but even if I were on the outside looking in, I'd still be overly impressed by what he's accomplished. However, unlike Plaschke and others, I admire how amazing of a player Mookie Betts is and how well he's played in 2023. He just isn't going to win the MVP.