Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. is unanimous choice as NL MVP

AP photo by John Bazemore / Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. beats the throw to steal second base during a May 23 home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
AP photo by John Bazemore / Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. beats the throw to steal second base during a May 23 home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

NEW YORK — Ronald Acuña Jr. had been waiting for this moment.

“From the day I got to the league, right away I always knew I wanted to be the MVP,” the Atlanta Braves right fielder said through a translator. “It’s always been a dream of mine, and I’m living the dream come true.”

Acuña was a unanimous winner of his first National League MVP award on Thursday, taking home the honor after becoming the first player in Major League Baseball history with 40 home runs and 70 stolen bases in a season.

Could he do it again, or even become the first 50-50 player?

“I’m not trying to predict anything,” he said, "but as long as I’m healthy, I believe anything is possible."

Shohei Otani won the American League honor Thursday, becoming the first two-time unanimous MVP. Ohtani, a free agent after finishing his contract with the Los Angeles Angels, received all 30 first-place votes in the AL and 420 points in voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Ohtani, who has impressed as both a pitcher and a slugger, was a unanimous MVP in 2021 and finished second to the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge in voting last year. There have been 21 unanimous winners in the history of MLB’s MVP honors, which date to 1931, and this year marked the first time there were two in the same year.

Acuña received all 30 first-place votes and 420 points in NL voting. Mookie Betts received all 30 second-place votes and 270 points, followed by Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Freddie Freeman with 227 points. Betts won the 2018 AL MVP award with the Boston Red Sox, and Freeman was the 2020 NL MVP with the Braves.

Acuña is his franchise's seventh player honored as an MVP by the BBWAA, joining Bob Elliott (1947 Boston Braves), Hank Aaron (1957 Milwaukee Braves), two-time winner Dale Murphy (1982-83 Atlanta Braves), Terry Pendleton (1991 Atlanta), Chipper Jones (1999 Atlanta) and Freeman.

Acuña was second in the NL with a .336 batting average and led the major leagues with 149 runs, 217 hits, 386 total bases and 73 stolen bases while hitting 41 home runs with 106 RBIs.

A four-time All-Star who turns 26 next month, Acuña helped Atlanta to an MLB-best 104 wins in the 2023 regular season and a sixth straight NL East Division title before the Braves lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in an NL Division Series. He set his career best for RBIs and matched his 2019 high for home runs.

Acuña learned of the award while in the clubhouse of La Guaria, his team in Venezuela’s winter league. While he dropped off a scheduled national call with BBWAA members, he spoke on a Zoom with Atlanta reporters.

The NL rookie of the year in 2018, Acuña was on a possible MVP track in 2021 with 24 homers, 52 RBIs and 17 steals in 82 games before he tore his right ACL on July 10 while attempting a catch on the warning track during a road game against the Miami Marlins, an injury that ended his season and led to him missing out on Atlanta's run to the World Series title that fall.

The effects carried over to 2022 season, which started late for Acuña as he rehabbed. It wasn't until this year that he truly seemed back to himself.

“It meant a lot to me to be able to bounce back after I was hurt,” he said. “There was some doubt I could do what I was able to accomplish.”

Betts batted .307 with 39 homers and 107 RBIs, and Freeman hit .331 with 29 homers and 102 RBIs.

Braves first baseman Matt Olson was fourth with 223 points, and Corbin Carroll, who won NL rookie of the year and helped the Arizona Diamondbacks to their first NL pennant since 2001, was fifth with 165.

By finishing fifth, Carroll earned $5 million. He gets a $2.5 million increase to $30.5 million for both his 2029 and 2030 salaries and also of his 2031 option, which includes a $5 million buyout. His contract, agreed to in March, originally guaranteed $111 million over eight seasons.

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