PHILADELPHIA — With Freddie Freeman struggling to close the door on his iconic Braves tenure, Matt Olson has faced pressure to replace him in Atlanta. But as we approach the middle of the season, he looks like a worthy successor.
Olson played in his second multihomer game in eight days and helped the Braves to a 5-3 win over the Phillies on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. His game-breaking home run in the eighth added to the significant value he has brought with his bat, his glove and his personality since being acquired from the A’s in March.
“I think he knows he’s a big part of the team on and off the court,” Braves starter Charlie Morton said. “He gives us a good presence at the clubhouse. He’s a really valuable guy all around.
Olson recalled Freeman’s impact when the first baseman returned to Atlanta for the first time since signing with the Dodgers in March. He understood it. He was a 16-year-old Braves fan living in Lilburn, Georgia when Freeman began his 12-season stint with Atlanta in 2010.
But now that Freeman has moved on, it’s time for Atlanta-area teens to get equally excited about Olson, who appreciates the comfort he’s felt since joining the team at his hometown. The 28-year-old first baseman is quiet and shy. But as this series opener against the Phillies shows, he can have a big impact on the field.
“These guys have been great from the start and it’s only getting better,” Olson said. “I’m happy to be here.”
While the Braves went 20-5 in June, they moved within four games of the Mets from first place in the National League East and positioned themselves in one of three Wild Card spots in the NL. Atlanta’s bid for a second straight World Series crown will improve if Olson builds on the two-homer games he’s recorded the past two Tuesdays.
Travis d’Arnaud and Olson teamed up to hit back-to-back home runs against Zack Wheeler in the first inning, and Morton pitched the sixth after suffering a rough first himself. Kyle Schwarber hit a game-tying homer off Dylan Lee in the seventh, but Olson delivered the decisive blow with his solo shot in the eighth inning against Andrew Bellatti.
Each of the five hits Olson has recorded in 16 at-bats at Citizens Bank Park has been a home run.
“The ball is doing pretty well here compared to other places,” Olson said.
In fact, the ball has traveled pretty well for Olson throughout this season. The .253 batting average and .831 OPS he compiled through 75 games might not jump off the page. But he leads the Majors with 29 doubles, and his 41 extra hits are just four short of MLB-leading José Ramírez’s total.
Olson’s 12 homers put him on the pace to hit 25 this year. A single push could be enough to hit at least 29 homers in a fourth consecutive 162-game season. He’s also on track to record 62 doubles. Only six MLB players have hit as many as 60 doubles, but no player has reached that mark since 1936.
As for the extra-base 41 hits? Well, Olson is on course to record 88. The only Braves player to hit that total was Hank Aaron, who had 92 extra hits in 1959.
“I love it,” Morton said. “He’s a good guy and a great ball player. It’s good to see him having success and all that. But really, I like being his teammate all the time.