PHILADELPHIA — While Freddie Freeman struggled to close the door on his legendary Braves tenure, Matt Olson had to cope with the pressure of replacing him at Atlanta. But halfway through the season, he looks like a worthy successor.
Olson scored 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 crucial eighth-round go-ahead homer added to the significant value he’s brought with his bat, glove and personality since he was acquired by the A’s in March.
“I think he knows he’s a big part of the team on and off the field,” said Braves starter Charlie Morton. “He gives us a good presence in the clubhouse. He’s a really valuable guy all around.”
Olson was reminded of Freeman’s influence as the first baseman returned to Atlanta for the first time since signing with the Dodgers in March. He got it. He was a 16-year-old Braves fan living in Lilburn, Georgia when Freeman began his 12-year stint with Atlanta in 2010.
But now that Freeman has moved on, it’s about time the Atlanta-area teens were just as smitten with Olson, who appreciates the comfort he’s felt since joining his hometown team. The 28-year-old first baseman is quiet and shy. But as shown in this series opener against the Phillies, he can make a loud impression on the field.
“These guys have been great from the start and it just keeps getting better,” Olson said. “I’m happy to be here.”
Since the Braves went 20-5 in June, they have moved away from the Mets in first place in the National League East within four games and positioned themselves in one of the NL’s three wild card spots. Atlanta’s bid for a second straight World Series crown will improve if Olson builds on the two-homer games he recorded over the past two Tuesdays.
Travis d’Arnaud and Olson teamed to hit back-to-back home runs from Zack Wheeler in the first inning, and Morton threw himself in the sixth after surviving a rocky first himself. Kyle Schwarber hit a Dylan Lee homer in the seventh game, but Olson delivered the winning blow with his solo shot in the eighth inning against Andrew Bellatti.
Each of the five hits Olson recorded in 16 at-bats at Citizens Bank Park was a home run.
“The ball runs pretty well here compared to other places,” Olson said.
Actually, the ball has traveled pretty well all season for Olson. The .253 batting average and .831 OPS he’s compiled in 75 games might not jump the page. But he leads the majors with 29 doubles, and his 41 extra-base hits are just four fewer than José Ramírez’s MLB lead tally.
Olson’s 12 home runs put him on pace to reach 25 this year. Just one surge could be enough to hit at least 29 homers in a fourth straight 162-game season. He is also on track to record 62 doubles. Only six MLB players have hit 60 doubles, but no player has reached that mark since 1936.
And the 41 extra base hits? Well, Olson is on track to record 88 of them. The only Braves player to reach that total was Hank Aaron, who hit 92 extra base hits in 1959.
“I love him,” Morton said. “He’s a good guy and a great ball player. It’s nice to see him succeeding and all that. But really, I enjoy being his teammate all the time.”