CINCINNATI — Matt Olson laughed when asked if he would consider naming one of his children Citizens Bank Park or the Great American Ball Park. His reluctance to commit may have something to do with the success he has had on many courts this year.
But the Braves’ first baseman impressed Cincinnati this weekend, turning to tie the game for a home run lead. Olson hit four homers during the three-game series, including a three-run shot in the sixth inning of a 7-6 win over the Reds earlier on Sunday afternoon.
“What he’s doing now is impressive,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “We know when he gets hot it’s fun to watch. He’s doing it now.”
With Olson’s help, the Braves went 4-1 on this wild ride that started in Philadelphia. They swept a two-game set against the Phillies, who entered the series having won 13 of their 15 games. Then, Atlanta bid on their eight-game winning streak Friday night before claiming two straight game wins against the Reds for a 12-game winning streak.
Each of the six matches played between these teams this year has been decided by one round. On Sunday, the Braves allowed a pair of runs in the eighth inning and then breathed a sigh of relief in the ninth after a game-ending double play with runners in the corners.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been this exhausted after a series before,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker. “That was something else. The fans got their money’s worth on this series.”
The Braves and Reds combined at 19 homers to match the record for the most hits during a three-game series in Cincinnati.
Olson totaled five homers during the five-game drive, but the one that stands tallest was the three-run go-ahead hit by Ian Jebot in the series finale. The opposite blast was the 25th homer of the year, tying him with Shuhei Ohtani for the MLB lead. Olson’s homer also helped increase his NL-leading RBI total to 60, one behind the Angels slugger MLB team.
“RBIs are the stat that matters most to me,” Snicker said. “It doesn’t even show up in some of the stat sheets. The guys who drive in the runs are the most important part of this game. Not all the other things they talk about.”
Olson’s critics have focused on his 28.1 percent strike rate, or . 236 batting average. But four games shy of the middle of the season, he has a 0.91 OPS. This number has not fluctuated much. He has posted .932 OPS in March/April, .851 OPS in May and .888 OPS so far in June.
The force has always been there for Olson, who entered this season standing with Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Eugenio Suarez as the only players to hit at least 29 groundouts in four of the past five seasons.
What has bothered Olson this year, however, is the lack of consistent production.
“I make them count when I get hits and produce,” Olson said. “But at some point, it’s just not sustainable to have, I don’t even know what percentage, of your successful results.”
Thirty-six percent (25 of 70) of Olson’s scores were home runs. But he was still steadier than he thought. 350 on-base percentage is not much lower than Ohtani’s (. 377), higher than that produced by Pete Alonso (. 318), the only other player to hit at least 24 home runs this year.
Olson has made some headway, making just 23.7 percent of his plate appearances this month. He’s also shown he can go the other way, with two of his teammates injured down the left line this week.
“He’s just a really big, strong, talented guy,” said Braves pitcher Charlie Morton.
Riley was also among the many who admired seeing Olson homer against a pitch below the strike zone on Saturday, then highlighting Sunday’s win by hitting a 97.4 mph shot just above the zone.
“Last time, I was like, ‘That’s a good swing,'” Riley said.
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