Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr. out for season with torn left ACL

Reigning National League MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. tore the ACL in his left knee Sunday and will miss the remainder of the season, a significant blow to an Atlanta Braves team that already lost ace Spencer Strider for 2024.

Acuña crumbled between second and third base during the first inning of the Braves' game against the Pittsburgh Pirates after his left knee buckled on a delayed steal attempt. An MRI revealed the torn left ACL, which comes less than three years after Acuña suffered the same injury to his right knee while jumping to make a catch in right field.

He was officially placed on the injured list Monday.

Acuña, 26, is regarded as one of the best players in Major League Baseball and the franchise player for a Braves team that entered the season as the second likeliest to win the World Series. Despite losing Acuña in 2021, the Braves recovered to sneak into the postseason with 88 wins and romped to their fourth championship.

Atlanta won a major-league-best 104 games last season as Acuña batted .337/.416/.596 with 41 home runs, 106 RBIs and 73 stolen bases. Never before had a player finished a season with at least 40 home runs and 70 stolen bases, and the achievement thrust Acuña to a unanimous MVP award. The Braves fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in the division series for the second consecutive season.

Acuña entered the 2024 season with outsize expectations accordingly -- and, like many of his Braves teammates, he had struggled over the first third of the season to reach them. In 49 games, Acuña hit .250/.351/.365 with 4 home runs, 15 RBIs and 16 stolen bases while playing below-average defense.

Prior to the announcement by the team that Acuña would miss the season, he told reporters that the injury felt less severe than the one in 2018.

"[I] don't feel that painful, any pop or anything," Acuña said. "... Don't think it's that bad."

Following the team's announcement, Acuña put out a one-word post on social media, "Sorry," accompanied by broken heart and crying emojis.

Losing Acuña -- who had led off Sunday's 8-1 win against the Pirates with a double -- is still a crushing blow for a Braves team whose offense has disappeared after a record-setting .501 slugging percentage last season. While designated hitter Marcell Ozuna has been one of the best hitters in baseball, Atlanta's other core hitters -- first baseman Matt Olson, second baseman Ozzie Albies, third baseman Austin Riley and center fielder Michael Harris II -- all carry an OPS below .750.

Atlanta's pitching has nonetheless carried it to a 30-20 record, tied for second in the NL with the Los Angeles Dodgers and behind the 38-16 Phillies, who are six games ahead of the Braves in the NL East and own the best mark in MLB.

The Braves have received standout performances from left-hander Chris Sale -- who they acquired in a trade over the winter -- as well as free agent signing Reynaldo Lopez, whose 1.75 ERA is the third best in the NL. Atlanta needed both to step up after Strider, the 25-year-old who led baseball with 281 strikeouts last season, underwent Tommy John surgery in April.

Acuña burst on the scene as a 20-year-old in 2018 and won the NL Rookie of the Year award after hitting .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs. Before the next season, he signed an eight-year, $100 million contract extension that included a pair of club options, and quickly it was regarded as the team-friendliest deal in the sport.

Acuña expressed hope this past winter that he could sign a new extension that would pay him more in line with the best players in the sport, but talks never went far. Acuña currently does not have an agent representing him on the baseball side, but he recently signed with Rimas Sports -- whose lead agent was recently decertified by the MLB Players Association -- to handle his marketing and endorsements.