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Ronald Acuña Jr.’s lack of hustle proves costly for Braves

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It was only two months ago that Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. was benched for a lack of hustle. In mid-August, Acuña gawked at what he thought was a home run. The ball, however, stayed in the yard so he had to settle for a long single. Manager Brian Snitker removed him from the game not long afterwards.

Acuña apparently didn’t learn his lesson because the same thing happened, this time in a playoff game. Acuña led off the bottom of the seventh inning of NLDS Game 1 against the Cardinals with the Braves leading 3-1. He slapped a John Brebbia offering down the right field line. Either because he thought it was a home run or because he wasn’t sure if it would stay fair, Acuña watched the ball travel in the air rather than running hard. The ball caromed off of the right field fence. Dexter Fowler played the carom and fired the ball on one hop to second base, leaving Acuña with a long single.

Acuña moved to second base on an Ozzie Albies ground out. He should have been on third base instead, and it proved costly. Lefty Andrew Miller entered, eventually putting Freddie Freeman on first base after hitting him with a pitch. Josh Donaldson then hit a sharp liner to shortstop Paul DeJong. Acuña was too far off the second base bag when the 104 MPH line drive was caught, so he was doubled off to end the inning. If he had been on third base instead, he wouldn’t have been doubled off. Thus, the Braves would have had another opportunity to pad their lead.

The Cardinals rallied for two runs to tie the game at 3-3 in the top of the eighth, then plated four runs in the ninth en route to a 7-6 victory. Acuña added a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth, his third hit of the night, but the Braves’ rally came up short.

Snitker could not have benched his team’s best player in the middle of a playoff game, and he can’t bench him ahead of an upcoming playoff game, either. One, however, imagines Snitker and Acuña will have a conversation about the lack of hustle following Thursday’s loss.

Update (9:34 PM ET): Freeman wasn’t happy about it. Per The Athletic’s David O’Brien:

The Royals are paying everyone. Why can’t all of the other teams?

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Over the past several weeks we’ve heard a lot of news about teams furloughing front office and scouting staff, leveling pay cuts for those who remain and, most recently, ceasing stipends to minor league players and releasing them en masse. The message being sent, intentionally or otherwise, is that baseball teams are feeling the pinch.

The Kansas City Royals, however, are a different story.

Jon Heyman reported this afternoon that the Royals are paying their minor leaguers through August 31, which is when the minor league season would’ve ended, and unlike so many other teams, they are not releasing players either. Jeff Passan, meanwhile, reports that the Royals will not lay any team employees off or furlough anyone. “Nearly 150 employees will not take pay cuts,” he says, though “higher-level employees will take tiered cuts.” Passan adds that the organization intends to restore the lost pay due to those higher-level employees in the future when revenue ramps back up, making them whole.

While baseball finances are murky at best and opaque in most instances, most people agree that the Royals are one of the lower-revenue franchises in the game. They are also near the bottom as far as franchise value goes. Finally, they have the newest ownership group in all of baseball, which means that the group almost certainly has a lot of debt and very little if any equity in the franchise. Any way you slice it, cashflow is likely tighter in Kansas City than almost anywhere else.

Yet the Royals are paying minor leaguers and front office employees while a great number of other teams are not. What’s their excuse?