By Dan Schlossberg
For those Braves fans who cringed when the team let Freddie Freeman walk away after 12 years, the bad news has become good news.
Matt Olson, obtained from the Oakland Athletics and signed to an eight-year, $168 million contract extension the next day, is more than holding down the fort, thank you.
Entering play today, he leads the majors with 51 home runs, 128 runs batted in, and a .619 slugging percentage.
Not bad numbers for anyone, but especially for someone whose previous power peak was 39 homers in 2021.
Olson has now hit more home runs this season than anyone in Atlanta Braves history not named Andruw Jones. His next home run will give him exclusive occupancy at the head of the team’s single-season list.
"I thought Matt would be the guy to break the record,” Jones said last weekend in Atlanta when his No. 25 was retired. “He’s just got that swing. I’m pulling for him and hopefully he can break it.”
Olson, 29, grew up in Atlanta rooting for both the Braves and two players named Jones, Andruw and Chipper.
“I watched him growing up and know the kind of player he was,” Olson said of Andruw, who won 10 straight Gold Gloves for his play in center field. “It's cool to be mentioned with him.”
Olson is the sixth player in franchise history with at least 80 extra-base hits and is only four short of Gary Sheffield’s Atlanta club record for runs batted in.
The 6’5” first baseman is on pace for 56 homers and 143 RBIs. He is just one of 15 players since 2000 to reach the 50-homer mark and the first left-handed hitter in the NL to hit 50 since Prince Fielder in 2007.
Olson hit eight home runs in the first 12 games in September. If he continues at that torrid pace, he could wind up with 60. Even if that happens, though, Olson isn’t likely to win MVP honors over teammate Ronald Acuña, Jr., who leads the majors in hits, runs, and stolen bases while closing in on the first 40/70 season in baseball history.
While Freeman hits for a much higher average than Olson, the latter generates more power and run production. He’s also younger and less expensive than the man he replaced.
Although Olson has not missed a game this season, a day or two of rest is possible now that Atlanta has clinched its sixth straight division title. That, by the way, is the longest active streak in the majors.
The Braves are now pushing for home-field advantage in the playoffs and World Series. All it takes is possession of the best record, which they already have.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of 41 baseball books, including The New Baseball Bible. Catch his byline in forbes.com, Memores & Dreams, Sports Collectors Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and other outlets. His email is email@example.com.