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  • Writer's pictureGrant McAuley

MDJ: Michael Harris II working for big follow-up in Year 2 for Atlanta Braves

Michael Harris II fits in so well with the Atlanta Braves that it may be easy to forget he is just 22 years old and in only his second season in the big leagues.

Another in a seemingly endless string of local kids who grew up watching the team he now plays for, Harris shot through the minor leagues to capture National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2022.

Hoping to write an encore season every bit as impressive as the first, it was tough sledding over the first two months of the 2023 season for Harris. He dealt with lower back and knee issues before finally settling into his everyday role in center field.

Once he got healthy, Harris also got right at the plate.

Batting just .163 with a .490 on-base plus slugging percentage and just two home runs through his first 38 games, Harris flipped the switch in early June. Over his last 39 games, he is leading all of the majors with a .371 average, to go along with seven homers, 20 RBIs, 24 runs scored and eight stolen bases.

Harris is one of many key cogs in baseball’s most powerful offense, a group that is leading the majors in home runs, with a proclivity for first-inning runs. The Braves scored 101 times in the first inning through their first 99 games, the most runs scored by any team in any inning this season.

“Honestly, I don’t even know how to describe it,” Harris said. “I can’t even do this on MLB The Show, and they’re just doing it out here in real life. Me being down in the 9-spot (and) sometimes not even getting to face the starting pitcher is crazy, because they’re doing so much damage to them early. It just shows what kind of team we have and how dangerous we can really be when we’re going.”

Atop the order for Atlanta is star right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. Still just 25 years old and playing in his sixth major league season, he was bursting onto the scene right about the time Harris was coming into his own as a standout for Stockbridge High School just south of Atlanta, before the Braves selected him in the third round of the 2019 draft.

Though just over three years of age separates the two outfielders, each represents a separate wave of minor league talent helping fuel Atlanta’s major league success.

“It’s been crazy,” Harris said of lining up next to Acuña each day. “I would watch him in high school on TV, but to be alongside him and actually see it on the same field as him is just even better. I don’t think people understand how good he really is and what he’s doing right now.”

What Acuña is doing is simply putting together one of the best all-around seasons in major league history from a power and speed perspective. That is to say nothing of all the other ways Acuña has elevated his and the team’s game in 2023.

While many if not most expected the rivalry between the Braves and New York Mets to be rekindled, the season simply has not played out that way. Both teams won 101 games a year ago, but Atlanta holds the best record in baseball, while New York is stumbling toward the trade deadline with a losing record despite a record-setting payroll and facing the very real possibility of being sellers at the trade deadline, at least in part.

History is nothing if not a teacher and Harris said the club is not resting on its record with two full months remaining in the regular season. If the Braves need an example of what can happen, they could go back and read their own script from a year ago, when they rallied from 10½ games back to win the division over New York.

With that in mind, the Braves continue to forge ahead, all gas and no brakes.

“We’re just trying to carry this out to the end of the season,” Harris said. “The second half is really where all the damage is done. We did the same thing last year and came back and took over the division, so we know it’s possible for somebody else to do the same thing. We’ve just got to keep our foot on the pedal and not let up at all.”

This article originally appeared in the Marietta Daily Journal. Find it here.


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