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Let’s talk about Austin Riley

The Atlanta third baseman has found himself in the MVP conversation after being one of the hardest outs in the lineup during the entire month of July.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

It’s the first inning of the second game against the Diamondbacks as I open my laptop to pull this article together, and Austin Riley has just laced a single up the middle so hard it appeared to knock Arizona pitcher Corbin Martin’s glove right off his hand. At 115.9 MPH off the bat, the ball was the hardest-hit of Riley’s career—and yet, it felt like just another routine at-bat for the Braves third baseman, who was hotter at the plate during the month of July than field level for a summer afternoon game in Atlanta.

In the time that has passed since I originally started thinking about writing this piece, we’ve gone through the following phases:

  • Why are we not talking more about Austin Riley?
  • Is Austin Riley one of the biggest All-Star snubs ever?
  • Just kidding, Austin Riley is an All-Star.
  • Is it too soon to put Austin Riley in the MVP conversation?
  • Actually, Austin Riley is squarely in the MVP conversation.

And in true MVP fashion, Riley rounded out his July with a double that was not only a walk-off hit to seal a sweep of the Snakes, but also his 26th extra-base hit of the month, pushing him past none other than Hank Aaron for the franchise record.

As we flip the calendar to August, it’s worth taking a look back on the month that vaulted Riley from near-best-kept secret status to stardom.

In 26 games during July, Riley hit .423 with 15 doubles, 11 homers and 25 RBI, and his record-breaking 26 extra-base hits were good for more than half of his total hits in the month (44).

To put those numbers in perspective in terms of his own performance, in the same number of games in June, Riley hit .260 with just five doubles, six homers and 18 RBI. In fact, his 15 July doubles were just one shy of the amount he’d hit in March, April, May, and June combined. The 25 RBI matched his total amount from March, April, and May. His July slugging percentage alone (.885) was higher than his OPS in June (.831).

To put those numbers in perspective in terms of league-wide performance in July, Riley led the majors in OPS (1.344), total hits, and doubles, and ranked second behind Aaron Judge in homers and RBI—he actually tied teammate Matt Olson in the RBI category. Compared to his 26 extra-base hits, no other player in the majors had more than 18 (also Aaron Judge).

While the national spotlight may have shined a little brighter on Judge’s accomplishments, there’s no denying that Riley deserves more than a mention in the MVP discussion.

So, how does Riley feel about his month and the walk-off way that he capped it off?

“It was hot out there,” he said with a huge smile. “[We were] ready to get in the AC.”

Not quite as hot as his bat, though. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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