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Not even the 1927 New York Yankees, despite a lineup famously known as “Murderers’ Row,” had three players with 40 or more home runs. They had two, Babe Ruth with 60 and Lou Gehrig with 47, but no one else with more than 18.
In fact, only three teams in MLB history have had three 40-homer hitters in the same season: the 1973 Atlanta Braves, the 1996 Colorado Rockies and the 1997 Rockies. Now the 2019 Braves are challenging to join the list. Entering their final regular-season homestand, which opens Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Braves have three players closing in on 40 homers.
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Outfielder Ronald Acuna has 39, first baseman Freddie Freeman 38 and third baseman Josh Donaldson 37. With 11 games remaining, it’s possible, albeit far from certain, all three will make it to 40. If so, they’ll join the 1973 trio of Hank Aaron, Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson in Braves history. In that season 46 years ago, Johnson hit 43 home runs, Evans 41 and Aaron 40, marking the first time an MLB team had three 40-homer sluggers in one season. Eleven times previously, two teammates had reached 40 homers, including the Ruth-Gehrig tandem three times from 1927-31.
The 1973 Braves were an improbable team to achieve the three-at-40 feat. Only Aaron seemed to belong in such a group. Johnson was a 30-year-old second baseman acquired the previous winter from Baltimore for his defense, and he had hit only five home runs in 1972. Evans was a 26-year-old third baseman in his second full big-league season, having hit 19 homers in ’72.
Stephen Strasburg (16-5, 3.47 ERA) starts as Washington begins a four-game series at NL East-leading Atlanta. Strasburg is 4-1 with a 3.21 ERA in five career starts at SunTrust Park. Max Fried (15-4, 4.09) pitches for the Braves, who have won six straight.
The Nationals trail Atlanta by seven games in the NL East. Washington leads the NL wild-card race by three games over the Cubs.
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Michael Lorenzen is making himself valuable wherever the Reds need him. In his latest performance, he did something no major leaguer has done since Babe Ruth in 1921.
On Wednesday, Lorenzen earned the win as a pitcher, hit a home run and played the field as Cincinnati beat the Phillies 8-5. Lorenzen pitched two innings, connected for a two-run drive and finished up in center field.
Christian Yelich and the Brewers get a chance to move up in the NL wild-card race when they host the Cubs to begin a four-game series at Miller Park. Milwaukee trails Chicago by 3 1/2 games for the second slot
Cubs lefty José Quintana (12-8, 3.90 ERA) and Chase Anderson (6-4, 4.58 ERA) meet again. Last Friday, Quintana threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings in the Cubs’ 7-1 victory over Anderson and the Brewers.
Left-hander Brett Anderson set his career high in wins with 11 as an Oakland rookie in 2009. Now, at age 31 and back with the Athletics for a second stint the past two years, Anderson can top that with a 12th victory when he pitches the series finale against the visiting Angels.
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A fellow lefty, Jose Suarez, faces Oakland for the first time in his career and looking for his first victory in 11 starts — the longest winless stretch by an Angels pitcher this year — since June 15 at Tampa Bay.
Aaron was engulfed by a bigger home-run chase, closing in on Ruth’s career record of 714, but by the final week of the 1973 season Evans and Johnson recognized the historical implications of their potential parts in MLB’s first 40-homer trio. “That’s the only way we’ll get in the Hall of Fame,” Evans said at the time. Entering the final weekend of the season, Evans and Johnson had reached or surpassed 40. Aaron, who played in only 120 games and got only 392 at-bats that season, was at 39. “We told him he had to have one more to make it a threesome,” Johnson recalled in a 1989 Atlanta Journal column by Furman Bisher, “and Hank was the kind who always got what was needed.” In the Braves’ next-to-last game of the season, Aaron hit his 40th homer, the 713th of his career.
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Early the following season, April 8, 1974, he broke Ruth’s record. Evans went on to hit 414 home runs across a 21-year big-league career, including another 40-homer season for Detroit in 1985, while Johnson didn’t hit more than 18 in any other season of a 13-year career. The Braves also have connections to the Colorado teams, nicknamed the Blake Street Bombers, that had three 40-homer hitters. For the 1996 Rockies, future Brave Andres Galarraga hit 47 homers, former and future Brave Vinny Castilla 40 and Ellis Burks 40. For the 1997 Rockies, Larry Walker hit 49 homers, Galarraga 41 and Castilla 40. Galarraga signed with the Braves as a free agent after the 1997 season, while Castilla, who first reached the big leagues with Atlanta, returned to the Braves in 2002.