Braun Heats Up as Brewers Go 2-6
The Brewers are just 2-6 in their last eight games, but that’s not Ryan Braun’s fault.
The Brewers’ left fielder played in all four games against the Twins last week and all three of this weekend’s contests against the Reds and one can hardly blame him for not wanting to take a day off, as he’s reached base safely multiple times in eight consecutive contests. Braun is only the second Brewer to do that in the last five seasons, joining Eric Thames (April 13-20, 2017) and Scooter Gennett (July 25-August 1, 2016). He’s over halfway to the franchise record of 13, set by Greg Vaughn in 1996.
Even in the context of those other hot streaks, however, Braun’s recent tear stands out. He’s batting .515 over the current stretch, 140 points higher than what Vaughn batted during his record-setting streak. Braun has raised his batting average for the season 35 points over eight days, from .260 to .295. He’s also gained ten spots on MLB’s all-time leaderboard for hits over that time, passing (among others):
- 16-year MLB’er and two-time All Star Ron Gant.
- Longtime Milwaukee Braves outfielder Bill Bruton.
- Johnny Evers, second baseman of “Tinker to Evers to Chance” fame and 1914 National League Most Valuable Player.
- Three-time All Star and one-time 50 home run hitter Brady Anderson.
- Five-time All Star catcher and Silver Slugger Award winner Jorge Posada.
- Three-time All Star outfielder Jim Wynn.
Braun’s recent hot streak has raised his 2017 OPS (on-base plus slugging) to .918, 15 points better than it was in 2016 when he received MVP votes for the first time since his 2013 suspension. He will almost certainly not remain this hot for the remainder of the season, of course. With that said, a healthy and effective Braun could almost certainly be the biggest boost to the Brewers’ hopes of contending.
The Brewers added some help at a position of need over the weekend (Neil Walker) and appear poised to get catcher Stephen Vogt and pitcher Chase Anderson back from injury soon, but Braun has a chance to make a bigger difference than any of those players down the stretch. Even with his current hot streak and a recent tendency to eschew days off (appearing in 15 of the Brewers’ last 16 games), Braun has played in just 54% of his team’s games this season and the players who have manned left field when Braun is not out there have batted just .197 with a .274 on-base percentage and .335 slugging in his absence. The Brewers have been fortunate to go 30-28 on days when Braun wasn’t in the starting lineup, but that hardly seems sustainable with such anemic production in his place.
If he’s able to remain healthy, which has been a tall order in recent years, the Brewers’ upcoming schedule should allow Braun plenty of rest without needing many days off. There are four off days planned in the next 15 days, including a pair this week to wrap around a two-game set with the Pirates and breaks during and after the upcoming west coast swing. Given that much built-in rest on the calendar, it seems at least plausible that the Brewers could put Braun in the lineup for every game for the rest of the month.
The Brewers have been understandably careful in recent years to limit Ryan Braun’s playing time and injury exposure, and they’ve reaped dividends for doing so as his performance has improved. Braun’s recent uptick in production, the upcoming schedule and the critical nature of the games ahead, however, create a situation where they’re almost certainly better off putting him in the lineup every day and seeing if his bat can still carry this team.