Braun's 350th HR a boon in playoff hunt

Counsell: 'We’re chasing, but we’re right there'

September 17th, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- Could this be the last of Ryan Braun's round numbers?

Braun’s 350th home run was a three-run shot in the first inning of the Brewers’ 6-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 2 of a doubleheader on Wednesday, the big strike of a four-run frame that helped Milwaukee split the twin bill after a 4-2 loss in Game 1.

The Brewers won three of five games against the Cardinals in this extended series to keep things close in the race for second place -- and a postseason berth -- in the National League Central. The Cardinals (22-23), Reds (25-26) and Brewers (23-26) are all within a game of each other as the most unique of Braun’s 14 Major League seasons hits the home stretch.

“We've been in worse places with less games to play,” Braun said.

At 36 years old, there may be plenty of baseball left for Braun. But he turns 37 in November, has continued to battle the back and core issues that have dogged him in recent years and is in the final guaranteed year of the contract he signed with the Brewers way back in 2011. Braun has been open throughout '20, both pre-pandemic and since play resumed, that this could be his final season.

Active MLB home run leaders

  1. Albert Pujols (LAA): 660
  2. Miguel Cabrera (DET): 483
  3. Edwin Encarnación (CWS): 422
  4. Nelson Cruz (MIN): 417

5) Ryan Braun (MIL): 350

While his legacy is debated, the numbers are the numbers. Five years after he surpassed Robin Yount as the Brewers’ franchise leader in home runs, Braun tied Chili Davis for 95th on MLB’s all-time home run leaderboard with his homer off Cardinals rookie Johan Oviedo on Wednesday.

Depending how long Braun keeps hitting home runs and climbing up the board, some big names are just ahead:

351: Dick Allen
352: Ellis Burks
353: Torii Hunter
354: Luis Gonzalez and Lee May
355: Greg Vaughn
358: Yogi Berra and Carlos Lee
359: Johnny Mize
360: Gary Gaetti
361: Joe DiMaggio

On Friday, the Brewers begin what could be Braun’s final series at Miller Park.

“If the team was in a different position, I would probably take more time to reflect on that, personally,” said Braun, who is 11-for-30 with seven extra-base hits and four home runs so far this September. “But you just try to stay present at all times as you get late into a season like this because every game is of the utmost importance and significance.”

No matter how 2020 turns out, does he have any better sense of whether he aims to play in ‘21?

“Let's see what our world looks like at that time,” Braun said. “I'll take some time to see where I'm at physically, see where things stand baseball-specifically and in the world at large before I make a decision about that.”

The home run was the start of a productive night for Braun -- who also doubled in the third inning and was hit by a pitch in the fifth, a curious development given the contretemps of the previous night -- and for the Brewers, who have been inconsistent in their run-scoring, to say the least. Braun, for the record, didn’t think Oviedo hit him on purpose, and he said he didn’t quite understand St. Louis manager Mike Shildt’s comments the night before, hinting that Braun may have purposely hit Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina’s forearm with a swing.

“I couldn't do that, literally, even if I tried, and I don't know any hitter that would or could do that intentionally,” Braun said. “Certainly, I would never want to see Yadi get hurt. He's always been one of my favorite players to compete against.”

Oviedo was a bit wild all night, beginning in the opening inning when hit Avisaíl García with a pitch and walked Christian Yelich ahead of Braun’s home run into the left-field bullpen. Keston Hiura kept the inning going with a walk and eventually scored on Jedd Gyorko’s deep sacrifice fly.

First-inning runs have been exceedingly rare for the Brewers until lately. In their first 46 games, they scored all of five runs in the opening inning of games. But they scored two runs in the first Tuesday in a harbinger of a big night, two runs in the first inning of Game 1 on Wednesday, then four more in the first inning of Game 2 to give Brent Suter and Co. some room to work in a bullpen game.

Suter pitched three scoreless innings of his second spot start of the homestand and teamed with Freddy Peralta, Devin Williams and Eric Yardley on a two-hit shutout punctuated by Jacob Nottingham’s two-run homer in the sixth.

“Ryan getting us off to a great start and a big lead was absolutely huge,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I think when you’re at the place he’s at in his career, these are the games you’re dying to be in. And that he’s a force and a presence in these games.”

Braun and the Brewers have 11 games left, including eight against the Reds and Cards.

“We’re right there, man,” Counsell said. “Eleven games to go, one game back. We’re chasing, but we’re right there.”