MILWAUKEE -- It seems it's been a different player every day for the surging Brewers. On Monday, it was a different player in a notably different spot.In Ryan Braun's first start in two years batting below his usual three-hole -- and his first start hitting fifth since an injury-plagued 2014
MILWAUKEE -- It seems it's been a different player every day for the surging Brewers. On Monday, it was a different player in a notably different spot.
In Ryan Braun's first start in two years batting below his usual three-hole -- and his first start hitting fifth since an injury-plagued 2014 -- he reached safely in all four plate appearances, with three hits, three runs scored, an RBI and a stolen base in the Brewers' 8-3 win over the Cardinals on Memorial Day at Miller Park.
Milwaukee starter Brent Suter chipped in at the plate with a two-run double in the fourth inning and Jonathan Villar hit a game-breaking, three-run home run in the seventh to seal the Brewers' seventh win in the first eight games of a homestand, and their 14th win in 18 games overall. The Brewers have the best record in the National League at 35-20, 4 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs and five ahead of the Cardinals.
Milwaukee has scored 37 runs while winning its last four games, including Saturday's 17-run romp of the Mets. Every one of the runs scored Monday came via two-out hits, and relievers Taylor Williams, Matt Albers and Jacob Barnes supplied four more scoreless innings out of Major League Baseball's stingiest bullpen.
"When you're playing like this, it's really important to rack up as many wins as possible because you know you're not going to be able to fire on all cylinders at all times," said Braun. "I think we've done a really good job of taking advantage to this point of the fact that we've done everything well over the last couple of weeks."
Braun led the way Monday. He doubled and scored in the second inning, singled and scored on Suter's double in the fourth, added a broken-bat RBI single in the fifth inning that made it a 5-3 lead, then took an intentional walk and scored on Villar's homer in the seventh.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell considers most discussions about batting lineups a waste of time, but Monday marked an exception. Besides Braun's limited production so far -- he has never posted a wRC+ below 110 in his first 11 seasons, but is at 91 after gaining 10 points Monday -- the decision was fueled by Jesus Aguilar's recent run. Aguilar has hit seven of his nine home runs and logged 19 of his 30 RBIs on the season during the Brewers' 18-game hot streak.
"Jesus has been as hot as any hitter in baseball for the last couple of weeks," Counsell said. "Ryan is just off the [disabled list]. Right now, this is, to me, the best construction for us. I can tell you it will change in the days ahead.
"I talked to Ryan, and quite frankly, Ryan had the same idea because of what Jesus has been doing. I think he was very cool with it."
Said Braun: "I suggested it. I didn't know if [Counsell] was going to be hesitant or afraid to bring it up -- like he was going to offend me or something. … They're obviously able to do whatever they want, but I just wanted him to know that I was fine with it, and I think we're both on the same page with it."
Braun will need more good days to get back to his benchmark level of production. His .308 wOBA is 75 points below his career average, and his .728 OPS is 171 points off the mark.
But Braun pointed to another advanced stat: a .257 batting average on balls in play, way below the norm, and an indication, when coupled with a hard-hit rate right around his career average, of some bad luck.
"At some point, you have to change something up and your luck changes a bit," he said. "It was a good start today."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Suter double: The Brewers pitcher hit a 433-foot home run against reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber earlier this month, so Suter is no easy out. Still, Cardinals starter Luke Weaver had the matchup he wanted when Suter stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth, especially when Suter fell into an 0-2 count. But Suter stayed alive to make it an eight-pitch at-bat, fouling off a trio of two-strike pitches before pulling a hard ground ball past Cardinals first baseman Jose Martinez for a two-run double and a 4-2 Brewers lead.
"Got the pitcher up there and tried to make some quick work out of him," said Weaver. "But he had a pretty legendary at-bat."
Said Villar: "Changeups, slider, breaking balls. [Suter] every time was 'take it, take it, take it.' Really?" said Villar. "He looked like a position player up there, not a pitcher."
Villar homers: It's been a difficult season and a half for the switch-hitting Villar, especially from the right side of the plate. But his first right-handed home run came in a big spot Monday, a three-run shot into the Brewers' bullpen off Cardinals reliever Brett Cecil that extended a two-run lead to 8-3. Just as importantly, it meant another day of rest for Brewers relief weapon Josh Hader, who had been warming in that bullpen before Villar padded the lead.
"That's what add-on runs do. Add-on runs change the nature of the bullpen game," said Counsell. "It's a nice thing. We'll have Josh available [Tuesday]."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Suter, who kept the Cardinals off-balance aside from home runs off the bats of Yairo Munoz and Matt Carpenter in a three-run fifth inning, endured a scare in the second when Harrison Bader's comebacker hit him on the left side of the chest.
Suter was surprisingly specific.
"It was on the nipple area," he said with a straight face. "They came out and asked, 'How are you doing?' I said, 'Good.' 'Where'd it get you?' 'Right on the nipple area.' I didn't know what else to say. They were all chuckling, and the umpire was having a good laugh, too, but it was fine. It was one of those plays I was trying to get the glove up a bit and I missed it, and I just bodied it up."
HE SAID IT
"It means we've got a night game tomorrow. I mean, I guess we're two months in, or close to two months in. We've got a long road ahead of us, man. We've got a great journey ahead of us, and it's a rollercoaster ahead. We're ready to take the ride. I would say get on and enjoy the ride." -- Counsell, when asked what it means to clear Memorial Day in first place
The Brewers and Cardinals continue their three-game series Tuesday night at Miller Park as Milwaukee nears the end of its 10-game homestand. Zach Davies (2-4, 4.74) will start for the Brewers after losing his first start off the disabled list, allowing four earned runs in four innings vs. the Mets. Michael Wacha (5-1, 2.88) will start for St. Louis. Game time is 6:40 p.m. CT.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.