The Brewers’ injury problems didn’t stop once the postseason began.
Already missing three key players in starting pitchers Corbin Burnes and Brett Anderson and reliever Devin Williams, the Brewers lost their most playoff-tested hitter during Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series when Ryan Braun was removed with a recurrence of the back stiffness that bothered him down the stretch.
The flareup occurred Sunday in the Brewers’ regular-season finale at St. Louis, manager Craig Counsell said.
“We tried to give it a shot today and at some point it was a no-go,” Counsell said. “It happened in the field on a play that he made [on Sunday]. Kind of a different mechanism than the stuff that’s been bugging him.
“I don’t know what [Thursday] will bring. You could call it day to day. I think everybody is at this point.”
Braun, a career .330 hitter in the postseason even after striking out in his first two at-bats in Game 1, was replaced by pinch-hitter Tyrone Taylor in the top of the fifth. It was obvious something was wrong, since the Dodgers had just replaced right-hander Walker Buehler with left-hander Julio Urías, and Braun has hit lefties to the tune of a .989 OPS in his regular-season career.
His knack for rising to the moment might have played in the Brewers’ favor in the seventh, when Christian Yelich doubled off Urías with Milwaukee trailing, 3-2. Braun’s spot was next, and while Taylor has acquitted himself well since a midseason callup, he popped out to end the threat.
Including the final week of the regular season, the Brewers have played nine straight games on the road and scored three or fewer runs in all of them.
“We had some chances to even it up and some guys in the right spots,” Counsell said. “So I thought our guys competed really well and we gave ourselves a shot. We just didn’t come through with that hit with two outs.”
Braun started in right field in spite of his balky back because that alignment allowed the Brewers to get Daniel Vogelbach into the lineup as the designated hitter. Braun was tested early, first chasing for Mookie Betts’ first-inning double that ticked off the glove of a leaping Braun, then on Will Smith’s fly ball to the warning track to end the second. After Braun made the catch, he banged into the padded wall and trotted gingerly back to the dugout.
The back bothered Braun throughout most of the season, but he was second on the team with a .958 OPS in September despite finishing the regular season in a 2-for-23 funk.