MILWAUKEE — Esmil Rogers finally had an off night, and it sparked a big Brewers rally.
Entering the game having tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings over four games, Rogers had been among the Rockies’ most reliable relievers through the first three weeks of the season. But Saturday went a little differently, as he gave up four runs on five hits over 1 1/3 innings in the Rockies’ 9-4 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park.
Rogers entered the game with a 3-2 lead in the sixth, but a home run by Ryan Braun — which snapped an 0-for-16 streak for the reigning National League MVP — quickly tied things up.
“We needed a stop; the Ryan Braun home run is the home run, but we needed a stop in the seventh inning,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. “And not only did we not get the stop, but the floodgates opened.”
The seventh inning went even worse as Rogers gave up a leadoff single, an RBI triple that gave the Brewers the lead, and an RBI single before leaving the game.
Braun, who admitted he’s been pressing to break out, added an RBI triple off the wall in left-center field. Three batters later, Alex Gonzalez connected for a 3-run homer off Edgmer Escalona to put the game well out of reach.
“Once you start struggling, you start trying too hard,” Braun said. “This game is hard enough as is. Once you start doing that, you get yourself in more trouble. Hopefully, a game like this tonight, collectively, it will get us out of our little funk.”
Tracy pointed to Rogers pitching from behind hitters as a key to the rough outing, as well as getting too much of the plate with a couple of two-strike pitches that turned into hits.
That six-run inning completely changed what was an excellent game early for the Rockies.
Left-hander Drew Pomeranz retired the first 12 batters he faced Saturday, but command issues knocked him out of the game having tossed just five innings and 74 pitches. He opened the fifth with a four-pitch walk, then gave up back-to-back doubles, which put the Brewers ahead, 2-1.
Before getting the first out of the inning, Pomeranz issued a second walk. Through four batters, the lefty had already tossed 17 pitches in the inning, only five of which were strikes. All told, it was a 30-pitch frame for Pomeranz after he needed just 44 to get through four innings.
“It’s just one of those things where I lost my rhythm for a minute and you can’t do that in the middle of a game,” Pomeranz said. “It’s hard to pitch when you lose it for a second there.”
As rough as the fifth inning was, Pomeranz still managed to limit the damage, thanks in part to the Brewers’ small ball strategy. He got the first out on a sacrifice bunt, and a contact play one batter later resulted in an easy out at home. Despite facing eight batters and allowing the first four to reach base, Pomeranz gave up just the two runs.
In his second start of the season, Pomeranz went five innings, allowing two runs on two hits. He also walked three batters and had a career-high six strikeouts.
“I saw a guy with great stuff the first four innings and then he just lost control,” Troy Tulowitzki said. “But those first four innings, I think he needs to build off that and look at the positive.”
Tulowitzki sparked the Rockies offensively, going 2-for-3 on the night with a home run and an RBI single. The latter put Colorado in front 3-2 before the Brewers rallied against the Rockies’ bullpen.
Todd Helton also homered in the game, his third of the year and second in as many nights. Aside from one rough inning, the Rockies played another solid game Saturday in Milwaukee.
In fact, had they gotten another hit in the top of the sixth, the result may have been a lot different.
“We missed an opportunity that could have changed the complexion of the entire game,” Tracy said. “We had taken the lead in the sixth inning and we stole second and third on the 3-1 pitch. A two-out base hit there changes this entire scheme of things. But it just didn’t work out tonight and we’ve got to come back here tomorrow and try to win a series here.”
Jordan Schelling is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
MILWAUKEE — A six-game National League roadtrip finally ended on Sunday for the Twins, but not before their fifth straight loss, a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Brewers at Miller Park.
It was Minnesota’s seventh consecutive loss to Milwaukee, finalizing the Brewers’ second straight sweep of the Twins.
“I hear they’ve struggled a little bit offensively, but we don’t see it,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We see some pretty good hitters all the way up and down that lineup, to tell you the truth. Right now, I wish we struggled like they were struggling.”
In the first inning of the trip, the Twins’ offense looked pretty good, as it scored eight runs on nine hits on the way to its eighth straight victory. In the ensuing 53 innings, the Twins were outscored, 30-9.
Minnesota now sits nine games behind first-place Detroit.
“For us right now, because of the injuries, everything’s got to be going on all cylinders,” said Michael Cuddyer. “Our hitters have to pick up our pitchers, and our pitchers have to pick up the hitters. That’s the way that we went on our streak, and that’s the way we’re going to have to win. That’s it.”
Right-hander Carl Pavano got the win in a 9-2 victory over the Giants on Tuesday, but he couldn’t end the Twins’ losing skid on Sunday. After four scoreless innings, Pavano gave up five runs, including a two-run home run to Ryan Braun in the fifth and RBI doubles in the sixth by Jonathan Lucroy and Brewers starter Chris Narveson.
It all started with a triple to left field by Lucroy that could have been a double, if Jason Repko had fielded it cleanly. Pavano retired the next two batters, but Nyjer Morgan followed with an RBI single before Braun crushed an 0-1 pitch to right-center.
“He can really hit the ball, we’ve all known that for a long time,” Gardenhire said. “He covered that fastball pretty good. I think it was up just a little bit, but man, he hit the heck out of that ball.”
Pavano finished with five runs allowed on eight hits over six innings, with five strikeouts and one walk. He took his sixth loss of the season, despite recording his 1,000th career strikeout in the fifth inning.
“That’s a tough loss,” Pavano said. “My job today was to go out there and end this losing streak, and I wasn’t able to do that.”
Jim Thome, who pinch-hit in the seventh, reached a milestone of his own by recording his 1,637th RBI, putting him ahead of Ernie Banks for 28th on the all-time list.
In addition to helping his own cause at the plate, Narveson was impressive on the mound, giving up just two runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings, with seven strikeouts against two walks. Narveson improved to 5-5 on the season with a 4.42 ERA.
Not only did the Twins lose five of six games on the roadtrip, they also added two more injuries to the long list they had already compiled this season. The Twins have now used the disabled list 16 times this season for 13 players.
“It’s tough to go out there and win and even compete when you’re missing some of your best players,” Braun said. “I think when they get everybody back healthy, obviously, they’re a much better team.”
Of the nine hitters in the Opening Day lineup for the Twins, only three — Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia and Cuddyer — have avoided stints on the DL. Through 76 games this season, the Twins have used 39 players, including four catchers, four shortstops, five second basemen, six left fielders, five right fielders and 11 designated hitters.
But that doesn’t mean anyone is going to take it easy on the injury-plagued Twins.
“I don’t really care,” Brewers slugger Prince Fielder said. “That’s the team that’s out there, so you have to try to beat them.”
Gardenhire has also used 70 different batting orders and 66 different defensive lineups in 76 games. The most common of each has only been used three times.
When the Twins won 15 of 17 games earlier this month, they executed well, and it didn’t seem to matter who they put on the field. On this trip, they looked more like the Twins ballclub that was 20 games under .500 and 16 1/2 games back at the beginning of June.
Especially in Milwaukee, sloppy defense and mistakes cost the Twins. In their five straight losses, the Twins have committed seven errors, which allowed four unearned runs to score.
“It looked like we were chasing a mouse around out there,” Gardenhire said. “I hate sloppy baseball. … Those are plays you just have to make. And it just shows right up on the scoreboard when you don’t make ’em; all these runs start going up.”
Gardenhire holds team meeting to clear air
By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com
“Every player’s got to be accountable, and Mija knows that,” Gardenhire said. “If you have the ball in your hand as a pitcher, and a catcher’s calling something you don’t want to throw, the one rule of this game is that you don’t have to throw it, because you have the ball.”
Gardenhire met with Mijares and Mauer before Saturday’s game, and the Twins also had a team meeting three hours before the first pitch to “clear the air.”
While the lefty reliever did not say anything his manager had not already said Friday night, Gardenhire noted that there was a difference between the manager questioning the pitch selection and the pitcher doing the same.”I can say those things, and I would’ve liked to see a breaking ball, but a pitcher can’t,” Gardenhire said. “If he doesn’t want to throw something, don’t throw it. That’s totally on your own shoulders and that’s being accountable.”
Regardless of who was at fault in the at-bat, Gardenhire made it clear that he did not want the issue to linger within the Twins’ clubhouse.
For that reason, he called the quick pregame meeting.
Though he also would have preferred to see a slider in that situation, Gardenhire said that if Mijares had better executed the pitch and put it where Mauer wanted it, the whole situation may have been avoided.
“I think Joe said it best,” Gardenhire said. “Yes he did call for a fastball, but he did not call a fastball down the middle.”
Gardenhire talks out struggles with Nishioka
MILWAUKEE — Not wanting his shortstop to get frustrated over his struggles at the plate, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire called Tsuyoshi Nishioka into his office after Friday night’s 4-3 loss to talk.
“He needs to keep swinging and get more at-bats,” Gardenhire said. “He’ll get better as we go along. I just don’t want him to get too frustrated, bottle it all up, and start worrying about things that he doesn’t need to worry about.”
Nishioka has batted just .160 with two doubles and two RBIs in eight games since returning from the disabled list.
He’s also struck out eight times in 25 at-bats over that stretch, after missing 60 games due to a fractured left fibula.
“He’s back here, he’s been hurt a long time, and I want him to get out there and relax, get some swings in, and I told him that last night,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t want him to get too emotionally caught up, worrying about not doing his job.”
Valencia, Braun recall time at Miami
MILWAUKEE — As teammates at the University of Miami, Danny Valencia and Ryan Braun once each hit three-run home runs in the same game.
On Friday night, it was Valencia who put a three-run homer into the seats at Miller Park, giving the Twins a 3-2 lead at the time. Braun said that he wasn’t too thrilled about watching Valencia’s home-run ball go over the left-field fence.
“That’s never fun, you never want to see guys have success against us, but against everybody else I definitely root for him,” Braun said. “I obviously wish him the best, and not just him, but everybody else that we played with as well. It’s pretty cool to see quite a few guys in the Major Leagues and having a lot of success.”
In 2005, Valencia and Braun manned the corner infield spots for the Miami Hurricanes during their sophomore and junior seasons, respectively. They were part of a Miami team that also featured Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay and Indians closer Chris Perez.
During that season, Valencia and Braun combined for 153 hits, 24 home runs and 139 RBIs for Miami, which lost in the Super Regional round to a Nebraska team that featured Alex Gordon at third base and Brian Duensing out of the bullpen.
The two still remain in touch with each other and many other Miami teammates.
“Yeah, of course, man,” Braun said. “I follow everybody, keep in touch with everybody. He’s doing well, I’m happy for him and it’s good to see. Especially because obviously he wasn’t a high Draft pick, so the fact that he’s made it is that much more impressive. And he’s gotten an opportunity, really taken advantage of it, and done really well.”
During batting practice on Friday before the series kicked off, the two took a few minutes to catch up.
They only spent the one season together before Braun was drafted fifth overall by the Brewers, but Valencia said he enjoyed playing with Braun and all the talented players on that Miami team.
“I looked up to him because he was just a really, really talented player,” Valencia said. “He was a good guy, he’s hilarious and he’s fun to be around. He keeps everything loose, makes you feel comfortable.”
Slowey tosses two frames in Class A
MILWAUKEE — Twins head trainer Rick McWane gave quick updates on Saturday on right-hander Kevin Slowey and outfielders Denard Span and Jason Kubel.
Slowey threw two innings on Saturday night in Class A Advanced, allowing two runs on three hits with four strikeouts.
Kubel ran the bases on Saturday and will do the same on Sunday before joining the Twins for a full workout on Monday at Target Field.
Span had another good day on Saturday and will be reevaluated when the Twins return home.
Photo by Steve Paluch
Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and… Ryan Braun?
While it may seem a bit premature to add Braun to a list with two Hall of Famers, the three do share many similarities. Each was drafted by the Brewers and rose quickly through the team’s farm system. Each, through Braun’s fourth season, was named to the All-Star Game at least three times as a Brewer. In 1982, Yount and Molitor helped lead Milwaukee to its first World Series. Braun brought the Brewers to their next playoff appearance, 26 years later.
Undoubtedly, Braun has a long way to go to reach the level of Yount and Molitor — Hall of Famers and all-time Brewers fans favorites — but it certainly is not too hard to imagine him getting there someday. In just four seasons with the Brewers, Braun has reached a level of personal success and popularity that has not been achieved in Milwaukee since the glory years of Yount, Molitor and Harvey’s Wallbangers in the 1980s.
A quick look at Braun’s accomplishments through the end of 2010 — a down year by his high standards — will show that in just four seasons, Braun has already become one of the best in Brewers history. Let that sink in. Braun, at 27, is already one of the best in franchise history, regardless of how the rest of his career goes. That fact alone assures that if Braun maintains even his 2010 performance level, he could certainly find himself mentioned among the greatest Brewers of all time.
Start with the All-Star selection, an honor Braun even admitted he may not have deserved after the first half of the 2010 season. Whether he did or did not deserve it, Braun was elected to start for the National League for a third straight year. Braun also led all Major League outfielders in voting for the third consecutive season, despite playing in the smallest media market in baseball.
“To me he’s kind of the 2000s version of that trio of great players they had in the eighties, the Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Jim Gantner trio,” said MLB.com Brewers reporter Adam McCalvy. “They’re home grown, drafted by the Brewers, came through their system quickly, and then played a long time with the team. Who knows how long Braun will be around, but given his contract, it looks like he’ll be a Brewer for, in today’s game, a really long time.”
Despite a prolonged slump in the middle of the season, Braun rebounded late last season to add some postseason hardware to his trophy case. Braun earned another Silver Slugger Award, his third straight, joining Cecil Cooper as the only player in franchise history to achieve such an accomplishment. Yount is the only other Brewers hitter to win the award three times, which he did over the course of his 20-year career.
Despite hitting a career-low 25 home runs in 2010, Braun also became the first player in Brewers history with 20 or more home runs in each of his first four season. Not bad. Especially considering Braun has more of a gap-to-gap approach than most sluggers.Braun also joined Richie Sexson and Prince Fielder as the only Brewers with 100 or more RBIs in three consecutive seasons, while becoming the second player in club history to post back-to-back 100-RBI, 100-run seasons, another mark previously achieved only by Cooper.
All that, in what was easily his worst statistical season in the Major Leagues.
In 2007, Braun exploded onto the scene in Milwaukee, belting 34 home runs and tallying 97 RBIs, despite not being called up until May and playing just 113 games. Braun also batted a career-best .324 in his rookie season, with a 1.004 OPS. Despite playing less-than-stellar defense at third base, Braun picked up the National League Rookie of the Year award, while even garnering a few votes in the NL MVP race.
By comparison, neither Yount nor Molitor were named rookie of the year in their first seasons with the Brewers, though Molitor did finish second in 1978.
Starting at a white-hot pace that even the best MLB hitters would struggle to maintain, Braun answered with an equally impressive season in 2008. Some struggles were evident, though. While playing in 38 more games than his rookie season, he added only three home runs and nine RBI to his rookie totals, and his batting average went down. But Braun finished third in the NL MVP balloting after helping lead the Brewers to the playoffs. While he’s still just heading into his fifth season in the big leagues, Braun’s numbers put him among the greatest Brewers off all time.
“It’s maybe a stretch because you’re talking about two Hall of Famers with Yount and Molitor, but I kind of think with the way the fans have embraced him, and the way his career has gone so far, there’s some similarities there,” McCalvy said. “The bottom line is that he’s really good, and if you’re looking at comparisons in the history of the team, it’s hard to not go back to those types of players.”
Braun’s career highs in home runs (37) and RBI (114) are equal to or better than those of Yount and Molitor. His 1.004 OPS in 113 games as a rookie was better than any in the two Hall of Famers’ combined 41 seasons, though Molitor did post a 1.003 in 1987 over 118 games.
If he can maintain the necessary pace to keep his name in the discussion with players like Yount and Molitor, Braun will go down as one of the all-time fan favorites in franchise history as well. His popularity is impossible to miss at Brewers games, as the team store is filled with No. 8 jerseys and t-shirts, while fans and even the kids of some Brewers teammates walk around with ‘Braun’ on their backs.
Of course, if a Brewers fan is not wearing No. 8, there’s a good chance their shirt or jersey has a No. 4 or No. 19 on it.
Ryan Braun, the playmaker
With the numbers he’s put up over the years, you could put together quite the highlight reel featuring Braun and only Braun. In 2010 alone, he had a diving catch in the All-Star Game, climbed the wall to bring one back in September at San Francisco, hit a walk-off single against the Pirates in early July and had a two-homer performance in the home finale against the Marlins, just to name a few.
Braun’s biggest moments to date came in just his second season, however, with the Brewers in the middle of the wild card race. In a must-win situation on September 25, with the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 10th, Braun blasted a walk-off grand slam off the Pirates’ Jesse Chavez. The win kept the Brewers and Mets tied for the wild card lead after New York had enjoyed its own walk-off victory earlier in the day.
Just days later, Braun had what remains to date as the defining moment of his young career.
With two out in the bottom of the eighth, the game tied 1-1, and runner on first, Braun stepped into the kind of moment most players can only dream of. As Chicago reliever Bob Howry delivered a 93-mph fastball toward the inner half of the plate, Braun’s eyes lit up. Howry’s pitch was a mistake, and Braun made him pay for it, blasting a tie-breaking, two-run home run to help the Brewers defeat the Cubs and clinch the wild card for their first playoff birth since 1982.
From the moment the ball jumped off Braun’s bat, it was clear that it was gone. Braun knew it, as did Howry, the 45,299 in attendance, and the thousands watching at home. All the Brewers had to do then was hold on and wait for the Mets to lose two hours later. Once they checked both those items off the list, the Brewers were set to play meaningful baseball games in October for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president.
“It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s difficult to describe,” Braun said afterward. “The grand slam the other night, that was pretty special, but this one was pretty meaningful.”
With those two home runs, and the role he played in leading the Brewers back to the postseason for the first time in 26 years, Braun — in just his first two years — firmly established himself in franchise history.
But does all that, along with his status as a fan favorite under contract for five more seasons, make Braun the face of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise?
“Right now he is,” says Trenni Kusnierek, a reporter for Milwaukee’s 540 ESPN Radio. “They smartly inked him to a really, really cheap — which is kind of terrible when you sign for $40 million — major league deal. He is in Milwaukee. He’s got restaurants here; he’s the guy that’s on all the AirTran billboards… when you think now of the star in the middle of that lineup, you think of Ryan Braun.”
While he came up to the Majors after fellow fan favorite Fielder, the connection between Braun and Brewers fans is unmistakable, and it’s something that’s never quite been the same case as far as Fielder is concerned. With Ben Sheets no longer a part of the organization, Braun has supplanted the former Olympic gold-medal winning ace as the face of the Brewers franchise.
What’s more, with the Brewers as a better team today, it seems Braun is even more popular than Sheets, who played for years on sub-.500 ballclubs in Milwaukee.
Boosted by the Brewers’ success, Braun’s popularity has soared, as he has been emblematic of the Brewers franchise as a whole. Braun’s rapid rise through the ranks and finally to the Major Leagues in May 2007 mirrored the rise of the franchise. Just as Braun impressed in 2007, but did not play a full season, the Brewers led the NL Central for an extended period before eventually coming up just short behind the Cubs.
In 2008, Braun was with the team for a full season, putting together an MVP-caliber performance in leading the Brewers, who finally got over the hump and reached the playoffs again. And don’t forget that home run in September.
“That was one of the greatest hits in Brewers history,” McCalvy said. “It’s right up there with the Easter Sunday home run and Cecil Cooper’s game winner in Game 5 of the 1982 World Series.”
After the thrilling 2008 season, Braun and the Brewers took a step back in 2009, and yet another in 2010.
But with the recent additions of right-handers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum from Kansas City and Toronto, respectively, Braun and the Brewers fanbase are excited about the potential for the 2011 season. And rightfully so.
“Excited would be a severe understatement,” Braun said following the Brewers’ trade for Greinke. “It just shows the players, the fans, once again the commitment to winning from our ownership and management. It’s really exciting. We just got one of the best players in baseball and I can’t wait to get started.”
Based on all the excitement surrounding Greinke’s arrival in Milwaukee, though, the Brewers left fielder may have some competition for the team’s most popular player. Greinke has certainly given him a run for his money so far in the team store. Of course, Braun’s connection to the fanbase goes well beyond his on-field performance.
Face of the franchise
For most, the cold and snow that come along with a Wisconsin winter provide excellent reasons to head south to warmer climates. In early December this off-season, Braun did just the opposite.
Trading 70-degree weather for temperatures just below freezing, the Los Angeles native spent several days in the Dairy State. Braun was in southeastern Wisconsin to promote Limelite, a new energy drink, while also partaking in the Lake Geneva holiday festivities.
Since signing a seven-year contract extension — one that should keep him in a Brewers uniform through the 2015 season — Braun has established himself as far more than a baseball player. Braun has developed and marketed his own personal brand, which includes the clothing line Remetee and two local restaurants, Ryan Braun’s Waterfront in Milwaukee and Ryan Braun’s Tavern and Grill in Lake Geneva.
On December 5, as part of his ongoing involvement in the Lake Geneva community, Braun served as the grand marshal of the 35th annual Great Electric Children’s Christmas Parade. Following the early evening parade, Braun held an appearance at his restaurant, signing autographs for fans.
Braun’s affinity for the Lake Geneva area is something that has developed over his years with the Brewers. The left fielder has spent many an off-day in the quiet community less than an hour southwest of Milwaukee. Because of his love for the popular tourist destination, Lake Geneva was a no-brainer location for Braun’s second restaurant.
When the restaurant opened in late June, the fan turnout was overwhelming. Fans traveled near and far to catch a glimpse of Braun, take a photograph with him, or even get the three-time All-Star’s autograph. One incredibly dedicated family drove more than 10 hours from their Michigan home for the event.
While the outpouring of support for his restaurant opening was a surprise to him, Braun’s popularity was clearly on display throughout the night, with requests for autographs and photos seemingly never ending. After arriving around 7:30 p.m., to large crowds waiting both inside and out, Braun finally was seated with his private party for a quiet meal nearly two hours later.
“This is far more people than I expected to see come out here tonight. I was expecting more of a low-key, quiet, private gathering. But it’s great, I’m really impressed,” Braun said after dinner. “The community here in Lake Geneva is great. I’ve been here a lot, but I’ve never really met many of the people who live in the area. They’ve all been very nice and given a lot of feedback, both about the Brewers and the restaurant.”
It’s not hard to figure out what’s behind Braun’s incredible popularity among Brewers fans. Since coming up in May 2007, he’s been, without question, the club’s most consistent hitter, while also providing a number of hugely memorable moments through his first four seasons. Another thing that has drawn Brewers fans to Braun — while simultaneously turning away opposing clubs, announcers and fans — is his unwavering confidence, something that occasionally borders on cockiness.
Some may view Braun as cocky or see his demeanor as an issue, but it’s something that certainly can be a benefit to Braun, especially with a grueling six-month, 162-game schedule. Everyone goes through slumps, but it’s how you react to them that determines how successful you’ll be.
Staking his claim
It’s 4:45 p.m., on Aug. 2, 2010. With his team sitting nine games under .500 and 11 games behind the NL Central-leading Reds, Braun stands by his locker in the tiny visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field, fielding questions about his recent slump.
As he speaks, his batting average is a very un-Braun-like .274, and he has just 16 home runs, 64 RBI and a .787 OPS through 104 games. After jumping out to a hot start early, Braun has batted just .236 with 10 homers, 36 RBI and an OPS of .671 since being hit on the elbow by a Tommy Hanson fastball on May 10.
Over the month of July — the same month in which he was named to a third straight All-Star Game — Braun’s struggles were even greater, as his batting average was just .200 with five home runs, 15 RBIs and a .615 OPS in 26 games. Despite this, however, Braun still had a relaxed, cool confidence about him. One that really made you believe he was not worried about what his numbers were so far.
“I just try to move on, man,” Braun said. “There’s no reason to dwell on the past, dwell on what’s negative. For me, I try to stay positive, stay optimistic and move forward. I can’t go back and get an extra 20 hits or 10 home runs or drive in an extra 30 runs.
“Of course it wears on you. Everybody says it doesn’t, but it’s impossible for it not to. Obviously, I understand where I’m at. Obviously, I’m disappointed in my performance to this point. But I can’t go back. I can’t rewind time to two months ago and play better.”
No, he certainly could not do any of those things. But if he could have, his numbers would have looked a lot more standard. Add those 20 hits, 10 home runs and 30 RBIs, and see what you get. It’s a Braun with a .298 batting average, 26 home runs and 94 RBI.
Through 104 games the previous season, Braun hit .318 with 22 home runs and 74 RBI. In 2008, he had hit at a .303 clip with 29 homers and 81 RBI. As a rookie, Braun had a .322 average through the same number of games with 31 home runs and 85 RBI. A quick look at the stats show his power numbers dropping year-to-year, while his batting average remained fairly unchanged until 2010.
But the important numbers are not the ones through 104 games. No, all anyone truly will look at down the road are Braun’s numbers over the course of the entire season. As Braun stood there that day, he knew there was more than enough time to improve upon those.
“My whole thing is that I have two months left,” he said. “If I finish strong, there’s no reason I can’t have just as good a season I had last year. There’s no reason I can’t have my best season if I finish great this year. There’s no reason for me to reflect until the end of the season.
“At the end of this year, I’ll look back and realize that this was a tremendous learning experience. Hopefully, I’ll become a better player and a better person because of it. But when you’re going through it, it’s definitely not fun.”
As it turns out, Braun would not have to wait two months for things to improve. That very same night, he batted 5-for-7, slapping five singles from gap to gap, while scoring three runs and driving in two more as the Brewers embarrassed the host Cubs, 18-1. The next day, Braun was 3-for-4, and then 1-for-3 in the series finale, giving him a 9-for-14 mark with two RBIs and four runs over the series.
If you were to reflect after the season, Braun’s numbers would be excellent by most standards. But when you average more than 34 home runs and 105 RBIs a season while hitting at a .308 clip over your first three years in the big leagues, you set a pretty high standard for yourself, and everyone else’s expectations are raised as well. Even so, Braun’s slash line of .304/.365/.501 was down from the past, but still very respectable.
Braun batted .364 over his final 55 games with nine home runs and 35 RBI to boost his numbers, but his OPS of .866 was still a career-low. Still, his 25-home run, 103-RBI season earned him 19 points in the NL MVP balloting, good for 15th out of 25 players listed on ballots in 2010.
But what caused the down numbers for Braun?
He often spoke of facing adversity, though he never truly clarified what he was referring to. The struggles were the first prolonged slump of Braun’s career, and all indications would point to injuries being the cause of such struggles. His numbers dropped off noticeably from early May, when he was hit on the elbow with a pitch, until he snapped out of the slump in August.
Yet, the Brewers slugger would never acknowledge any injury as the reason for his struggles. Instead, he just referred to dealing with unspecified adversity. Fortunately for Braun, the Brewers and their fans, his late-season hot streak provided some assurance the “real” Braun could return for the 2011 season.
In fact, a “down” year in 2010 is no reason to believe Braun won’t be better than ever in 2011. After all, he’ll need to make up some lost ground to reach Yount and Molitor.
MILWAUKEE — Entering their series finale, the Marlins were tied with the Braves for the fewest home runs allowed in the Majors this season, while the Brewers’ offense was tied for second in the National League with 175 homers in 2010.
The Brewers were the clear winners in that battle Sunday, belting four home runs in the first three innings en route to an easy 7-1 victory over the Marlins in their home finale at Miller Park.
With the four long balls, the Brewers overtook the Reds for first place in the NL in home runs. Ryan Braun opened things up with a two-run blast in the first, and Lorenzo Cain added a no-doubt solo shot in the second, the first of his career.
It was clear at that point that Marlins starter Adalberto Mendez was in for a rough outing. For good measure, Braun added a second two-run homer in the third. Two pitches later, Prince Fielder belted his 32nd of the season, marking the end of Mendez’s start.
“They’ve been doing that pretty much all season,” said Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez. “From one to five — those guys — they know how to score runs.”
Lasting just two innings, Mendez’s start was by far his shortest since being called up earlier this month. In three previous September starts, Mendez was 1-1 with a 1.56 ERA, giving up just three runs on 15 hits over 17 1/3 innings pitched.
With his Sunday outing of two-plus innings and six runs on six hits, Mendez’s ERA jumped to 4.19 as he took his second loss of the season. The problem was an inability to be effective with his slider.
“He was relying on his fastball,” Rodriguez said. “When you face a lineup like the Brewers and you get behind in the count, they can make you pay for it. That fastball, even if it’s 94-96 [mph], they don’t care.”
Even with his slider not working, Mendez expected better results out of his fastball. Unfortunately, it was up more often than not and Mendez struggled to execute pitches against the Brewers.
“It’s about making pitches,” Mendez said. “If you make the pitch, you can throw whatever you want, but I couldn’t do it today.”
All the offense the Marlins could produce came in the first inning as three straight hitters reached base and Gaby Sanchez delivered Ozzie Martinez from third with a sacrifice fly. Beginning with Sanchez’s flyout, Brewers lefty Chris Capuano retired 16 of the final 18 Marlins batters he faced.
Capuano (4-4) left after just 72 pitches with a left groin strain, but not before delivering six strong innings and allowing just one run on four hits and a walk with a strikeout. His win came amid a celebratory atmosphere at Miller Park, which included several standing ovations from the home crowd.
Braun took a curtain call after his second home run, and Fielder had one of his own after being removed in the eighth after what may have been his final plate appearance in a Brewers uniform at home. Finally, all-time saves leader and former Marlins reliever Trevor Hoffman entered to his signature “Hells Bells,” closing out the Brewers’ 7-1 victory.
“As a team, we’re disappointed we’re not further along in a playoff run,” Capuano said. “That’s disappointing. But to have a game where you had some guys get some milestones, had Trevor Hoffman come in and even though it wasn’t a save situation they played ‘Hells Bells’ … it was great to finish at home with a win.”
Mendez’s poor outing also cost the Marlins a chance to split the four-game series with the Brewers, while also dropping them back below .500. Sitting at 77-78, the Marlins will need to win four of their final seven games to finish at an even .500 this season.
Their road record dropped back to 39-39 with three games remaining away from Sun Life Stadium. The Marlins will need to take two of three from the Braves to secure a winning road record for the 2010 season.
The highlight of the game for the Marlins turned out to be an impressive Major League debut for reliever Steve Cishek.
After being recalled on Tuesday, to bolster the Marlins bullpen, Cishek finally made his first big league appearance in relief Sunday. With his club trailing 7-1 in the sixth, Cishek pitched two perfect innings, inducing three ground ball outs, a popup and two fly outs.
“It was definitely a dream come true, that’s for sure,” Cishek said. “I just wanted to go right at them, fill up the strike zone as much as possible and whatever happens, happens. It turned out it worked pretty well.”
After needing only 18 pitches, 16 of which were strikes, to retire six batters, Cishek’s manager liked what he saw in his debut.
“I was impressed with Cishek,” Rodriguez said. “This is the first time I’ve seen his slider working that way. He was very tough on right-handed hitters. Going two innings, throwing strikes, I was impressed with him.”
MILWAUKEE — On any other night, Randy Wolf’s performance would have been the story of the game. But with the way the Brewers hitters were swinging the bats in a 13-1 victory over the Reds, a quality start and a 2-for-4 performance at the plate got lost in the shuffle.
Making Wolf’s outing even more impressive was the way he responded after his club put up eight runs in the second and five more in the next three innings. Often with such long innings offensively, a team’s pitcher tends to struggle going back out on the mound.
Wolf just got better as the game went along.
“There were some long breaks, but the main thing is, when it’s that kind of score, you’ve got to go out there and feel like it’s 0-0,” Wolf said. “If you go out there and you see it’s 8-1, 13-1 … all of a sudden it’s four runs, five runs and they’re creeping their way back.
“As a pitcher, you’ve got to keep your focus and pitch the right way. You really don’t want to totally change your aggressiveness or change your whole philosophy just because of the score.”
Not only did Wolf pitch well as his team sent 34 hitters to the plate in the second through fifth innings, he did so after fighting through a rough first inning.
Wolf opened the game giving up three singles and a walk in the top of the first. Fortunately, the veteran lefty managed to hold the National League Central-leading Reds to just one run in the inning.
“Wolfy, another good outing for him,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha. “He got help with some defense in the first inning, a tremendous play by [Ryan] Braun getting the ball off the wall to get their leadoff hitter.”
With a fortunate out on his side, Wolf got the next batter to hit a grounder back to the mound. But with just one out to go in the inning, he walked Jay Bruce and surrendered back-to-back singles before striking out Yonder Alonso to end the inning.
That strikeout was the first of four in a row for Wolf and the beginning of a stretch of 11 consecutive batters retired. Wolf did not allow another hit until a leadoff double in the sixth off the bat of Paul Janish, who replaced Orlando Cabrera at shortstop.
“I didn’t really have the command I wanted early on,” Wolf said. “Luckily, as the game went on, I felt better and better and felt more comfortable out there and I was able to mix my pitches and work my fastball in and out.”
Tossing six strong innings while allowing just one run on four hits with seven strikeouts against two walks, Wolf posted his fourth straight quality start in September. This month, Wolf is 3-1 with a 1.21 ERA, allowing just four runs on 18 hits in 29 2/3 innings pitched.
Since his infamous 12-run outing in Pittsburgh, Wolf has gone 6-2 with a 2.57 ERA in his last 11 starts, giving up 21 earned runs over 73 2/3 innings pitched. In his 31 other starts not including that July 21 loss, Wolf is 13-10 with a 3.81 ERA.
“Randy was great again,” shortstop Craig Counsell said. “He’s been on quite a roll, and he’s put together a good season — a really good season.”
MILWAUKEE — With every start, Chris Capuano continues to make progress in his return from a second Tommy John surgery. On Monday, the 100-pitch mark was his latest milestone.
Capuano delivered an impressive performance for his third straight quality start, but back-to-back Reds home runs in the eighth made the difference as the Brewers lost their second straight game, 5-2.
Tossing six innings, Capuano gave up two runs on four hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. Reaching the century mark for the first time this season, Capuano’s pitch count of 105 was his highest since throwing 113 pitches on Aug. 19, 2007.
“This was a huge step for him,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha. “Not only getting past 100 pitches, but the game pretty much on the line [in the sixth inning]. First and second with one out, he winds up getting two big outs there.”
Since his rough return to the rotation on Aug. 28 against the Pirates, Capuano has excelled, posting a 1-2 record with a 2.58 ERA in four September starts. Over that stretch, Capuano has allowed just seven earned runs on 17 hits in 24 1/3 innings of work.
In each of his five late-season starts, Capuano has progressed with his pitch count, going from 75 pitches to 80, 83, 90 and 105 on Monday. His best outing came Sept. 8 against the Cardinals when he tossed seven innings while giving up one run on four hits.
While he wasn’t quite as sharp against the Reds, he said he felt even better.
“Physically, this was the best I’ve felt,” Capuano said. “I really felt good out there physically, and got the pitch count up there close to 100. It felt good.”
But did Capuano feel the effects of tossing 100 pitches for the first time in three years?
“No, I feel good,” Capuano answered. “Like I said, I think this is the best I’ve felt so far.”
Unfortunately for Capuano and the Brewers, they were unable to keep the Reds from reducing their magic number even further. After their win Monday, coupled with a Cardinals loss, the number was down to six.
After leaving with the game tied at 2, Capuano handed the ball off to reliever Kameron Loe, who delivered a scoreless 1 1/3 innings before letting things get away from him. With one out in the eighth, Loe (3-5) surrendered a single and back-to-back home runs as the Reds took a 5-2 lead.
Following an Orlando Cabrera single, Joey Votto belted a 2-2 fastball into the second deck in left-center field, putting the Reds on top, 4-2. Afterward, Macha was asked if he considered anyone other than Loe against Votto.
“You’ve got a way to go yet in the game,” Macha said. “[Zach] Braddock really hasn’t been on his game, and [Manny] Parra needed a day off, he had 20-some pitches.”
With no left-handers available and apparently not wanting to use closer John Axford, Macha stuck with Loe, who he viewed as his best option at the time.
Votto had struggled through his first three at-bats, going 0-for-3 against Capuano while being called out on strikes twice. His night went from bad to great with one swing of the bat in the eighth.
“The more times you face him, the better chance he has,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker. “I always say you hate to see a good hitter cold. Sooner or later the law of averages is on his side and he’s going to get somebody. That was as long of a home run to the opposite field I’ve seen.”
Added Votto: “I try not to take previous at-bats into following at-bats. I didn’t have a very good game going into that point. That’s why we play all nine innings.”
Even after the two-run homer, Loe stayed in, and Scott Rolen drove his very next pitch over the fence in right. It was the Reds’ 11th set of back-to-back home runs this season.
Loe made himself unavailable for comment after the Brewers’ 5-2 loss.
With the loss, the Brewers dropped to 36-39 at Miller Park this season. As only six home games remain on the schedule, they’ll need to win four of six to finish at .500 on the year and five of six to secure a winning home record in 2010.
Milwaukee finished 40-41 at home last year after posting four consecutive winning home records. Lately, the bright spot has been the Brewers’ ability to compete with some of the league’s best — or hottest — teams in the Reds, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants and Astros.
Offensively, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks provided the only bright spots for the Brewers. Weeks went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored, while Braun drove in a pair of runs and doubled. Braun’s two RBIs moved him one behind third baseman Casey McGehee, who leads the Brewers with 94 runs batted in.
As it has been most of the season, the problem for the offense was delivering hits with runners in scoring position. The most obvious example came in the second inning, when Carlos Gomez led off with an infield single and reached third on a throwing error with none out. With three straight strikeouts, the Brewers left Gomez stranded at third.
“Gomez is on third, nobody out, we didn’t put the ball in play,” Macha said. “Little things like that hurt you when you’ve got tight games.”