Slugger poised to best career averages in HRs, SBs, OPS
By Curt Hogg
MILWAUKEE -- In his age-32 season, Ryan Braun may not feel the same physically as he did while producing MVP-type numbers year after year early in his career, but you wouldn't be able to tell that by looking at the season he's stringing together.
Braun's notable 2016 campaign continued on Sunday afternoon as he blasted two more homers and drove in six of the Brewers' runs in a 7-3 win over the Reds at Miller Park. With a month and a half remaining in the season, Braun is batting .328 with a .962 OPS, 22 homers, 13 stolen bases, a .402 wOBA and 149 weighted runs created-plus. A six-time All-Star and 2011 MVP, Braun is on pace to best his career averages in each one of those categories.
All of this is being done with manager Craig Counsell closely monitoring Braun's playing time. Despite being bothered by shoulder, wrist and side injuries that have all kept him from the lineup at times this season, Braun has remained off the DL -- thanks in large part to him and the Brewers keeping an eye on his health. At the beginning of the season, Counsell noted the goal was for Braun to play 140 games, which meant the regularly scheduled off-day would be in play.
Currently on pace to play in 134 games, this plan seems to be working well, as a healthy Braun looks like his younger self at the plate.
"The challenge in this game, obviously, is longevity and consistency," Braun said. "From a health perspective, I think one of the biggest challenges is trying to avoid the bigger injuries. You can deal with having a day here or there and I think, as I've gotten older, I've learned my body a little bit better. I know when I'm feeling something.
"Sometimes it makes sense to take a day or two instead fighting through it, and instead of maybe missing a game or two games, it could turn into a DL-type situation," Braun said. "It's always a fine line, being able to work through injuries and making them significantly worse. So when I have felt things and taken a couple days, typically I've responded pretty well to it."
A recent hot stretch has been one of the major contributors to Braun's numbers. Since the All-Star break, the left fielder is batting .381 (32-for-84) with a .465 OBP, nine homers and 21 RBIs. He has homered eight times in August -- already three more than his previous high in any month -- and had five extra-base hits over a stretch of six plate appearances during the weekend series against Cincinnati.
"He's really locked in and producing, for sure," Counsell said. "We were worried a little about what would happen after losing [Jonathan Lucroy] behind him, but he's responded really well, and he's certainly been swinging the bat great and been really locked in."
Braun notched his eighth career 20-homer season on Saturday with a solo shot, but it was Sunday when he really stole the show. In the first, he roped a two-run double to put Milwaukee up, 2-0. Braun then came up in the second with two men on and demolished a Cody Reed slider off the scoreboard 450 feet away in center field, according to Statcast™. It was the second-longest homer hit by a Brewer this season.
"I always try to be ready for the first pitch," Braun said. "The plan is always to see it and hit it. I never go up there saying, 'I'm going to swing no matter what,' and I rarely say, 'I'm going to take no matter what.' So I always try to be prepared. Anything over the middle of the plate, try to swing at it because it gives me the best chance to hit it on the barrel."
With a line-drive dinger in the fourth, Braun logged his fourth multihomer game of the season and the 26th of his career.
"Over the last couple weeks, I've swung the bat pretty well," Braun said. "And the pitches that I have gotten to hit, I haven't missed many of them. That's what leads to sustained success."
Curt Hogg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.