Braun, who came up big again three years later when the Brewers won their first NL Central crown, has been through a lot since. But now, with the team headed back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, it’s no coincidence that Braun is again playing at an elite level.
He has five home runs over his last four games, including a two-homer night on Friday in the series opener against the Detroit Tigers, after hitting just one over his previous 28 contests.
“He’s swinging the bat really good,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s locked in. The one thing about Ryan, and I’ve known him for so long, is he knows himself so well, and when he’s in a good spot, he knows it.”
Thanks, in part, to an excess of talented outfielders — including MVP candidate Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain — Counsell has been able to manage Braun’s workload this season. He’s still played in 122 games and is expected to make it 123 Saturday when the Brewers continue their series with the Tigers at Miller Park as they try again to close the one-game gap between themselves and the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs.
“I think in my history, I’ve always played my best when it does matter most,” Braun said. “I woke up Monday and told everybody, ‘I’ve got you.’ As long as I stay healthy, I’m going to dominate the rest of the way.
“So far, so good. We’ve got two more big ones ahead of us, and all we can do is continue to control the things we can control, which is trying to play a good game, handle our business here, win and hope the Cardinals (who face the Cubs this weekend in Chicago) come through for us.”
The Brewers turn to left-hander Wade Miley (5-2, 2.32 ERA) Saturday evening as he tries to close out his surprising regular season on a high note. Signed to a minor league deal last winter, Miley was beset by a pair of injuries that limited him to just three starts before the All-Star break.
He’s been one of the National League’s best pitchers ever since and takes the mound Saturday having allowed more than two runs just three times over his last 12 starts.
“Every time we’ve given him the ball, Wade’s done a heck of a job,” Counsell said. “I can’t say enough about how he has pitched.”
Miley is 0-0 with a 6.19 ERA in three career appearances (two starts) against the Tigers, but he has not faced them this year.
Left-hander Daniel Norris gets the nod for Detroit. He held the Royals to a run on six hits over five innings his last time out but is still looking for his first victory of the season after going 0-5 with a 5.22 ERA in 10 appearances, including seven starts.
Saturday will make his final start of the regular season, but he will have a busy winter as the Tigers plan to get him a few starts with Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League and a few more during a major-league baseball tour of Japan. The hope is Norris will work 40 or 50 innings in the winter, which should help make up for the nearly four months he missed in 2018 because of groin surgery.
It will also putting him on track for about 150 innings next season.
“I am really excited,” Norris said. “I just need to get some more innings before next year. This works out perfectly.”
Norris has never faced the Brewers.