The Philadelphia Phillies are in Milwaukee for a weekend series against the Brewers at Miller Park.
My two most recent picks in this “Phillies Opposition Roadblock” series have, sadly, been right on the money. Both Bryce Harper and David Wright helped to beat the Phils in two out of three back in South Philly.
The Nationals’ young star Harper, our TBOH staff preseason pick for the NL MVP Award, continued to build himself a home among the biggest Phillies’ killers of all-time. And the Mets’ veteran Wright did not let the Phillies forget that he still owns the keys to Citizens Bank Park. Both superstars homered multiple times in their respective series.
It has not been difficult to choose players to this point in the season. This early on, most of the usual MLB stars are shining. As the Phillies enter a quick six-game road trip, they are trying to find their stride offensively.
The boys in red will pull into Milwaukee to meet with a fairly mediocre Brewers team. While Milwaukee does not boast an incredibly imposing lineup, there is one constant in their lineup who poses a major threat, slugging outfielder Ryan Braun.
The former Miami Hurricane superstar broke into MLB back in 2007 after spending barely two seasons in the minors. In college, Braun had been the National Freshman of the Year, the 2005 ACC Player of the Year, a Golden Spikes Award finalist, and Baseball America’s number two prospect in 2007.
Starting as a 3rd baseman and then transitioning to left field in the big leagues, Braun has lost none of that talent in translation to the game at the Major League level.
Now in his ninth season with Milwaukee, Braun has a career slash of .305/.367/.545 with 258 homeruns. His numbers have decreased significantly since a suspension for his link to the Biogenesis Clinic in 2013. His name appeared three times in a report that also tagged him for owing the clinic between $20,000 to $30,000.
Braun’s former gaudy numbers that won him five Silver Slugger Awards, the Rookie of the Year, a National League MVP, and landed him in five All-Star games were now all in question.
The last two seasons have not been up to those pre-suspension Braun levels, but they have been far from terrible. He continues to be the anchor in the middle of the Milwaukee order. This season, Braun is off to one of the best starts in his career, slashing .340/.421/.560 with three home runs in 14 games.
Coming as no surprise is the fact that Braun is, as were both Harper and Wright before him in this regular “Opposition Roadblock” series, a Phillies killer. Over the last three seasons, in comparison with other teams against whom he has at least 40 at-bats (he has 76 vs. the Phillies), Braun has the best numbers against the Phillies.
If we eliminate the teams in his own division, he has more homers (4) and RBI (20) against the Phillies than any other team. Let’s throw the rest of the Central Division into the equation for fun. Braun has his highest batting average and OPS against the Phillies with .368 and 1.006 marks respectively.
How does Phillies pitching get him out this weekend? Braun is one of the few I have never been able to figure out, because he sprays the ball all over the field. He does hit a heavy majority of his grounders to the left side, but he hits enough to right field that a shift would be questionable.
Braun is aggressive early in counts because he does not like to hit from behind, so Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, and Jerad Eickhoff and the bullpen will have to be creative early in counts. He does not have many weaknesses in the zone. He will chase up and in as well as down and in, but not often enough that the pitchers can live there.
The only way to truly get Braun out consistently is to hope that when your club takes on the Brewers, he is struggling. As the Phillies arrive for this weekend set, he is not – just the opposite. However, the Phillies pitching has actually been among the best in all of baseball thus far in 2016.
Maybe, just maybe, they can hold down Braun for three games. It would go a long way towards winning the series.