Entering Monday evening’s series opener against San Diego, much of the attention surrounded a Brewers offense that has largely underperformed this season. More specifically, the baseball world had begun to look at Ryan Braun — who was only hitting .263/.322/.500 prior to Monday — and wonder what was “wrong” with him at the plate.
Was it the enormous amount of pressure, following a tumultuous offseason? Was it simply Braun crashing down to earth after a career year? Or, as some inevitably brought up, was it the lack of performance-enhancing drugs in his system, now that his actions are under higher scrutiny?
Braun hit three home runs and a triple on Monday evening at PETCO Park. The 28-year-old became the first-ever player to launch three home runs at the pitcher-friendly PETCO Park and only the 34th player (only the second left fielder) to collect 15 total bases in a single game in baseball history. The most recent player to have 15 total bases in a single game was Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, which came on June 24, 2010 against the Colorado Rockies in a 13-11 slugfest.
Perhaps the most impressive home run of the night for the Brewers left fielder was home run number two. Right-hander Joe Wieland hung a curveball on the inner half, and Braun absolutely demolished the baseball into the third deck of the Western Metal Supply Company building down the left field line. It was estimated to travel 409 feet. If you have seen the replay or you saw it live, however, there is no way that baseball only went 409 feet. The baseball hardly had begun its decent before crashing into the third deck. It was one of those home runs that left everyone slack-jawed the moment it left the bat.
ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that Braun only hit one home run off a curveball in 2011. On Monday evening, he connected with two home runs off curveballs, getting great extension and providing his own power on a night in PETCO that saw plenty of hard-hit baseballs die on or just before the warning track (see Yonder Alonso and Aramis Ramirez).
It was a tremendous performance on Monday against the San Diego Padres for Braun in terms of historical significance, but the power display was also enough to salvage a solid month of April in terms of his personal numbers. He ended April with a .419 wOBA, which would be the third-highest mark of his career if the season ended today. To compare this April with what he did last year in April during his MVP season, we can clearly see that Braun has some catching up to do:
Ryan Braun has franchise talent. By that, I mean he possesses the usable baseball tools that can define a franchise. The Milwaukee Brewers are currently known for Robin Yount. In many ways, he is the only great player who played in Milwaukee for the vast majority of his career. Braun has the chance to rewrite the folklore in Milwaukee and give himself a seat at the table.
Ten or twenty years after Braun retires from the game of baseball, he could conceivably be mentioned in the same breath as Robin Yount. He could be a Hall of Fame caliber player and define the early 21st-century of baseball in Milwaukee, and when we struggle to explain to the younger generation just how good Ryan Braun was at the plate, Monday night’s game against the San Diego Padres will be at the tip of our tongues.