It was a supremely rough opening week for the Milwaukee nine, as the Brewers came out flat in their opening series against the Rockies and then were obliterated in the final two games against the Cubs over the weekend. Miller Park had the feel of Wrigley Field North once again — yet another symptom of the declining relevance of this Brewers team that I discussed two weeks ago — and the struggles of the pitching staff and injury to ace Junior Guerra make it difficult to feel optimistic going forward.
Ryan Braun, though, is off to an excellent start to the season. He mashed his second home run of the season on Sunday, a massive three-run blast to dead center field off Cubs ace Jake Arrieta. Those home runs are powering a sharp .250/.348/.550 batting line over Braun’s first 23 plate appearances — a small sample size, to be sure, but almost exactly in line with his performance over the past two seasons (.295/.361/.518, 134 OPS+).
Braun remains the best player on this Brewers team, and with every home run, he establishes himself as the best player of this generation of Milwaukee baseball and continues to push himself into the conversation with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor as the best hitter the city has ever seen. Braun already leads the Brewers in career home runs at 287, and at this rate, he’ll become the first Milwaukee baseball player since the days of Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews to reach 300 home runs right around the All-Star break.
But it’s more than the numbers with Braun. Just watch Sunday’s home run off Arrieta:
It’s not just the way Braun drives an 87 MPH hanging slider an even 420 feet to dead center field, it’s the swagger with which he does it. You can see him saying something to the effect of “right over the plate” as the camera cuts back to him circling the bases. Not only did he destroy a pitch from one of the best hurlers in the National League, he’s downright offended Arrieta would dare throw him such a trash pitch.
As somebody not only watching the Brewers hoping for victories but also watching for entertainment, I am extremely glad Braun is still wearing a Milwaukee uniform. So much of the enjoyment in watching sports comes from watching talents like Braun not just play against and occasionally beat some of the best players in the world, but from watching the confidence with which they ply their craft. Having played baseball for years at a fairly low level, it’s amazing to watch somebody do with such ease what I struggled with so much. We need to be careful deifying athletes, because they are humans with all the flaws that entails, but in moments like these, where they express such fantastic control over the bodies and their surroundings, it’s hard not to be awestruck.
And so even in a terrible week for the team and the franchise, even in the midst of a rough loss to a rival club enjoying all the success we desire for ourselves, Braun helped remind me why the Brewers are still worth watching. He is a generational talent, and watching him work is an absolute joy. He’s not the only draw on this club — Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, Jesus Aguilar and Jimmy Nelson also impressed at times in the opening week, and I still have high expectations for others like Orlando Arcia, Keon Broxton, and Domingo Santana — but nobody has the pure star power of Braun. No matter how mediocre this team is, he will make it worth watching, and Brewers fans should savor every game he plays wearing their uniform.