There’s been Phillie-killers before. They range from bonafide sluggers across the sport to muted bench bats who for no reason thunder to life within Citizens Bank Park’s walls. But no one has so thoughtlessly, seamlessly, and continuously dismantled Philadelphia Phillies pitching in the modern era than Ryan Braun.
It is tough to not take it personally when an opposing player thrives so much in a ballpark that they actually have better numbers in than in any of their division rivals’ parks, whom they see much more often.
Braun himself has been unable to explain it, claiming it has less to do with what he’s doing and more to do with the amount of times he’s done it.
“Obviously it’s a great ballpark to hit in. I enjoy competing against these guys. Aside from that, I don’t know -- small sample size, anything can happen.”
And then there’s the boos, which seem to only make him more powerful.
“I try to use it to my advantage. I love it. It’s great. Seriously, as a competitor I really enjoy it. It’s a challenging game and it’s a long season and playing in an environment and atmosphere like this is certainly motivating.”
But he’s being modest. There’s no defense against what Braun is able to do to the Phillies, whether it’s at their own park or at home in Milwaukee. He’s smacked around everybody from Jamie Moyer (6-for-10, 2 HR in 2008-09) to Roy Halladay (4-for-6, 1 HR in 2011) to Cole Hamels (3-for-4, 1 HR in 2012) to Cliff Lee (5-for-7, 3 HR in 2012).
Braun was the product of the Brewers shuffling their roster around in 2007, and being named the NL Rookie of the Year. They put him in left, where his defensive shortcomings could come up short a little less. He played against the Phillies for the first time in a series from August 3-5, going 6-for-14 in three games with a triple, three RBI, and two home runs.
To be fair, Braun also committed an error that allowed two runs to score in one of those games, and in another he got to face Adam Eaton.
The next year, the Brewers and Phillies played a pair of games in late April, and Braun went 4-for-8 with two doubles. The next time they faced off, the Phillies and Brewers played four games in Philly, and Braun... was silent. The Brewers dropped all four contests and their slugger, so typically thriving off the cheesesteak grease vapors in the air, disappeared, managing only one hit (a home run) in the entire series. The Phillies had figured him ou—
Nope. Next April, Braun was back in South Philly and hammered the home team with eight hits and three dingers. They met again in September, when he machine gunned the Phillies pitching staff with six singles in two games, and threw in a home run out of, I assume, boredom.
Look, we don’t need to go back through the whole saga. Some years, Braun has pummeled the Phillies. Others, he took a gentler approach. At least one year, he didn’t homer against them at all in six games. It was pretty pathetic!
And also, not uncommon. Braun is just as susceptible to baseball diseases as anyone. He just doesn’t stop homering, even when he is at his worst. It’s like if someone screamed in their sleep occasionally during the night while thinking about Ryan Braun after screaming at a much more frequent pace during the day. In the middle of his five-year stretch of all-star appearances and Silver Sluggers from 2008-12, there was July 2010, in which he hit .200 and struck out 26 times in 105 AB, but still hit five annoying home runs. The Pirates were victimized by three of them, with no other Pennsylvania team on the schedule to satisfy Braun’s terrible hunger. Braun’s first year after being suspended for half the 2013 season wasn’t pretty either as he adjusted to being hated by everyone and his thumb injury evolved into a condition that required cryotherapy.
What can the Phillies do to stop him, other than throw a big snake at him? As far as I can tell, they have two options.
Last year, the Phillies played the Marlins at a time when their offense needed a boost. They watched as Justin Bour hit three home runs in four games. Three days later, they traded for him. It didn’t work out (those three home runs were also Bour’s only hits in four games). But if we apply that logic to Braun, it’s tough to argue against. The Brewers signed Braun to a deal that keeps him in Milwaukee through 2020, with an option for 2021. Consider watching Braun’s numbers in Philadelphia over 81 games instead of three or four. If you ignore everything else about him except for the fact that he can’t not hit like a monster in CBP, it’d be tough not to grab him without even thinking.
But that very unlikely possibility is in the future. We live here, in the present, where Ryan Braun is waiting for the Phillies in Milwaukee for a couple of days, which sort of destroys my second solution: Stop playing him. The Phillies, as the headline explains, have to play the Brewers three more times. At this point, all they can do is plan around Braun.