Ryan Braun could be playing his final game at Miller Park on Sunday and he will attempt to keep his hot streak going when the Milwaukee Brewers host the Kansas City Royals in the finale of three-game set.
Braun slugged a three-run homer in Saturday's 5-0 win over the Royals and is batting .389 (14-for-36) with five homers and 16 RBIs in September.
Since the Brewers (25-26) aren't a certainty to make the playoffs, Braun noted prior to the weekend that he realizes it could be his final time playing in the ballpark.
There are two factors in play: The Brewers aren't expected to pick up the $15 million mutual option on Braun's contract for 2021, and the 36-year-old former National League MVP hasn't decided if he will continue to play.
Braun has spent all 14 seasons of his career with Milwaukee but the current season has been tough for him physically. He has played in just 31 games with 12 of his 26 starts coming as the designated hitter.
He departed Friday's game due to lower back tightness after going 2-for-2 as the right fielder and was questionable for Saturday's game before manager Craig Counsell decided to utilize him as the DH. The homer stretched his franchise record to 351.
Counsell is well aware Braun has no intention of beginning the game on the bench on Sunday.
"He wants to play," Counsell said of Braun. "This is an issue where if he's able to go, he's going to go. We just have to judge it like that. The other stuff, I don't want to be non-sentimental about it, but I think if you can play and help us, then he wants to play. We'll just treat it like that. I think that's the best way to think about it, especially when your health is involved."
The Brewers will be attempting to sweep the series after scoring 14 runs in the first two games. Milwaukee has won three straight games and fifth of its last seven as it makes a dash to land an NL playoff spot.
The Brewers are one of seven teams legitimately in the hunt for the final four playoff berths.
"You're bunched up with all these teams," Counsell said after Saturday's triumph. "Some are going to win and some are going to lose every night but when you win it gives you a little space and you feel pretty good about your chances."
The Royals entered the series with seven wins in eight games. During Saturday's second straight loss, they had just four singles and combined to strike out 15 times.
Kansas City manager Mike Matheny had to admit that Brewers starter Corbin Burnes overmatched his club through his six shutout innings.
"That was pretty good stuff," Matheny said. "He had some deception and hides the ball well. You don't see many guys in the league that can spin the ball three different ways with the slider, the curveball and the cutter and then have the velocity with the fastball."
All-Star catcher Salvador Perez was 1-for-4 and is 16-for-30 (.533) with three homers, five doubles and 10 RBI in seven games since returning from a 3 1/2-week absence due to vision issues.
Royals right-hander Brad Keller (4-2, 2-06 ERA) attempts to follow up a strong outing when he faces Milwaukee.
The 25-year-Keller pitched his first career shutout on Sept. 13 as he limited the Pittsburgh Pirates to five hits. He struck out two and walked one.
The stellar effort followed a three-start winless stretch for Keller, who began the season with three straight wins in which he didn't allow a run in 17 2/3 innings. For his career, Keller is 0-0 in his one scoreless meeting with the Brewers back in 2018.
Right-hander Josh Lindblom (1-3, 5.26 ERA) is slated to return from the bereavement list and start Sunday's game for the Brewers.
Lindblom tossed five shutout innings on Monday during a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals. The 33-year-old gave up three hits and struck out six without issuing a walk. He has never faced the Royals in his career.
--Field Level Media