Ryan Braun might be the most scrutinized player in baseball at the moment, and the best way he knows to silence his critics is to continue producing.
After his big day helped the Milwaukee Brewers earn another victory, Braun looks to stay hot in Sunday’s series finale against the host Pittsburgh Pirates.
Braun vehemently denied using performance-enhancing drugs during his 2011 MVP season in a finger-pointing speech, then later admitted to lying after being served with a 65-game suspension that ended his 2013 campaign in August.
Though he’s been apologetic, he’s also been ridiculed for his transgression. Braun hasn’t seem fazed, though, batting .367 with five homers and 13 RBIs while hitting safely in 11 of his last 12.
He went 3 for 5 in Saturday’s 8-7 win over Pittsburgh, hitting a solo homer in the seventh and a two-run shot with two outs in the ninth and the Brewers trailing by a run.
"The booing is just part of the territory and I take it as a challenge instead of personally," Braun said. "If I make an out, it’s going to make them (cheer) but if I get a hit then it’s going to give me a good feeling. I’d rather feel good."
Braun’s performance to date has helped Milwaukee (13-5) surge to the best record in the majors. He also scored four times Saturday and is hitting .355 with 11 extra-base hits in his last 15 against the Pirates.
Brewers starters entered their last contest with a 2.48 ERA, though Matt Garza struggled and gave up six runs in five innings. Marco Estrada will take the mound Sunday looking to improve on his latest effort.
Estrada (1-1, 3.06 ERA) allowed three runs and five hits in six innings of a 6-1 loss to St. Louis on Tuesday, struggling with his command at times. He hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and also issued a walk that allowed the Cardinals to score on an RBI double in the third.
"It was a grind, a mental battle with myself," Estrada said. "It was more trying to get through my delivery. My mechanics were off, and I kept thinking about it."
The right-hander has been stellar against the Pirates, though, going 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA in eight starts. He’s pitched seven innings five times and allowed fewer than three runs in six outings.
Estrada again will look to slow down a Pittsburgh team that has dropped five of the six meetings with the Brewers. Ike Davis, acquired from the New York Mets for a minor-league pitcher Friday, went 2 for 3 with a double in his debut for the Pirates (8-10).
"We’re playing pretty much without a safety net now," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It’s another one-run game and those are decided by execution, and we just have to keep playing and keep battling."
Pittsburgh will look to bounce back with help from Gerrit Cole, who had his winning streak snapped in his latest start.
Cole (2-1, 4.74) had a rough outing Tuesday, giving up five runs and nine hits – including a pair of homers – while walking three in six innings of a 7-5 loss to Cincinnati. He had won his previous six starts with a 2.08 ERA.
"A very frustrating game," Cole said. "I was getting balls up most of the game, really flirting with it, not being able to put guys away with two strikes. Everything was kind of wishy-washy over the plate."
The right-hander has been up and down against the Brewers as well, going 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA in three starts. Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura both have gone 4 for 9 off Cole.