Braun exudes confidence amid team’s woes

MILWAUKEE — If Ryan Braun is anything, it’s confident.

Or is it stubborn? Sometimes its hard to distinguish the two when it comes to the Brewers star left fielder, who, when asked about goals for the remainder of the season, aims pretty high.

“I don’t know if anyone’s ever gone 50-0, but why not be the first?” Braun said Wednesday. “Why not? Who knows? You never know. We just continue to work hard, continue to play hard. Our starting pitching has been great. Offensively, a lot of guys are really swinging the bats well. We’ve played pretty good defense. And the bullpen has been really good over the last couple weeks. So you never know.”

His face indicates that he means every word he says, unaffected by the multitude of signs of Milwaukee waving the white flag — trading Zack Greinke, opting for a more youthful rotation, etc. His eyes are always on the playoffs. They’ve always been like that.

Even in the midst of an 0-for-18 slump — his worst slide of the season before breaking loose in Wednesday’s win over the Reds — Braun’s topic of conversation quickly changed from himself to the Brewers’ outlook. Braun is having one of the best seasons of his career despite Milwaukee’s struggles — a year that arguably beats his 2011 NL MVP season through four and a half months. But even through his undeniable success, he’s been helpless in keeping the Brewers’ playoff hopes alive.

His confidence, it appears, is the best way for him to lead the team through what’s been one of Milwaukee’s most disappointing seasons in recent memory.

“We know we’ve always had the ability; it’s just a matter of execution,” Braun said. “We won a lot of games like this last year. We’d be playing close games, and we’d find a way to get big hits in big situations. Who knows, you know? There’s still probably seven weeks left in the season — a lot of baseball left, you never know what can happen.”

What we do know, however, is that Milwaukee has struggled mightily to live up to the expectations it had before this baseball season, when the Brewers were just a few months removed from an NLCS that very nearly saw them make their first World Series in almost 30 years.

That kind of experience is bound to build confidence. But in 2012, while others have tried and sometimes failed to show their confidence in light of struggles, Braun has been the standard. He says it’s not the overarching expectations of fans and media that have shaken the Brewers’ confidence most but rather the players’ own expectations that have made this season particularly frustrating.

“I think more so than expectations, it’s just that we’re not playing well,” Braun said. “Regardless of anyone else’s expectations, we expected to play well. We haven’t done that, and I think just the way that we lost has been really difficult. Any time you lose, it’s never an enjoyable experience, but to lose a lot of games where we were certainly looking like we were going to win or should’ve won, makes it harder. It really is demoralizing sometimes.”

Even as the Brewers’ bullpen blew its latest game in the opener of the team’s series against Houston on Friday, Braun will keep his eyes on the prize. It’s the only way he knows how to do things.

But 50-0? Isn’t that aiming a bit high?

“You never know,” Braun said with a smile.

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