Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun slaps hands with teammate Rickie Weeks after hitting a two-run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning of Game 1 of the MLB National League Championship Series baseball playoff game in Milwaukee

Ryan Braun’s return puts Brewers on good footing in NL Central

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In doing the Brewers’ edition of running down the rosters earlier this month, I presented two lineups: one with Ryan Braun and one without him for the 50 games he appeared likely to miss pending the appeal of his PED suspension.

Needless to say, the one with the exonerated 2011 NL MVP looked a whole lot better:

2B Rickie Weeks -R
CF Nyjer Morgan – L
LF Ryan Braun – R
3B Aramis Ramirez – R
RF Corey Hart – R
1B Mat Gamel – L
C Jonathan Lucroy – R
SS Alex Gonzalez – R

Sure, Prince Fielder to Ramirez is quite a downgrade in the cleanup spot, but Ramirez did hit .306/.361/.510 for the Cubs last year, showing he’s still viable there. If Mat Gamel hits, that’s a pretty solid group. And if he doesn’t, there are usually first basemen available cheap as the summer goes on.

Without Braun, the Brewers looked like the NL Central’s third-best team in paper. Sure, the Cardinals lost an even better player than Fielder in Albert Pujols, but they also gained Adam Wainwright and Carlos Beltran. The Reds finished 17 games behind the Brewers last season, but they have the better offense and a pitching staff that should be much improved with Mat Latos in the rotation and Sean Marshall and Ryan Madson finishing games.

Now the NL Central race looks pretty even again. Advanced statistics will say that losing Braun for 50 games shouldn’t have meant more than two or maybe three extra losses in the first two months. However, sometimes there’s just no digging out of that early hole, and with the Brewers already over-budget, there probably aren’t going to be any big summer acquisitions if the team finds itself hovering around .500.

Reid Brignac is trying to become a switch hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Reid Brignac #4 of the Atlanta Braves poses on photo day at Champion Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.

I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.

As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.

There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.

Video: Andrelton Simmons makes a heads-up play to catch Carlos Asuaje off first base

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 03:  Andrelton Simmons #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 3, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons fell off the map a bit last year due to a combination of the Angels’ mediocrity, Simmons’ lack of offense, and a month-plus of missed action due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Simmons is still as good and as smart as ever on defense. That was on full display Monday when the Angels hosted the Padres for an afternoon spring exhibition.

With a runner on first base and nobody out in the top of the second inning, Carlos Asuaje grounded a 2-0 J.C. Ramirez fastball to right field. The runner, Hunter Renfroe, advanced to third base. Meanwhile, Asuaje wandered a little too far off the first base bag. Simmons cut off the throw to first base, spun around and fired to Luis Valbuena at first base. Valbuena swiped the tag on Asuaje for the first out of the inning.