Ryan Braun makes history by joining 40/30 club

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The Brewers lost 7-6 to the Astros last night and now sit five games behind the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot with five games left to play. While the Brewers’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, Ryan Braun is busy making history.

Braun doubled in the sixth inning last night before stealing third base. He now has 30 stolen bases on the year to go along with a career-high 41 home runs. This is just the 11th time in MLB history that a player has amassed at least 40 homers and 30 stolen bases in one season.

Here are the others:

2006: Alfonso Soriano – 46 home runs and 41 stolen bases

1999: Jeff Bagwell – 42 home runs and 32 stolen bases

1998: Alex Rodriguez – 42 home runs and 46 stolen bases

1997: Barry Bonds – 40 home runs and 37 stolen bases

1997: Larry Walker – 49 home runs and 33 stolen bases

1997: Jeff Bagwell – 43 home runs and 31 stolen bases

1996: Barry Bonds – 42 home runs and 40 stolen bases

1996: Ellis Burks – 40 home runs and 32 stolen bases

1988: Jose Canseco – 42 home runs and 40 stolen bases

1963: Hank Aaron – 44 home runs and 31 stolen bases

Braun won the National League MVP award last season by hitting .332/.397/.597 with 33 home runs, 111 RBI, 33 stolen bases and a .994 OPS. He has a strong case for the award again this year on pure numbers alone, delivering a .319/.391/.602 batting line to go along with a .993 OPS. His 41 homers and 112 RBI currently lead the National League. Of course, the chances of a repeat are likely pretty slim. The Brewers are almost certainly going to miss the postseason and we’ll probably see quite a few voters dock him for his overturned PED test. Not saying it’s fair, as he should be assessed on his 2012 contributions alone and not the controversy that followed him into spring training, but that’s the reality of the situation.

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.