Ryan Braun takes over NL home run lead

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Ryan Braun has, temporarily at least, lost his hold on a starting spot for the National League All-Star team. He does, however, possess the league lead in homers after hitting his 20th today.

He overtook Carlos Beltran, who has been stuck on 19 for a week now.

Braun went 3-for-4 in leading the Brewers to an 8-3 win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday. The homer, off Luis Perez, was his fifth in seven games, and he’s currently riding a 15-game hitting streak.

It seems pretty obvious that Braun’s positive steroid test last winter, even though it was later overturned on appeal, has hurt his popularity. Last year, he was the NL’s leading vote-getter in the All-Star balloting, and he actually has better numbers now than he did at his point in 2011 (though it’s worth noting that his awesome April last year might have stuck better in the voters’ minds then than his down May and June).

Of course, Braun seems awfully likely to start the All-Star Game anyway. First, he’s the obvious choice to DH for the NL if he doesn’t get the lineup spot. Second, he could easily pass Melky Cabrera to reclaim a starting spot in the balloting. Third, he’d likely be moved into the lineup if Matt Kemp, the NL’s current leading vote-getter, isn’t ready to play in the All-Star Game as he recovers from his strained hamstring.

Tigers sign Josh Thole to minors deal

Josh Thole
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The Tigers signed catcher Josh Thole to a minor league deal, per an announcement from the Double-A Erie SeaWolves on Friday. Thole is expected to report to Double-A Erie, where he’ll split time with starting catcher Jake Rogers.

Thole, 31, has not appeared in a major or minor league game since 2016. He signed a minors deal with the Diamondbacks back in 2017, but was sidelined through most of the season after undergoing hamstring surgery in April. He was released by the team during spring training and failed to catch on with another major league club through the first two months of the 2018 season.

While the veteran backstop hasn’t tested his skills in pro ball for several years now, he held his own during a short-lived run with the independent New Britain Bees of the Atlantic League. Over 17 games in 2018, Thole batted .317/.425/.367 with three extra-base hits and a .791 OPS in 75 plate appearances. He’s expected to serve as catching depth within the Tigers’ organization, but may yet work his way back to the majors if he can get his average back over the Mendoza Line again — a feat he hasn’t managed since 2015.