Braun cognizant of battle for NL batting title
Slugger keeping track of Reyes as season winds down
CHICAGO -- The Brewers are fighting for more than the National League Central title with six games remaining.
Left fielder Ryan Braun went 0-for-4 in Wednesday's loss to the Cubs to slip back below the Mets' Jose Reyes in the race for the NL batting title. Braun's average dropped to .330, one point behind Reyes, whose club was scheduled to play in St. Louis later in the day.
While some players are reluctant to admit they're eyeing the elusive crown, Braun surely isn't one of them.
"I'm paying attention to it," Braun said. "I'm not going to pretend like I'm not. During an at-bat, throughout the course of the game, it's pretty easy to not pay attention to it, because obviously we're playing for a lot more as a team. ... But at the end of the day, I'm looking at where [Reyes] is at."
Over his next three games, Braun will face Marlins pitchers Chris Volstad, Alex Sanabia and Ricky Nolasco. Lifetime, he's .222 (2-for-9) against both Volstad and Nolasco, and he's never faced Sanabia.
Including Wednesday night, Reyes faced matchups with St. Louis' Jake Westbrook and Philadelphia's Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. As impressive as that list sounds, for his career, Reyes entered the stretch a combined .378 (28-for-74) off the quartet, which features three Cy Young Awards, a World Series MVP Award and 14 All-Star appearances.
Should Braun find himself with an edge over Reyes after the Brewers clinch, manager Ron Roenicke expressed an open mind about resting players to preserve statistical milestones.
"You always try to do things for the players," Roenicke said. "These guys bust their butts all year, and if you come down to the end and [a game] doesn't mean anything one way or the other, you take care of the players. They deserve me to stand behind whatever they want to do. Some guys, it's 'I'm playing.' Other guys say, 'I'm fine if you get me a couple of at-bats and get me out of there.'"
That decision, however, is still a few games away. Still, the title of batting champion would be an unparalleled honor for the 27-year-old in his fifth season in the Majors.
"It would be special," Braun said. "I think probably the coolest thing you can win as a hitter is the batting title. It would definitely mean a lot. I think for all of us, we strive for consistency throughout the season. I don't think it's possible to win an award like that without being pretty consistent."
Brewers' Hairston handles slumps in stride
CHICAGO -- As Jerry Hairston Jr. will tell you, slumps are what you make of them.
When Hairston made his first start of the season at shortstop Monday night, he was riding an 0-for-18 streak at the plate. But the new position netted a homer in his first at-bat.
"I don't care what the numbers say, I don't really think about stuff like that," Hairston said. "When somebody brought [the slump] up to me, I was kind of unaware of it. I'm glad that I was where I was at, because that means I was going to break out soon.
"I think Barry Bonds said it best. He was always more worried if he was 15-for-20 than if he was 0-for-20, because you're not going to go 15-for-20 all the time. I've always felt comfortable at the plate."
Spelling Yuniesky Betancourt, the veteran utility man made his first appearance at shortstop since the Brewers acquired him just before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"I came up as a shortstop, so that's really more of my natural position," Hairston said. "I feel very comfortable there. Short and second, it's basically the same thing, just a longer throw from short.
"I've been moving around for so long, so I'm basically used to it. It doesn't matter where I play. Everybody is making a big deal about shortstop, but actually, third base is the hardest position to play in the infield."
Brewers' bullpen thriving at right time
CHICAGO -- If there was ever a time for the Brewers' bullpen to be clicking, it would be now.
Over their past 18 games, the relievers have posted an 0.90 ERA (five earned runs over 50 innings). The 'pen hasn't allowed an earned run in 21 of its past 22 innings.
"I think good pitching is contagious, just like good hitting is contagious," LaTroy Hawkins said. "Everything is contagious in baseball. We are just trying to go out there and do our job. We're called upon to throw strikes, minimize walks and go from there."
Hawkins has pulled his weight for the 'pen this season, registering a 2.54 ERA in 49 relief appearances. He had a stretch of 22 games without allowing an earned run that spanned from April to July.
"We've been in a rhythm for a while," Hawkins said. "We just hope to continue doing what we've been doing to be successful. If we do that, we should be all right."
Sam Zuba is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.