September! When young men’s thoughts turn to the baseball postseason. Ryan Braun, the Jewish Milwaukee Brewers left fielder, went hitless last night in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals: as classic an example of man-bites-dog news as you could find. Braun’s Brewers have been en fuego—21-6 in August—and their excellence, camaraderie, and command of the National League Central garnered them the coveted (if cursed) Sports Illustrated cover story. And Braun? He is as legitimate a Triple Crown contender as you see these days (the last Triple Crown, in which you lead the league in home runs, RBI, and batting average, was won in 1967). Braun’s .331 average is second in the N.L; his 25 homers are only six shy of first-place Albert Pujols’ 31; his 88 RBI are fifth (while teammate Prince Fielder is in second). Braun’s OPS—on-base percentage plus slugging percentage; it’s the sabermetricians’ favorite basic state—is .991, trading places with Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto for tops in the N.L. (If your season OPS is 1 or above, it borders on historic.) And dude’s stolen 30 bases!
Braun and his teammate Fielder (son of the legendary Detroit Tigers slugger Cecil) are seen as top league MVP candidates. Which provides an interesting story-line: Braun was signed to one of those classic team-friendly, Moneyball-esque contracts that keeps him through 2020; Fielder is in the final year of his contract and is expected to test free agency, likely sign with the Phillies, the Red Sox, or the Yankees, and make the Brewers, as the SI article ruefully calls it, “part of baseball’s Northeast feeder program.” (Note to the MLB: Get a freakin’ salary cap.)
But for now, there is a final month and a near-certain postseason. And sure, the small matter of the MVP: Braun would be the first Jew to win one since the southpaw did in 1963.