In accordance with team tradition, every time a Milwaukee Brewers hitter crashes a home run at Miller Park, team mascot Bernie Brewer slips down his slide into a mug of beer.
After the first four games of the 2019 season, Bernie is already drenched and he has reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich to thank for the multiple baths.
Yelich is off to an amazing start for the Brewers, who came within one game of making it to the World Series last season. He hit a home run in each of the team’s opening-series games against the St. Louis Cardinals and then topped it off Sunday by driving home the tying and winning runs in the ninth inning of their 5-4 victory.
“He’s on another planet, man,” Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff said over the weekend. “He’s so special. Just watching him, he’s so balanced. He’s not fooled that much. He’s on time with pretty much everything. It’s pretty cool to watch.”
Yelich tied the major-league record by becoming the sixth player to hit a homer in each of his team’s first four games. The other five are Willie Mays (1971), Mark McGwire (1998), Nelson Cruz (2011), Chris Davis (2013) and Trevor Story (2016). But he is the first reigning MVP to do so.
“I don’t know, honestly,” Yelich said. “I’m just trying to stay within an approach. “I’m really just trying to be present in the day, no matter if it goes good or bad the night before. Just reset and stay disciplined with your cage work with your team during [batting practice]. Just focus on each day as its own solo [thing], I guess you could say. Don’t get hung up on the past or the future.”
His OPS through the first weekend is 2.250, which you’d think gives him the early clubhouse lead to defending his MVP title.
Since last season’s All-Star break, his slash line is .373/.462/.806 with 29 homers and 75 RBIs. The slugging percentage is more than 100 points higher than any other player with at least 100 at-bats over the same timeframe.
“I’ve never seen anyone this good at baseball for this long,” Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said after Sunday’s game. “I mean, maybe [Barry] Bonds in his prime. As great as [Mike] Trout is. I’ve seen [Albert] Pujols. … I think everybody should take the time to appreciate it, because what we’re witnessing is greatness. If you go back, we’re looking at a pretty large sample size. Even his outs are on the barrel. He’s obviously not getting many pitches to hit. It’s incredible. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to be a part of, and it’s so special.”
Yelich, who hit .442 in spring training, reached base 12 times in 18 plate appearances over the weekend with four homers, a double and six walks. He is now hitting .500 with four homers and eight RBIs. He hit a career-high 36 homers last season.
“I’d say nuisance is being kind,” Cardinals manager Shildt said. “He had a really good series. A good player. We have to figure out a way to combat what he’s doing because he’s clearly more than a thorn in our side.”
Sunday’s home run came on the first swing of his first at-bat on a fastball that rode high out of the strike zone. Our baseball geek buddy Statcast, which figures out launch angle and exit velocity, said the ball was nearly four feet off the ground. That would make it the highest ball Yelich has golfed for a homer since the tracking system rolled off the assembly line four years ago.
“It was definitely a cool series. It was a big series for us,” said Yelich after the Brewers won three of four. “They’re a great team. They played us really well. Those games were tight. You had to execute to win them. Our division is such a good division. I’ve got a feeling it’s coming down to the last game or two, like it did last year.”
Oh, by the way, Yelich has now homered in five consecutive games against the Cardinals, making him the seventh player in history to do so. Jeff Bagwell did it during in the month of July during the 2000 season. Hank Aaron also did it in 1972.
At this point you have to figure the Miami Marlins must be pretty peeved they dealt him to Brewers before last season as part of their cleansing program.
“If you get to understand and to know [Yelich], he’s very competitive,” Brewers manager Counsell said. “It doesn’t come across right away, because there is a lot of humility there and he’s not outspoken about things, generally. But he’s very competitive. I think he’s taken this all as a challenge and used it to his advantage.”