I think it's fair to say that a lot of the Brewers fanbase has been worried about Ryan Braun for the last few years. Between his suspension for performance enhancing drugs and a thumb injury that killed his talent at the plate, the Brewers right fielder has had a rough go of it as of late.
The most unfortunate thing about that, though, is Braun's contract: Next year will be the start of the 5-year, $105 million extension he signed back when he was still in MVP form. If Braun can't play at All Star levels, though, that contract is not even close to worth it.
The good news, though, is that since off-season cryotherapy on his thumb, Braun has hit much better in 2015 than he had in 2013-14. Overall, he's at a .278/.347/.504 line with 24 home runs and made the All Star team (as an injury replacement). That's not quite to his pre-2013 levels of play, but he's in his 30s now and that line still represents a good year.
Perhaps more importantly for future success: Ryan Braun absolutely crushed the ball in August. Over 26 games, he batted .326/.394/.576 with five home runs. Those numbers are what he put up when he was an MVP.
What's important about that isn't necessarily a certain amount of data in a timeframe. What's important is when that timeframe is. August. Late-season. Braun injured his thumb in early 2013, then took a (longer than normal for him) off-season of rest in hopes that would be enough to be healthy.
In early 2014, that looked like the correct decision. Braun hit for a .952 OPS in April, then a .902 OPS in May. His numbers went down almost every subsequent month and he batted just .240/.282/.413 in August, then .210/.319/.284 in September. His thumb injury flared up early in the season and kept hurting until he just couldn't hit normally.
This past off-season, Braun had a much talked-about cryotherapy procedure and I'm not sure anyone had any idea what to expect. It's not exactly a common thing in baseball, and there was no guarantee it could fix Braun. Early season returns in 2015 were promising, but I cautioned patience before saying he was back to anything resembling his old form.
The fact that Braun is hitting this well late in the season lends a lot of optimism that he'll continue to be around the levels of an All Star hitter in the foreseeable future. That's not a sure thing at all, but those August numbers are no joke, and not something braun could put up if he looked as messed up at the plate as he did late-season last year.
September is going to be an important month for Braun. If he can put up big numbers again in the final month of the year, it seems much safer to say that the thumb is no longer a big worry. If he falters, it's a little less-safe to say that. So far, though, 2015 has provided a healthy dose of optimism for Braun and his future.