On Dec. 10, 2011, Ryan Braun looked like a fraud.
Three weeks after being named the National League's Most Valuable Player, ESPN.com's Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn reported that the Milwaukee Brewers' outfielder tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
Braun immediately refuted the results—telling USA Today's Bob Nightengale they were "B.S"—and appealed the 50-game suspension that MLB imposed for the positive test. He was in no danger of losing his MVP honors, however. The Baseball Writers Association of America said it would not strip him of the award.
More than two months later, on Feb. 23, Braun had his suspension overturned by an arbitration panel. As the Associated Press reported, Braun successfully argued that his urine sample was not properly handled before being sent to a Montreal testing lab, thus calling the positive results into question. He was the first baseball player to win an appeal of a drug suspension.
Despite the acquittal, Braun wasn't completely cleared of suspicion.
His drug sample did test positive for testosterone, but was that because of how the sample was handled between the time it was taken and sent to a lab for examination? Was the sample tampered with, as Braun himself suggested during a news conference?
Would Braun be viewed as an elite player after this? How would his achievements be viewed in the light of this drug-testing controversy?
Earlier this season, it appeared that the accusations and fight to clear his name may have taken a toll. By mid-April, an 0-for-17 slump had knocked Braun down to a .245/.316/.388 triple-slash average. Those weren't the numbers we were accustomed to seeing from him.
Did that prove he was a product of PEDs?
Yet Braun finished April off strongly, ultimately compiling a .294/.347/.647 average with seven home runs and 17 RBI. Since that first month of the season, he's been a model of offensive consistency. From May through July, Braun batted .314 with a .985 OPS. He totaled 21 home runs and 53 RBI.
In August, Braun has been just as productive. As of Aug. 31, he has a .317/.374/.663 average with 10 doubles, eight homers and 22 RBI.
With one month to go in the season, Braun leads the NL with 36 homers and 92 RBI in 537 plate appearances. His .311 batting average ranks fifth in the league, while his .389 on-base percentage places him sixth. With a .611 slugging percentage and .999 OPS, Braun tops all NL hitters.
For the second consecutive season, Braun has put together an MVP-caliber performance. Yet as we head down the stretch, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen and San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey appear to be the favorites for the award. Does Braun have a chance at winning the award two years in a row?
The performance of the Brewers doesn't help his case. With a 62-68 record, Milwaukee holds fourth place in the NL Central, 17 games behind the Cincinnati Reds. The team is also 8.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for a wild card playoff spot.
Milwaukee's first-place finish last year is what arguably gave Braun the edge over the Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Kemp in NL MVP voting last year. So if the Brewers aren't in the playoff race, it's unlikely Braun will win the award, no matter how impressive his numbers are.
Would Braun get enough support from MVP voters anyway? After feeling duped once Braun tested positive for PEDs—even if the suspension was overturned—those who have a vote on the award might hold a grudge against him this time around.
Between possible voter prejudice, the Brewers' fourth-place record and Braun seemingly keeping a low profile after his offseason controversy, he's having one of the quietest great seasons in recent memory.
However, if Braun's ultimate goal for the season was to redeem himself, he's accomplished that objective. He's already surpassed his home run total from last year and he has a shot at matching his 2011 RBI numbers as well.
Presumably, Braun has been tested for PEDs during the season. Obviously, he hasn't drawn a positive result.
Braun might also be redeemed by the recent drug suspensions of Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon. Both players tested positive for testosterone yet neither could successfully appeal those results. (Cabrera even went to the trouble of attempting to create a fake website in order to dupe MLB, as the New York Daily News reported.)
Those scandals might remind people of Braun's positive test from seven months ago, but he managed to absolve himself and didn't miss any games. Cabrera and Colon could end up costing their teams playoff bids. Who ends up looking worse?
Besides demonstrating that his numbers aren't a product of performance-enhancing substances, Braun could also console himself by spoiling the playoff chances of a few postseason contenders.
The Brewers have six games remaining against the Pirates, three versus the Cardinals, four against the Washington Nationals and three versus the Reds. He could do a lot of damage against the playoff field. To him, perhaps that could feel like redemption as well.
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