After winning the National League Central Division title in 2011, it shouldn't come as a great surprise that the Milwaukee Brewers are in the playoff hunt this September. It shouldn't come as a surprise, but it is.
With their win today against the Atlanta Braves, the Brewers' record is above .500 for the first time since April 12th when they were 4-3. It took them almost five months to achieve an above .500 record and after a sweep of the Braves this week, the Brewers' record for 2012 stands at 72-71. The Brewers have now won 15 of their last 20 games and are trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by only three games for the second NL Wild Card. Let the games begin.
The Brewers were overcome in 2011 by a surging and inspired Cardinals team in the NLCS, and this year the race to the finish promises to be equally enticing. The Brewers have a chance to turn the tables on the Cardinals, which makes this September especially intriguing.
If the Brewers do win the race for a wild-card spot, Ryan Braun should win the 2012 National League MVP award. Many will recall that last year Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp were in a tight race toward the end of the season for the 2011 NL MVP, with Braun getting the final nod by voters likely because the Brewers made the playoffs while the Los Angeles Dodgers did not. As it has been widely reported, Matt Kemp had an amazing season in 2011 and should be proud of his efforts. But, it's understandable that a player should be considered "more valuable" to their team if the result of their contributions yields a playoff appearance.
Prior to this season, there were a lot of theories flying around that Ryan Braun would struggle in 2012 because Prince Fielder had departed to sign a hefty, long-term contract with the Detroit Tigers. The belief was that Braun had benefited from batting in front of Prince Fielder because pitchers were less likely to walk him with Prince due up next. Many believe this reality led to Braun seeing more quality pitches.
This past offseason, the Brewers signed longtime Chicago Cub Aramis Ramirez to help mitigate the risk of Prince's departure. However, at 34 years old, it was believed that Ramirez wouldn't afford the same level of protection as Fielder.
Fast forward to September 2012. Looking at Ryan Braun's numbers thus far in 2012, it's clear that Prince Fielder's absence has had little to no effect on Braun's offensive production. As of September 12, 2012, Ryan Braun has the following stats: 38 home runs, 100 RBIs, 93 runs, 163 hits, .309 BA, .595 SLG, .980 OPS.
That's good for the following rankings in the National League: 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 2nd, and 1st. With just over 20 games left to play, there are a few other players currently mentioned in the NL MVP discussion, and it's instructive to compare their numbers to those of Ryan Braun. The players most often cited in the MVP race along with Ryan Braun are Matt Holliday, Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey. A comparison of the how the four players' main offensive statistics rank in the National League thus far in 2012 is listed below:
With an average ranking of three across these seven categories, Ryan Braun is clearly the leader in this group of candidates. Interestingly enough, Braun's next two closest competitors, McCutchen and Holliday, play for teams also vying for the second wild-card playoff spot in the National League.
As the race for that final playoff spot heats up, there may be a lot more on the line than previously considered. If the Pirates, Cardinals or Brewers win that last spot in the playoffs, they might simultaneously clinch the MVP award for one of their teammates. Despite the fact that Braun is best positioned to win the NL MVP award at this point in September, he could feel the flip side of the coin that he experienced in 2011. If the Brewers don't reach the playoffs, Braun will likely not receive the NL MVP—no matter his final 2012 numbers.