Ryan Braun deserves the National League MVP just as much as anyone—he's just not going to win it.
I've defended Braun since the news of his positive drug test was leaked, and even more so when his 50-game suspension was lifted on a technicality. The siege of scrutiny he was under in the early part of the season was understandable, but was it really warranted?
I get it. He tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. And maybe he really did take a banned substance, accidental or not. But that information isn't supposed to be released until the appeals process is complete. Braun was judged by legal authorities to not be guilty. Unfortunately, we live in a world where you're guilty until proven innocent, whether we like it or not.
If the test results hadn't been reported via ESPN, Braun would likely be the front runner for the NL MVP—even with knowledge of the positive test, he very well could be the front runner.
So yes, Braun is in fact in the midst of the MVP race, and I think just about everybody would agree. Let's take a look at why this is the case.
First off, let's compare Braun's 2011 MVP numbers with 14 games remaining to right now. Last year, Braun was hitting .329 with a .977 OPS, had 28 home runs and 97 RBI, not to mention 33 stolen bases.
This year? A .313 AVG, a .987 OPS, 40 HR, 104 RBI and 27 SB. His numbers are arguably better overall, and he is making a bid to become the 11th player in MLB history to have 40 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same season.
Not too shabby.
It would have been easy to dismiss Braun as a legitimate MVP candidate about a month ago. With the Milwaukee Brewers seemingly out of playoff contention, the excuse that Braun's team missed the postseason could have been used. Fair, whether or not you agree with such a premise.
But now, the Brewers are right in the thick of the wild card race, standing only 2.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. Even if the Brewers miss out on October baseball, the fact that Braun led the Brewers on one of the more remarkable comebacks in MLB history should be duly noted.
Okay. We've looked at Braun's numbers and his team's success, which are two of the most important criteria, but there are others deserving of the award. One of them plays catcher for the San Francisco Giants.
His name is Buster Posey, his numbers are also staggering (.334 AVG, 22 HR, 94 RBI), and his team is all but locked into the playoffs.
There are also other circumstances that need to be accounted for with Posey. Remember this gruesome injury he suffered last season? I wouldn't recommend watching it, first of all, but could anyone have imagined Posey would put up these kind of numbers following such a devastating injury?
Not to mention Posey is a catcher, so to get behind the plate and squat for nine innings more than 100 times in a season isn't exactly a cakewalk, coming off injury or not.
It has also been Posey's second half surge that's bolstered his MVP case. Since the All-Star break, he has raised his average 45 points and boosted his OPS a ridiculous 131 points to help vault his Giants past the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
When handicapping the NL MVP race, it comes down to Braun and Posey. Prior to the recent Pittsburgh Pirates collapse—and a collapse of his own—Andrew McCutchen was front and center in the MVP discussion. On Aug. 1, McCutchen had a ridiculous 1.064 OPS (it had been as high as 1.083), a .373 average, 22 HR and 66 RBI.
Since the beginning of August, McCutchen's OPS has dropped 86 points and he is no longer in position to win the batting title. And since Aug. 1, the Pirates have gone 14-30 and shown no signs of snapping out of this disastrous funk.
So we've given Braun and his biggest competitors their due diligence statistically and through team success, and aren't those the two most important factors in determining the MVP?
Normally, yes. But let's not kid ourselves—the 2012 NL MVP race is a totally different animal.
We all know why. It circles back to the breaking news that rocked Milwaukee and the baseball world on Dec. 12. Forget that Braun got off "on a technicality" on Feb. 23, over two months after the leak—and roughly four months after the actual positive test. The damage was done.
Expectations heading into the 2012 season were that Braun would falter under the chorus of boos and the pressure of producing at the same level, never mind the fact that Prince Fielder was no longer protecting him in the lineup.
Who will win the NL MVP Award?
Turns out that Braun flipped all of that negative energy into positive energy. He set a personal record for home runs in a single season despite being "clean"—despite missing a fair amount of time due to nagging injuries.
What voters should really be looking at is how amazing that is! Braun is clean by all accounts—maybe he always was, but neither side of that argument has enough juice, no pun intended. His performance hasn't dipped at all. And by the way, isn't this award judging the most valuable player of the 2012 season? Last time I checked, Braun's positive test came in 2011, and we aren't nominating him for the Hall of Fame.
I know a lot of baseball writers will view Braun in this way. But I also know a lot of them won't, and that is the biggest reason why Ryan Braun won't be voted the NL MVP. I wouldn't be surprised if the trophy was already sitting at Buster Posey's front door.
Am I discounting what Posey has done this season? Absolutely not. In fact, even as a Brewers fan, I believe the circumstances surrounding Posey and his outstanding season are enough basis for him to take home the hardware over Braun.
Besides, as everything stands now, the Giants are in the playoffs, and the Brewers aren't. Wasn't that the basis for Braun winning the MVP last season over Matt Kemp?
Everyone loves a good story, and in this case, it's Ryan Braun's name being thrown into the hat along with the cloud of negativity surrounding his name. But the possibility of Braun taking home back-to-back MVP's is similar to the likelihood of the Brewers reaching the playoffs.
Doubtful, but possible.