PED Villain Ryan Braun Can Redeem Himself from $105M Bust to Pennant Race Hero

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2018

Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun (8) reacts after hitting a two-run home run against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a baseball game,Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)
David Banks/Associated Press

To say Ryan Braun's career has been defined by ups and downs is an understatement of, well, Braunian proportions.

In 2011, Braun hit his apex. He signed a five-year, $105 million extension with the Milwaukee Brewersthe only big league franchise he'd ever knownin April of that year.

He promptly led the National League with a .994 OPS, swatted 33 home runs and won the NL MVP award.

The following season, Braun again paced the Senior Circuit with a .987 OPS and 41 homers, and finished second in MVP balloting. 

In the process, he cemented his status as an undisputed superstar.

In July 2013, the facade came crashing down. MLB slapped Braun with a season-ending suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Rather than contesting the punishment and insisting upon his innocence like he did after the initial positive test in 2011, Braun issued a contrite statement dripping with guilt.

"As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect," Braun said. "I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions."

In 2014, Braun returned to the Brewers lineup and posted a then-career-low .777 OPS with 19 home runs in 135 games. The question of whether PEDs had amplified his stats was all but settled...and not in his favor. 

More essentially, his place in the baseball hierarchy was drastically redefined. 

In late August, a new book about the PED-connected clinic Biogenesis cast further aspersions on Braun. He went from MVP to pariah, from hero to villain. Forgiveness seemed like a distant, unlikely dream. 

MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 16:  Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers prepares to bat in the fourth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Miller Park on September 16, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

As we enter the stretch run of the 2018 campaign, that dream is attainable.

Since the All-Star break, Braun has raised his average more than 30 points (from .235 to .268) and his OPS nearly 80 points (from .711 to .789). In August, he slashed .299/.349/.494.

Concurrently, the Brewers have remained in the thick of the postseason chase. Milwaukee has a solid hold on the NL's top wild-card spot and a chance to catch the Chicago Cubs for the division crown. 

Braun is no longer the leading man. On Monday, Christian Yelich hit for the cycle for the second time this season. Lorenzo Cain has been a well-rounded addition to the lineup.

Braun, meanwhile, has been reduced to a supporting player in his age-34 season.

That said, the Brewers are on track to ascend the October stage for the first time since 2011 and possibly make noise in the wide-open NL. If Braun's bat heats up, he could club his way to redemption.

Morry Gash/Associated Press

Braun owns a .379 average and 1.060 OPS in 64 playoff plate appearances. Small-sample caveats apply, but he's proved his mettle under the brightest lights. 

Drilling deeper, his .271 batting average on balls in play for 2018 is 56 points behind his career mark of .327, per FanGraphs. His hard-contact rate, on the other hand, is 40.8 percent, right next to a career average of 36.4 percent.

There's rotten luck in the mix. Steroids and age-related regression aside, Braun's numbers should be more impressive. 

Milwaukee hasn't been to the World Series since 1982. It has never hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy. Braun could rewrite his legacy and etch his place in franchise lore. 

"When you're on a small-market team, it's unlikely that you're going to be in this position every year," Braun told reporters. "When you do get opportunities, you have to embrace them and make the most of them because you don't get that opportunity every year."

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

He's right. Opportunities don't come along every year. That's true for postseason sprints and swings at vindication.

Braun will never erase his PED past. He'll always carry the stain. 

But he might engineer a final-act about-face. He can seize it by slugging Milwaukee past Game 162 and turning back the clock on his once-storied career.

It would be intriguing. It would be noteworthy.

And it would be a rewrite of Braunian proportions. 

    

All statistics current entering Tuesday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs

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