What if the Milwaukee Brewers make the playoffs?
It’s a scenario that directly affects about zero percent of the Binghamton population, considering I have not met a single fan of the Brew Crew in my time here. But, indirectly, it affects any baseball fan.
If the Brewers stay hot and earn one of the National League’s two wild cards, Ryan Braun has to be the league’s MVP — unless he loses an arm or a leg between now and Oct. 3. In any prior year, that statement would stand as indisputable fact among baseball fans.
But this year is different.
Braun, who collected the NL MVP award last year, tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in December. His drug test came in so positive that one source close to the situation told the New York Daily News it was “twice the level of the highest test ever taken.” But Braun appealed, winning on a technicality and avoided a 50-game suspension.
Those 50 games that Braun would have missed have helped him accumulate eye-popping statistics. Through Thursday night’s win over Pittsburgh, the left fielder’s .311 batting average complemented his 40 home runs and 105 RBI. His 7.5 Wins Above Replacement top the NL.
But perhaps even more compelling and pertinent to MVP talk, the Brewers were 54-66 and 12.5 games out of the wild card on Aug. 20. Then Braun hit .345 with seven home runs and 21 RBI over the next 29 games. The Brewers, not coincidentally, won 23 of those contests to pull within 2.5 games of the second wild card.
Leading a playoff-bound team is one of the most important criterion for an MVP, and even though Braun’s numbers are better than any of his NL contemporaries, he won’t get a sniff of a vote if he’s relegated to his couch during the postseason. The reason is simple: baseball purists and other voters do not — absolutely do not — want to hand Braun the award after he tested positive for a PED. They point to the high level and say he got off on a technicality because of someone else’s negligence.
Whether or not Braun took a PED is irrelevant at this point, though. We’re not enshrining him in Cooperstown at the moment. When he appears on the Hall of Fame ballot, there will be a whole other discussion. But right now, we need to focus and look at Braun’s 2012 campaign in its own prism.
And in that prism, no one is currently more deserving of the award. Andrew McCutchen’s torrid start to 2012 lifted the Pittsburgh Pirates to relevancy, but he has cooled off considerably since holding a .368 average on July 29. In 47 games since then, he is hitting .280 with eight homers and 26 RBI. The Pirates have gone just 16-33 during that stretch, falling to 5.5 games out of the playoffs. Oh, and Braun’s Brewers completed a three-game sweep of McCutchen’s Pirates on Thursday night.
Then there’s Buster Posey, whose San Francisco Giants lead the NL West by 9.5 games, pending the outcome of Thursday’s Los Angeles Dodgers tilt with the Washington Nationals. Posey caught fire in the second half, helping the Giants compensate for the loss of Melky Cabrera and separate themselves in the division. But the Giants are built to make the playoffs, while the Brewers, who lost Prince Fielder in the offseason and Zack Greinke in a midseason trade, are not. Braun made up for the losses.
In all honesty, Posey will probably be the NL MVP, whether or not the Brewers reach the postseason. But I’m rooting for Milwaukee to make it. I want to see how the writers vote because of the implications on future votes regarding alleged steroid users.
Deep down, I want Ryan Braun for NL MVP.