Brauny, you're doing a heck of a job
Had the Brewers sat in the clubhouse earlier this year and set goals to have a semi-competitive team that would lead the league in blown saves en route to missing the playoffs, I would happily exclaim, "Mission accomplished." We all know that wasnít the mission so I won't make myself look more foolish than usual by claiming it was. I'd rather not have you think I'm a borrowed flight suit away from looking like I had all but lost it, so Iíll leave it alone.
I would guess that, like most professional athletes, 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun set some goals for himself this season. Those goals may have been number-oriented or, after the artificial crap storm Mr. Braun weathered during the past off-season, his goals may have been simply to stay healthy and prove that the haters are just that. I do hope that was his goal. If it were I'd gladly put on that borrowed flight suit and proclaim "Mission accomplished" from the highest of mountaintops.
In 2011 Braun batted .332 (2nd in the NL) with 33 home runs (tied for 6th), 111 RBIs (4th), 33 stolen bases (7th), 187 hits (5th) and a .994 OPS (1st). In 2012 Mr. Braunís average dropped a bit to .319 (3rd) but set a personal best with 41 home runs (1st). He also drove in 112 runs (2nd), stole 30 bases (T9), had 191 hits (2nd) with a .987 OPS (1st) -- all without the $214MM man behind him in the lineup.
If Braun's numbers were good enough to warrant the MVP award in 2011, I certainly believe this year's stats should put him squarely in the MVP conversation again. Iím not going to rhetorically ask why his name hasn't been included in those discussions in 2012, because we know why -- that artificial crap storm I mentioned earlier.
Mr. Braun also never wavered in his belief that the 2012 Brewers were a contender. In August, when asked about the season in a way that implied it was over, Braun stated emphatically, "We are not out of this." At the time, the Crew was about 15 games under .500 and, for the most part, you could find more Cardinals fans who post respectfully on Peace & Glove (1) than you could find people who agreed with Braun.
It turns out No. 8 was correct and, after a 24-6 stretch, the Crew found themselves in the heat of things with 10 games left to play. FYI: The Crew was THE ONLY team to win 24 out of 30 games this year. Don't get me wrong, Iím by no means giving all the credit for the comeback to Mr. Braun. Young pitchers stepped up, Axford pitched like Axford of old, Aramis Ramirez was hot and Norichika Aoki knocked the ball around as well as anyone in the league over the course of a month. But, make no mistake about it: This is Ryan Braun's team.
This is Braun's team in much the same way that the Packers currently belong to Aaron Rodgers. Neither team will win without contributions from role players, but both teams have that one guy who will be his respective team's centerpiece for many years to come. When each team does well, you can be sure it's in large part due to their clear-cut leader and superstar who, more than likely, is leading in ways we as fans donít always see on the field. I believe Braun showed what type of leader he is this season -- one who can take a young, injury-riddled team from dead in the water to being one of the final NL teams eliminated from the post-season.
As many have pointed out in the past, Iím not an actual baseball writer and do not get a vote for league MVP. I hope I don't need to provide further clues as to whom I would vote if I were able, but to be honest I really donít care about Braun winning the award this year. Iím guessing he doesnít either. Going out, day after day, and continuing to perform is the best and only way to prove that he had neither the need nor incentive to even think about using something to enhance his performance.
I'm confident that Mr. Braun will continue to do what heís done since he laced up his first pair of spikes -- be successful on the diamond. I hope that all fans (not just Brewers fans) slowly begin to realize that whatever happened last year was more akin to Elaine's failed drug test due to her love of poppy-seed muffins than any behavior that would have accurately labeled Mr. Braun as a cheater.
Also, in case you missed it, courtesy of the Milwaukee Brewers...