The Milwaukee Brewers currently sit 4 games under .500, and have a 19.3% chance of making the postseason, per Baseball Prospectus. I would not say I’ve completely given up on this Brewers season, but I would say that I’ll be rather surprised if they actually make the playoffs, and won’t be incredibly disappointed (because I can see it coming) if they don’t. Though I don’t think this is a mediocre team, so far they’ve had a mediocre season, and unfortunately that doesn’t look likely to turn around anytime soon.
However, in baseball there’s always something to root for. In the case of this Brewers team, it seems obvious to root for Ryan Braun to win a second consecutive MVP award. Nothing is as sweet as a championship, especially for a team like Milwaukee that’s never won one. However, a second MVP for Ryan Braun would come awfully close. First of all, it would further the cause of his vindication, which J.P. wrote about so eloquently for the site earlier this week. Second of all, and perhaps more importantly, it would place Braun among an incredible group of players. Here’s a list of everyone who’s ever won back-to-back MVPs in Major League Baseball:
That’s 12 people, seven of whom are Hall of Famers, and another three of whom will almost certainly be Hall of Famers when eligible. Clearly, this is an elite group of players, and Braun has a shot at joining their ranks. Currently, there are only 3 National Leaguers above +4.0 WAR per FanGraphs: Joey Votto at +4.7, as well as David Wright and Ryan Braun each at +4.3. Given the precision (or lack thereof) of WAR, that’s basically a dead heat amongst the three. Michael Bourn is fourth at +3.7, but, rightly or wrongly, he’s the sort of player who’s highly unlikely to be recognized for his skills by the baseball writers with an MVP. No one else is particularly close to this group, as of now. It is too early to start seriously handicapping this race, and of course all of this can change dramatically over the next three months (Andrew McCutchen or Carlos Beltran would be my dark-horse picks for a late charge), but I think the MVP race is currently a three-way race between Votto, Wright, and Braun.
Of course, although I’m suggesting this as something to root for other than a Brewers’ postseason berth, team success does seem to be a determinant for MVP voting. It is widely (and truthfully) believed that Matt Kemp outperformed Ryan Braun last year, but Braun won the MVP because the Brewers made the postseason. Braun may find himself hoisted by that same petard this year; I suspect if David Wright can sustain a high level of performance and the Mets somehow make the postseason, he should win the MVP handily. If the Mets don’t make it but the Reds do, I feel like the award is Votto’s to lose. However, if neither of those teams make it, I think the race is wide open, as the leading teams in the NL (Nationals, Braves, Dodgers, et al) don’t have any obvious candidates (If Matt Kemp were healthy, he’d be running away with the race, but he’s not). If Votto, Wright, and Braun are all sitting home in October, Braun may end up with an edge because of his lead in counting stats such as HR, RBI, and SB. Of course, there’s no guarantee he will still lead in those numbers (although he probably has steals locked down), but the fact that he already has a seven home run lead over Votto is promising in this regard.
Is Ryan Braun the favorite to win the NL MVP? No, but he’s strongly in the conversation, and has as good of a case as anyone if team strength is disregarded. Were he to win it, it would be a wonderful moment in an otherwise frustrating season for Brewers fans, not only because of his vindication, but because of his elevation to an elite class of players.