Braun's MVP year? Brewers star suggests he was just getting warmed up

NEW YORK -- The prognosticators who suggested Ryan Braun had no chance of winning his big banned-substance arbitration case aren't looking any better with their predictions of a certain on-field demise for Braun.

They figured he wouldn't be able to take the pressure that would come with many, if not most, folks presuming his guilt in the banned-substance case, never mind that he won the case.

They figured he'd wilt with all the boos that were sure to come on the road, never mind that the reaction has been fairly muted with the exception of Atlanta. (Braun's hometown of Los Angeles later this month is expected to be the worst as most Dodgers fans figure Matt Kemp should have won the 2011 MVP.)

They figured he'd wilt with Prince Fielder no longer in the lineup.

And, of course, they figured he wouldn't be able to perform as before without the alleged substances he'd obviously have to do without now.

Well thus far, Braun is having about as a good a year this year as last. With 10 home runs and 21 RBI so far, he's on pace for 45 home runs, 95 RBI and a .305 batting average compared to last year's totals of 33, 111 and .332. His OPS is up slightly, from a league-leading .994 last year to 1.002 this year, which is good for sixth place so far.

As for Braun, well, true to form he figures he was just warming up last year. Ultimately, he suggests he will blow away last year.

"I feel better this year,'' Braun said. "As long as I stay relatively healthy, I'll do better this year than last year. Last year was good. But I could do better.''

Braun isn't anxious to discuss anything to do with failed test or winning case, and that apparently includes the road reactions he's hearing. "It's not bad, it's really not bad,'' he said at one point. Later, he twice answered questions about the response of fans on the road with one word: "irrelevant.'' He's clearly not dwelling on the whole unwanted episode.

No surprise, he didn't want to touch MLB's decision to fire the arbtrator Shyam Das over his decision to clear Braun. "I don't know enough about it,'' Braun said. "Bud (Selig) doesn't consult with me before he makes decisions like that.'' (Ahem, no. No he doesn't.)

As for the preferred subject of baseball, well, it's one thing to hope to repeat an MVP performance. But to predict bettering one's MVP's output, that takes some serious stones.

To beat his numbers is one thing, too, but to win another MVP is yet another, as it takes a team effort he isn't seeing yet. Braun got the nod last year over Kemp because his Brewers won the N.L. Central while Kemp played for an also-ran Dodgers team, an improving also-ran but an also-ran nonetheless.

This year, the story could be reversed. But Braun expressed confidence his Brewers would turn it around after their disappointing 16-20 start.

"I think we will be all right,'' he said. "If guys put up their career numbers, we'll go on a prolonged run of success.''

The issue with the Brewers is, of course, the loss of three players to injury for the season -- shortstop Alex Gonzaalez, first baseman Mat Gamel and starting pitcher Chris Narvesen -- in such short oder they are all wondering whether they broke some kind of record for bad luck. The loss of Gonzalez, who had stabilizied the shortstop position after the upand-down ways of Yuniesky Betancourt, hit especially hard, people in their clubhouse say.

"It's not the way we would have drawn it up,'' Braun said. "But you just move forward.''

That very outlook has worked wonders for him.


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