Three weeks remain in the regular season, but it might seem like an eternity to Major League Baseball, with the prospect of a batting title and MVP award being clouded by doping controversies.
Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, the first player known to successfully appeal a positive drug test, is emerging as a strong candidate for National League MVP, leading the NL with a career-high 38 homers along with a .313 average and 100 RBI entering Monday.
It's likely the San Francisco Giants' Melky Cabrera will win the NL batting title while serving a 50-game suspension for a positive testosterone test. Cabrera, who will finish at .346, entered Monday five points ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates'Andrew McCutchen.
As McCutchen's Pirates slip from contention, Braun's chances of a second consecutive MVP grow, with perhaps Giants catcher Buster Posey his prime competition. Braun denies his achievements should be lumped with Cabrera's.
"People are going to form whatever opinions they have,â??â?? Braun told USA TODAY Sports, "and I couldn't care less what they are. There are obviously significant differences. People forget, I didn't do it. I was exonerated. I was exonerated because I didn't do it."
Cabrera dropped his appeal and was suspended Aug. 15. Braun won his appeal of an October 2011 positive test for testosterone. MLB insists that was because of a chain-of-custody issue regarding Braun's sample, but Braun says he simply didn't use testosterone.
"I haven't gotten any bigger, faster or stronger," he says. "Really, my performance hasn't changed."â??
In a survey of NL MVP voters, Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles was the only one who said he might weight Braun's situation in his balloting, saying in an e-mail, "Even if there is only the perception that he has used illicit means to reach his level of play, in this era, we have to use all of the evidence afforded us."
Others, such as Hall of Fame honoree Tracy Ringolsby, won't consider his test result. "Braun," Ringolsby says, "has proven his ability without any cloud. I would consider him without reservations."
Braun,who won the NL MVP last year a month before ESPN revealed that he failed a drug test during the postseason, believes the Brewers' NL Central title gave him the advantage over Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp for the award. Kemp had slightly better offensive numbers, but the Dodgers failed to make the playoffs.
This year, the Brewers remain long shots to reach a playoff berth this year. Catchers Posey and Yadier Molina of the wild-card leading St. Louis Cardinals are expected to receive serious consideration, as well as outfielders Matt Holliday of the Cardinals and Jay Bruce of the Cincinnati Reds.
"I try not to pay too much attention to handicapping it," Braun says, "but Yadi has got to be in it. I feel like Yadi literally influences the game more than any position player I play against."
Yet, if the Cardinals don't reach the postseason, Molina's support may wane, as well.
"It's a difficult vote because there's no specific criteria," Braun says. "How do you define that vote? Is it the best player? Is it the best player on the best team? What exactly is it? So it leaves it open to interpretation.
"I just think that teams that are in the pennant race, and ultimately go to the postseason, those guys deserve extra credit.
"I said that last year, and I'm saying that this year. I'll always believe that."