Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 11/22/11
MILWAUKEE He is the face of the franchise. He is the team's most consistent offensive performer. He's signed to the longest and richest contract in franchise history. And now, Ryan Braun is the National League's Most Valuable Player. Braun was announced as the winner Tuesday afternoon, beating out the Dodgers' Matt Kemp and his own teammate, Prince Fielder. It was a well-deserved honor for a player who has helped put a small-market franchise back on the map and into baseball's postseason twice in four years. But moving forward, Braun may have to shoulder much, much more of the load. For all of Braun's success in 2011 and there was plenty of it he had a lot of help, especially from Fielder, whose big bat and tendency to crush baseballs provided Braun the kind of protection most big league players can only dream of. Though the Brewers have expressed a desire to retain his services, it's expected that Fielder will be playing elsewhere next season. Losing him would be a serious blow to the Brewers' offense, and it might prove to be a big problem for Braun who, for almost all of his major league career, has hit ahead of the powerful first baseman in the lineup. The problem is, there's no way to determine just how much of an impact Fielder's presence has had on Braun's production. The sample size is miniscule. In the past three seasons, Fielder has missed just one game. The bright side is, Braun won't have to be a one-man show. Second baseman Rickie Weeks Is coming off a breakout season and is under contract for several more years. Right fielder Corey Hart is signed long-term, too. There's also hope that third baseman Casey McGehee will return to form in 2012."I believe in the direction of this franchise and where we're headed as a group," Braun said Tuesday after being announced the MVP. Along with continuing to pace the offense, Braun will also need to step up and carry the burden of being a leader in the clubhouse. Fielder carried himself well in that role, but Braun's leadership has always been more understated, to say the least.He has been outspoken and brutally honest, even if it gets him into trouble. Take, for example, his 2009 comments that Brewers GM Doug Melvin needed to find the team some pitching help. Those comments resulted in a sitdown chat with Melvin and a public apology. But still, the pressure falls on Braun to not only maintain his 2011 numbers but possibly impossibly? improve on them if the Brewers are to keep their standing at or near the top of the National League Central. He's the guy with the big contract. He's the guy people are paying to see and whose number is most often found displayed on the backs of fans' T-shirts. Even ownership has high expectations for Braun, evidenced by Mark Attanasio's comment last week that Braun would someday have a statue outside Miller Park, alongside those of Milwaukee greats Robin Yount and Hank Aaron.Braun has never backed down from those comparisons and openly admits that being mentioned in the similar breath as such Hall of Fame players is a goal of his.Getting to that point, though, will require much more than good sound bites and a couple of award-winning seasons. Players like Yount and Aaron delivered on an annual basis over not just years but decades. Yount won two MVP awards seven years apart, and Aaron was in the top 10 for MVP voting 13 times. "It's a process to get there. I think I need to accomplish more to truly be in that conversation," Braun said. To his credit, Braun has never lacked confidence. But regardless of Fielder's future, the pressure is now on the player who is signed through 2020 and, on the bright side, he's never bowed to it. "I've always felt I put far more pressure on myself than anyone else can put on me," Braun said. That could very well change next season.
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