The Brewers will open the season against the Cardinals on April 6 in front of a full house at Miller Park, and it will be the first rematch of a memorable 2011 National League Championship Series. Though there will be a lot of missing faces that day -- no Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa or Prince Fielder -- Ryan Braun will not be one of them.
Now that Braun has successfully appealed a suspected violation of MLB's Drug Treatment and Prevention Program, he avoids a 50-game suspension and will be eligible to make that Opening Day start in left field. What does the arbitrator's decision mean to Major League Baseball? Here is a look at some of the ramifications:
Milwaukee will contend again. After winning its first division title since 1982 last season, there is now a real possibility of repeating as NL Central champion. Last season, the Cardinals and Brewers were the NL's top two clubs in team OPS. Fielder has gone to the Tigers via free agency, but the Cardinals' loss of Pujols to the Angels is at least as great of a loss, and it's anyone's guess how St. Louis will respond to new manager Mike Matheny.
The Brewers have a strong rotation and an elite closer in John Axford, and now a major question on offense and defense just disappeared. Aramis Ramirez hit .306 with 26 homers and 93 RBIs for the Cubs, and he brings an .871 OPS from 2011 to help offset the .981 posted last year by Fielder. Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks each hit at least 20 homers last season. The best Nos. 1-through-5 lineup projection right now is Weeks, Nyjer Morgan, Braun, Ramirez and Hart.
It's OK to draft Braun. Attention, fantasy owners: The MLB.com 2012 Player Preview rankings just bumped him up to No. 5 overall from No. 38. Essentially he went from a possible third- or fourth-round gamble to a first-round lock, and a case could be made for taking him with the first overall draft pick.
Projection: .313 average, 102 runs, 33 homers, 105 RBIs, 25 steals, .939 OPS.
He'll be back on the ballot. In about two months, fans everywhere will be voting on the position players for the 83rd All-Star Game on July 10 in Kansas City. It would have been up to the Brewers whether to have him placed on the ballot among NL outfielders had the 50-game suspension been served, so now there is no issue.
Last year, Braun established an NL record with 5,928,004 votes. Although he was unable to play last year at Phoenix due to a lingering calf injury, Braun will be looking to earn his fifth consecutive All-Star starting nod from fans. That whopping vote total last season meant he commanded respect throughout the game, and only time will tell whether the court of public opinion will look past the latest matter.
Memorabilia and No. 8 jerseys go on. "With Ryan Braun's exoneration yesterday, we have not seen an uptick in sales as this is the slowest time for baseball sales," said Scott Louden, e-commerce assistant for Dreams, Inc., the group that includes MLB.com Shop vendor Mounted Memories, which sells such items as signed Braun baseballs and photos. "If the suspension was upheld and his NL MVP title was stripped from him, we would have had to take down our National League 2011 MVP items. These signed baseballs and photos would have been worthless and we would have had to eat the cost of getting them. We will see an uptick in sales once the season starts and continue to see the growth of Ryan Braun's signed memorabilia."
Last March, MLB announced the 20 best-selling jerseys of 2010, and Braun's was No. 14 on the list. When asked about that ranking, he said then:
"I appreciate everybody's support. I hope I'm able to make everybody who wears my jersey proud, and make them look good. I continue to go out there and work hard. I know I'm going to continue to get better as a player and hopefully people will continue to support not only me, but the entire Milwaukee Brewers organization."
Tony Plush has a permanent home again. The question of who will handle the outfield duties in Milwaukee has been answered. Had Braun been suspended, a combination of Morgan, Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki would have shared duties in center and left. Now that Braun is back in left, and with Hart the regular in right, it's Morgan and his alter ego, Tony Plush, back in the familiar role in 2012.
Repeating as MVP. If Braun repeats as the NL MVP Award winner, it would mark the first time Milwaukee has had winners in consecutive years since Rollie Fingers won the American League MVP Award in 1981 and Robin Yount won it the following year. No single Brewers player has won it back-to-back. Braun will be in position to make such a run.
People will be talking. You don't have to look much further than the number of comments -- more than 5,000 as of Saturday -- on Adam McCalvy's MLB.com news story about the successful appeal to see the clear divide in fan opinion. Many will embrace his return and many have less-hospitable views.
In a long list of thanks within his statement after the successful appeal, Braun included "our great fans in Milwaukee and around the country who stuck by me and did not rush to judgment." How will those "around the country" treat him at the ballpark? Only time will tell whether Braun's strong popularity throughout the Majors will persist in 2012 -- or whether he will get an earful wherever he goes. Fans and media have been slow to forgive any players who have come under the cloud of suspicion over use of PEDs -- proof or lack thereof.