Braun saw the close race coming. On the final day of the season, while the Rockies were still neck-and-neck with the San Diego Padres for the NL Wild Card, he made a prediction.
"If they win," Braun said, referring to Tulowitzki's Colorado club, "then he'll win."
But Braun's offensive numbers proved too compelling. He batted .324 and led NL rookies with 34 home runs and a .634 slugging percentage, breaking the Major League rookie record set by Mark McGwire, who slugged .618 for Oakland in 1987. Braun drove in 97 runs and stole 15 bases.
He ranked in the top four among NL rookies in average, slugging percentage, extra-base hits, RBIs, runs, total bases, triples, multi-hit games, hits, batting average, stolen bases and on-base percentage.
Imagine if Braun had played a full season.
Instead, Braun didn't make his big league debut until May 25, when he was promoted from Triple-A Nashville to spark a Brewers offense that was slumping on a West Coast road trip. He played in 113 games and made 112 starts at third base.
"The impact he had on the offensive side of things in a short amount of time, I hadn't seen that before from a rookie in my 12 years as a general manager," said Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin, who was quick to spread the credit with scouting director Jack Zduriencik, who took Braun in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, and with Brewers farm director Reid Nichols.
"You don't like to put expectations on players," Melvin said. "But he certainly went well beyond what we anticipated from him in his first year."
They did anticipate some of the defensive issues. A converted shortstop playing just his second full season at third, Braun was sent to Triple-A near the end of Spring Training because of a slew of throwing errors. Despite spending the first seven weeks in the Minors, Braun's 26 big league errors tied the Twins' Jason Bartlett for most in the big leagues and Braun's .895 fielding percentage ranked last among regular Major League position players.
Tulowitzki, meanwhile, proved a superior defender. His .987 fielding percentage and 5.39 zone rating led Major League shortstops, and Tulowitzki committed only 11 errors in 155 games.
"Offensively, I've done well," Braun said. "Defensively, I just need to work harder. I have to make my defense as good as my offense. I have to be consistent. I feel like for two weeks I'll be great, and then I'll find a way to be terrible for two games. It's just a process, and the more experience I have, the better I'll be."
Some observers have studied the numbers and suggested Braun should be moved to the outfield. They said the same a few years ago of second baseman Rickie Weeks, and while Weeks still has room for improvement, he improved dramatically from 2006 to 2007, cutting his errors from 22 to 13 in 23 more games.
Brewers officials argue there is similar room for improvement for Braun, an athletic player whose problems have been whittled down mostly to instincts, according to manager Ned Yost. With more reps, Braun will improve, Yost said. The team has no plans to move him.
"Everybody has things they need to work on," Braun said. "For me, defense is obviously at the forefront of my issues and my concerns and my focus. ... I don't see any reason I can't continue to improve and eventually be a very good defensive third baseman."
Tulowitzki was in the Rockies' Opening Day lineup and finished with two more RBIs than Braun (99 to 97), seven more doubles (33 to 26) and 28 more runs (119 to 91). Tulowitzki finished with a .291 average, 24 home runs and seven steals.
Tulowitzki may have trailed Braun in most offensive categories, but his team fared better. The Rockies finished the regular season on a tear, winning 14 of their final 15 regular-season games and then seven straight in the postseason to reach the World Series, where they were swept by Boston. Braun's Brewers led the NL Central for much of the season, but faded in July and August and had to settle for a second-place finish behind the Cubs.
So BBWAA voters were left debating how to weigh offense, defense and team success when casting their votes.
"I knew Troy had a phenomenal year and helped get his team to the postseason. I knew that would factor in," Braun said. "I figured it would be a close vote. I had no idea if I would win."
Braun and Tulowitzki split all of the first-place votes, and the only other player who received a second-place nod was Kyle Kendrick, a Phillies right-hander. Kendrick finished fifth behind Braun, Tulowitzki, the Astros' Hunter Pence (15 points) and the Diamondbacks' Chris Young (10 points). Yunel Escobar of the Braves and James Loney of the Dodgers also received one third-place vote apiece.
Braun got the news Monday from his offseason home in Santa Monica, Calif., after a restless night of sleep and an early-morning jog. His girlfriend, Andreena, was there when the call came.
"I was definitely a little bit nervous," Braun said.
It's Brewers policy that so-called "zero to three year" players who reach certain statistical milestones or win certain league awards get a $10,000-$15,000 bonus built into their next contract.