As the rugged life within the "Highlander" realm taught us, there can be only one team strong enough to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy after the World Series ends. Everyone else?Thanks for playing, but you go home empty handed and, perhaps, without your head, too.
Or do you?
What kind of a team can find solace or a sense of accomplishment even if they're not the ultimate king of the hill?
For the Cubs in '08, it was World Series champs or bust. Now they're busted again, for the 100th time in a row and some fans aren't very happy.
The Red Sox, despite two recent titles, don't call any season a success unless they finish No. 1.
So which major league team — if any — can walk away "a winner" this season despite having no chance of being the last one standing?
The Milwaukee Brewers, that's who.
In order to secure the team's first playoff bid since 1982, general manager Doug Melvin traded one of its top prospects (though not its best, Mat Gamel) to land CC Sabathia. The deal helped the Brewers sell out a bunch of games, even ones in which CC did not pitch, and surpass 3 million fans. This, despite the Greater Milwaukee area being 38th in the country in total population.
Then there was the move to fire manager Ned Yost with 12 games to go in the season.
The Brew Crew went 7-5 down the stretch — not exactly reminding anyone of the Molitor and Yount teams of yore — but were just good enough to reach the playoffs. Milwaukee only beat Philadelphia once in the NLDS, but the victory came at home and the hometown fans were treated to two postseason games. Yes, the Brewers are baseball's unofficial runners-up, just for getting within a whiff of the promised land.
Now Wisconsin just needs to sell enough cheese to afford CC's impending free-agency.
But what about the other teams we haven't mentioned that made the playoffs? How are they supposed to feel if their season doesn't end with a World Series title? A look at each scenario comes after the jump, listed in ascending order of "accomplishment:"
• The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim blew the doors off the rest of the AL West in the regular season, for which all of their moms must be proud. But Arte Moreno bought a reigning World Champion in '03 and is still wondering when he'll get the satisfaction the organization felt in '02.
• The Philadelphia Phillies have won their first postseason series since 1993, and considering Philly's playoff history — don't look, it's not good — someone should have already patted them on the back. But if they fall to whack the Dodgers in the NLCS, the City of Brotherly Love will turn back into the Village of Gloomy Guses.
• The Chicago White Sox won one game in their series against the Tampa Bay Rays and weren't all that close to winning another, much less three, but it was still one more than the Cubs. Sox fans will use anything to needle Cubs fans. The Cubs playoff implosion provides plenty of fuel but the Sox had zero expectations — they were predicted by most to finish third or fourth in the AL Central — and did better by a game.
• The Los Angeles Dodgers should feel as though they validated and amplified upon their undeniably mediocre regular season with a three-game spanking of the Cubs. They also hadn't won a playoff series since '88. Manny and Torre have brought the big names back to L.A. ball.
• Most folks ignored the Rays in May and June, and figured by August or September that the Red Sox (and even the Yankees or Blue Jays) would catch them. Didn't happen, of course, and the Rays have taken the franchise ahead a few light years. Even though the Rays aren't acting like they're playing with house money and even though they'll be disappointed if they don't win the World Series, they can already feel safe in filing '08 under 'successful season.'