Cubs no longer the story but still a story for baseball’s postseason

Ahab had his whale in "Moby Dick." The newsreel reporter in "Citizen Kane" had Rosebud. For Wile E. Coyote, there always will be the Road Runner. And, going into the playoffs last year, there was the Cubs' century-plus quest for a World Series title.

Some chases are so enduring and epic that their stories eclipse everything else around them. So it was with the Cubs, who at last in November managed to end their run of frustration and helped attract baseball's biggest World Series TV audience in years.

But if "Transformers: The Last Knight" had a message, it's that people in 2017 don't necessarily want to see a sequel.

It's not yet clear what Major League Baseball storyline or storylines the media will run with in the playoffs and World Series. There are plenty of possible threads to pick up — in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Houston and elsewhere — if the Cubs' bid to repeat as World Series champions for the first time since 1907-08 doesn't prove as compelling as the first go-round.

"The Cubs have kind of been swept under the rug because of all the great stories in baseball this year," said Kevin Burkhardt, Fox Sports' pregame and postgame host for the American League playoffs and World Series. "They have hit their stride at the right time. They're going to be an extremely tough out."

It was just too perfect that the Cubs redemption last year in Game 7, in the 10th inning, after a rain delay, came by edging the Indians, whose title drought was second only to that of the Cubs.

The scenario couldn't have been more theatrical if Fox's cameras had panned up from the on-field celebration to the night sky and superimposed "The End" on screen and rolled credits.

That could set the stage for this postseason to be presented as baseball's version of "Rocky II," the one where Rocky Balboa finally wins a fight, with the Indians as Rocky.

Or, still hoping for their first World Series title since 1948, they could be cast as Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football.

"Especially since the Cubs did break that curse, I wonder if it feels the same way in Cleveland," Burkhardt said. "Is there that Cubsian curse that they feel they can't get a break?"

The Indians, whose late-season streak of 22 games without a loss or tie is unprecedented in major-league baseball's long history, are Burkhardt's pick for the best team in baseball. In many ways, they're teed up to assume the lead role in the postseason narrative the Cubs enjoyed last year.

"They're a team that has the world behind them, they're everybody's darling and favorite," said Casey Stern, who's hosting TBS' National League playoff pregame and postgame shows.

"Cleveland is definitely going to be the feel-good story," Jimmy Rollins, the 2007 NL Most Valuable Player working now for TBS, said. "You look at them and you have Mr. Smiles leading the way. Everybody likes that feel-good story, but at the end of the day it's still going to be the big-market cities."

Rollins' guess is it will be the Dodgers driving the story. They were on a tear all season until hitting a late-season rough patch and are, in their own way, also overdue.

The Dodgers have won the NL West five years in a row and seven of the last 10 seasons. Yet they are 29 years removed not only from their last World Series championship but also their last pennant.

That's the franchise's longest dry spell between NL flags since joining the league as the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 1890.

"The Dodgers can do it all," Hall of Famer and TBS contributor Pedro Martinez said. "Now what they need is (pitcher Clayton) Kershaw to give them a little push, but the other guys need to remain consistent."

As streaks go, the Nationals, the Cubs' opening opponent, never have been to the World Series, a run of disappointment that dates back to the birth of the ballclub as the Montreal Expos in 1969.

The nation's capital, for that matter, hasn't had a pennant winner since 1933 and World Series championship since 1924 with the franchise that eventually became the Minnesota Twins.

Then there's the Diamondbacks, a franchise only 19 years old but winner of the 2001 World Series.

"I would not want to play Arizona (based on) what they showed me late in the year, especially how they tore up the Dodgers," Burkhardt said. "I would not want to play Arizona and nobody's thinking of them, because it's Arizona."

Similarly, Burkhardt suspects "everybody has fallen asleep on the" AL West champion Astros, last in the World Series while in the NL and losers to the White Sox in 2005.

"Because they put their division away by the All-Star break we kind of forgot about them," Burkhardt said. "They're going to be very difficult to deal with."

Despite there being little drama for the Astros in the West, there was plenty in the community they call home. The effects of Hurricane Harvey will be felt for years to come. It's a safe bet there will be stories about people there rallying around the ballclub.

Like the Cubs, the Yankees and the Red Sox typically are magnets for attention.

Like the Cubs, the lovable loser persona no longer fits the Red Sox. The once snake-bit franchise won World Series titles in 2004, '07 and '13. The media still like to reflect on team tradition and the romance of Fenway Park.

The young, wild-card Yankees aren't the intimidators they historically have been. Their last division title was five years ago and their last pennant and championship back in 2009.

"How many years can you think of — I can't in my lifetime — when the Yankees were underdogs?" Burkhardt said. "Even though I think the Indians are the best team, I don't think this is a walk with the Yanks."

It's the Cubs who are coming off a championship, the Cubs who have been to the league championship series the last two seasons. It's the Cubs who have rallied back after being down both last postseason and midway through this year's regular season.

"They were at critical points and they showed resilience," Burkhardt said. "I don't think you can put a number on that, and they are going to be extremely tough to deal with."

That's the stories for now, anyway. When Wile E. Coyote catches the Road Runner, a rewrite is needed. Baseball's postseason script is up for revision with every pitch.

Twitter @phil_rosenthal

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