By Doug Russell Special to Published Oct 03, 2012 at 3:00 PM

The Brewers season ends tonight with a whimper rather than the bang we were all hoping for. Of course this year will be remembered for the total meltdown of the bullpen and the endless question of "what if?"

And while there will, of course, be changes made this off-season, the Brewers showed without a shadow of a doubt that small market teams that draft well, develop their own players, and make limited but shrewd moves in the free agent and trade market can be a competitive force year in and year out.

And while Prince Fielder's bat was certainly missed, Ryan Braun showed the world that he is a bona fide superstar, particularly when the rest of the baseball universe was watching him like a hawk for some sign that his exoneration was merely the technicality the blood-thirsty masses had crowed about since February.

One year ago, Braun was rightfully awarded the National League's MVP based on numbers that warranted it as well as the Brewers inclusion in the autumnal soirée known as MLB's playoffs. But what of this season? Conventional wisdom indicates that Buster Posey, the heart and soul of the NL West Champion San Francisco Giants is the front-runner, despite a statistical analysis that may indicate otherwise.

Braun: .321 AVG, .601 SLG, .994 OPS, .393 OBP, 41 HR, 112 RBI, 30 SB

Posey: .336 AVG, .546 SLG, .955 OPS, .409 OBP, 23 HR, 101 RBI

Posey performed at a much more physically demanding position and did so for a division-winning club. That he has been on fire since the All-Star break and is only one year removed from a devastating injury sustained during a collision at home plate adds to his candidacy.

Braun's defense in the past has been looked at as a liability. However, with his second-place Gold Glove finish to Arizona's Gerardo Parra last season and this year's Bill James plus-minus system rating him the best left fielder in the National League, what was once a liability has become an invaluable asset.

Make no mistake about it: Posey will win the MVP Award and probably by a landslide. Whether or not he should, however, is certainly debatable.

Likewise is the debate in the American League. Conventional wisdom makes Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown season a no-brainer, right?

Not when you consider the curious case of Mike Trout.

Trout, who wrapped up the Rookie of the Year award months ago, is having the kind of season movies are made about. A relative unknown among baseball fans at the start of the season, Trout was simply marvelous in every phase of the game. But, like in the case of Posey v Braun, the empirical numbers may not tell the whole story.

Cabrera: .329 AVG, .608 SLG, .1.001 OPS, .393 OBP, 44 HR, 137 RBI

Trout: .325 AVG, .564 SLG, .963 OPS, .398 OBP, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 48 SB

Cabrera runs away with it, right? In the eyes of the voters, probably. The last time the Triple Crown was won was in 1967 by Carl Yastrzemski. It is a tremendous feat and one that should be honored.

But what if Josh Hamilton hits one more home run Wednesday night and prevents the history books from etching Cabrera's name next to Yaz'? Does that really diminish Cabrera's accomplishment? It shouldn't, but it will.

The case for Trout is pretty simple: No one meant more to his team than he did.

Defensively, Trout was a nightly highlight reel in center field. On the bases, he was a terror, easily leading the Majors in stolen bases. In only 137 games played after his April 28 call-up from the minors, Trout became the signature player of a team that backed up the Brinks truck to Albert Pujols' house for him to take that title.

Instead, for a club that will miss the playoffs despite two more wins than the ALDS-bound Tigers led by Cabrera, Mike Trout became the darling of Hollywood.

Trout won't win the MVP. But it is not outrageous to make a case for him taking the hardware away from the first Triple Crown winner in two generations.

As for the rest of the soon-to-be postseason award battles:

National League Cy Young Award: R.A. Dickey vs. Clayton Kershaw

Dickey: 20-6, 2.73 ERA, .226 BAA, 1.05 WHIP, 230 K in 233.2 IP

Kershaw: 13-9, 2.58 ERA, .213 BAA, 1.03 WHIP, 221 K in 219.2 IP

Kershaw is a stud who has won the award in the past and will again in the future, but this was Dickey's year. A knuckleballing journeyman before now, the 38-year old Dickey first made headlines in spring training when he revealed his past sexual abuse suffered as a child. Then he went out and did the impossible. He made people actually care about the New York Mets once every five days.

Kershaw was his usual spectacular self, but Dickey excelled in a division that featured two 90-plus win opponents. Dickey gets the nod.

American League Cy Young Award: David Price vs. Justin Verlander.

Price: 20-5, 2.56 ERA, .226 BAA, 1.10 WHIP, 205 K in 211 IP

Verlander: 17-8, 2.64 ERA, .217 BAA, 1.06 WHIP, 239 K in 238.1 IP

Verlander is a Hall of Fame workhorse who is a threat to throw a no-hitter every time he takes the mound. His Tigers are headed to the playoffs again while Price's Rays are only headed home.

Yet Price gets the nod because four of baseball's best eight offenses reside in the AL-East. And while Verlander's numbers in the important categories are slightly better, Price's competition was considerably better.

National League Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson vs. Dusty Baker.

Johnson and Baker are two wily veterans that have been at this a long, long time. My knock on Baker has always been that while he is easily baseball's best manager 23 hours a day, that one hour where critical decisions are needed he falls far short. But players love the guy and will run through a brick wall for him. After 20 years of managing the Giants, Cubs, and now Reds, that is no small feat.

That he has made appearances with each of those teams and won three Manager of the Year Awards along the way means that his enshrinement in Cooperstown is a real possibility.

Johnson, meanwhile, has the one thing that Baker so desperately craves: a World Series title as a manager. Since Johnson's nomadic dugout career began in 1984 with the Mets, he has only presided over one full losing season.

Two years ago the Reds won the NL Central. Meanwhile, the Nationals hadn't had a winning season since 2003 when they were still the Montreal Expos. For guiding his very young players into places only he had been before, and while doing it in a much tougher division, Johnson gets my vote.

American League Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin vs. Buck Showalter.

You can make a case for either of them and no one could argue with you. The Orioles have been the laughingstock of the American League for most of the last 15 years, featuring inept front office decisions stemming from the day, ironically, that Davey Johnson quit as manager in 1998 after a snit with owner Peter Angelos. The very same day Johnson quit he won the American League's Manager of the Year Award. Things had only gone downhill in Baltimore until Showalter came to town.

Since 1998, the likes of Ray Miller, Mike Hargrove, Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo, Dave Trembley, and Juan Samuel have all tried to do what only Showalter could this season: Get the O's back in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, in almost total obscurity a continent away, Bob Melvin was working miracles by the Bay. In retrospect, the entertaining but incredibly inaccurate popcorn flick "Moneyball" should have come out one year after it did. Billy Beane's merry band of misfits in 2012 mirror the 2002 club with one major exception: There was no three-man rotation of Zito, Mulder, and Hudson to fall back on.

No, this season the A's rotation consisted of guys named Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, and Travis Blackley.


Exactly. That's why Melvin gets the nod over Showalter. Barely.

The only other major awards are the respective league's Rookies of the Year, and those have long been wrapped up by Trout and Washington's Bryce Harper; so much so that any statistical comparison would be fruitless.

As for the Brewers, they will have an almost entirely new pitching rotation next season compared to what we saw for most of this year. Already gone are Zack Greinke and Randy Wolf, who will soon be followed by Shaun Marcum. In the bullpen, Francisco Rodriguez will not return but the closer question will remain.

Of course it is a cheap shot to say that John Axford single-handedly cost the Brewers a playoff berth, even if it is a factually correct statement. Nyjer Morgan's magic has run out in Milwaukee, and Livan Hernandez will do his best to not let the door hit him in his considerable behind on the way out of town.

But with all of the subtractions, there will be additions. Can the Brewers lure a key piece to Milwaukee like Aramis Ramirez proved to be? Would the Brewers be interested in an upgrade in center field with B.J. Upton on the market? What does the future hold for Greinke and would he be interested in returning? Or would the Brewers be wise to invest in a closer like Detroit's Jose Valverde?

Oh, it will be an interesting off-season, with the Brewers so close, yet so far away in 2012. And with the taste of sweet October victory not that far back in the rearview mirror, fans are expecting another run in 2013.

After all, the playoffs are a lot more fun to be in than to watch.

Doug Russell Special to

Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at

Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.

Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.

Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.