CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs, down three to nothing in games to the Los Angeles Dodgers, are dead. I don’t say that lightly, or casually. Nor is it said with any particular glee.
We all like the Cubs, especially these Cubs. This is a fine and special group, almost the same players who took their bats to a 108-year-old jinx last year, and smashed it past Mundelein. They will never be forgotten for that, nor should they.
Thanks to this very historic group, we no longer have to hear about the black cat, the Billy Goat or even Bartman, at least not as much as before. And for that, we all owe Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Co. a special debt of gratitude.
It’s not particularly their fault that they’re dead, either.
The Cubs are dead not because their 6-1 defeat to the Dodgers in Game 3 left them in an impossible position, but because the Washington Nationals killed them.
It took every last ounce for the Cubs to knock out the Nats, who have the best starting pitching in the league and just seem to have a knack for killing themselves, and also their competition.
Last year it was the Dodgers that the Nats killed. They didn’t eliminate them, just left them for dead. Left them so the Cubs could take care of them in the National League Division Series on their way to their amazing World Series win.
Just like the Nats left the Cubs this time.
Dead. Spent. Kaput. Finis.
The Nats don’t go quietly, and they don’t go easily. They eventually fall, but they take their many pounds of flesh on the way out.
Last time it was L.A. This time it is the Cubs.
Last year, the Dodgers entered their series with the Cubs with their bullpen arms seemingly dangling by a thread. The Dodgers had Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen still looking something like themselves, and that carried the Dodgers to six games. But two people — even those two — do not make a pitching staff.
The Cubs would appear to be just like last year’s Dodgers — a great team that spent every last ounce of energy on its series with the Nats. On the other hand, the Dodgers seem especially fresh off their surprisingly easy three-game sweep of the rival Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Cubs clearly aren’t themselves now. They are dropping flyballs that appear caught (Ian Happ did that). They are dropping third strikes that are eminently catchable (Willson Contreras). And they aren’t hitting a lick.
Sure, the Cubs escaped D.C., but they did it with their arms hanging by a thread. The Cubs bullpen isn’t their greatest strength to begin with, but Justin Wilson was rendered unusable and off the roster after the series with the Nats, many others deemed iffy, that amazingly game beanpole Carl Edwards Jr. out of gas and Wade Davis, well, he left it all out there, getting the final seven outs to let the Cubs barely escape.
One member of the Cubs traveling party joked that they needed two planes to get from D.C. to L.A., one for the team and one for Davis’ (testicles).
Of course, it was another body part that so worried the Cubs that they saved Davis for a save situation that never came in Game 2. Beloved Cubs manager Joe Maddon took the heat for not using Davis when John Lackey, a non-reliever who offered no relief, gave up the game-winning home run to Justin Turner on the 29th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s historic home run off Dennis Eckersley.
It’s hard to agree with that strategy. But it was one born out of mercy. Davis had an inning left, and they weren’t especially anxious to waste it.
As it happened, the Cubs’ actual plane ride — only one plane — was delayed in Albuquerque, the longtime minor league home of the Dodgers, due to a mystery ailment by one of the Cubs traveling party. It wasn’t a player, as their issues are no mystery: They are just plain exhausted.
This feels a little like the New York Yankees in 1997, when the Bronx Bombers came off their rousing 1996 championship and lost to a game Cleveland Indians team. But like with those Yankees, it feels like these Cubs will be back for more.
This could still be a dynasty. I’m not saying they will win three straight World Series starting next year, as the Yankees did from 1998-2000. But it sure feels like they will be back strong.
Oh, Theo Epstein’s Boston Red Sox were the one team that came back from a 3-0 deficit in games against the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series on their way to their own historic championship (the signature play was the steal by current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts), and I suppose anything is possible for this miracle-making group.
But the Cubs appear dead at present. It’s the Dodgers who will do the deed, but they got a big assist from the Nats, who helped make this possible.