It occurred to me during the Cubs 3-0 loss to the Dodgers Saturday afternoon that, despite the Cubs flirting with a positive run differential and getting close to .500, that a winning or even .500 season isn't going to happen in 2013. That would make this the Cubs' fourth straight losing season.
So I wondered: when was the last time that happened?
It's been 25 years. The last time the Cubs had four straight losing seasons was 1985-1988. Those years were bookended by National League East titles in 1984 and 1989. Unless some miraculous turnaround happens, the Cubs aren't going to have a playoff season in 2014, and they might not have a winning year, either. (And that's coming from me, normally a Cubs optimist.) In case you were wondering when the Cubs had more than four straight losing seasons, it was 1978-1983 ... again, followed by a division title season. You might remember that except for the back-to-back division titles of 2007 and 2008, every single one of the Cubs' postseason appearances in the divisional play era has followed a bad season, and all except 1989 followed a 90-plus loss year.
What Theo and Jed are hoping to build is something that won't have to have that "surprise" playoff year -- though, you'll have to admit, those are a great deal of fun, at least until the postseason exit -- instead, it'll be a perennial contender.
Let's hope what they are doing works, because right now, things look pretty bleak. The Cubs had essentially no offense Saturday afternoon, even though they had eight hits and two walks. Why? Because they hit into four double plays, three of them ending innings. Give some credit to Dodgers pitching keeping them off balance, but Cubs hitters didn't seem to have good approaches much of the time. Neither did manager Dale Sveum. Please explain this to me: there are runners on first and third, with one out in the seventh inning, and Don Mattingly has just called on Brandon League to face Cody Ransom.
That's Cody Ransom, who's hit a few home runs this year, but whose sell-by date appears to have passed; before Saturday he was 1-for-his-last-30 with 11 strikeouts.
That situation screamed out for Luis Valbuena to pinch-hit. Absolutely screamed. And yet, Valbuena sat anchored to the bench. Granted that Valbuena's recent performance hasn't exactly been great -- 4-for-his-last-35. Still, and I'm not a huge fan of the platoon advantage in situations like this, you almost have to do it.
Nope. Ransom stayed in the game and hit into a double play, ending the inning.
(NOTE: I wrote all this before I learned that Valbuena hit the DL after the game with an oblique strain. This could explain some of his poor play lately, too. That also makes the Cubs' eight-man bullpen ridiculous, because the bench is very, very short.)
And when the Cubs loaded the bases with two out in the eighth and Welington Castillo due up, I said to our group, "This is where a good team hits a slam, or at least a two-run single." You know what's coming, of course, even if you didn't see the game. Castillo struck out on a 3-2 pitch.
Jeff Samardzija pitched reasonably well, posting a quality start, but even with that he threw a ton of pitches (112 in six innings) and issued five walks. He nearly got out of the sixth with just one run allowed, but Carl Crawford floated a two-run single into right field with two out. That gave the Dodgers their final margin of three runs, and it might as well have been 10 runs, given the Cubs' offensive lack of prowess Saturday. Even the 1-0 lead early in the game seemed almost insurmountable.
Some amusement was provided in the third inning when Samardzija lofted a fly ball to the right-field wall, where, in clear view of everyone (apparently, except first-base umpire Jerry Layne), it bounced off the wall before landing in Yasiel Puig's glove. Layne called Samardzija out; Dale came out and after a bit of an animated argument, the umpires conferred and made the correct ruling -- foul ball. That brought Don Mattingly out for a brief argument, during which I thought, "It doesn't matter, Shark will make an out on the next pitch." Which he did. But plays like this point up the need for replay review -- that one could have been settled in 30 seconds without any arguments.
As Cubs fans, we are now reduced to this: it was a beautiful day, probably the nicest of the summer, and nearly a full house showed up, despite this being a marquee-priced (top tier) game. It was just the third crowd of the year announced at 40,000 or more tickets sold. There won't be as many announced Sunday, as the Cubs try to salvage one game out of the four-game set.
The bullpen did a decent job of keeping the score close, not that that mattered; Hector Rondon, Matt Guerrier and Kevin Gregg threw three scoreless innings. Gregg's was messy; he managed to get out of it scoreless due to some bad Dodger baserunning and an inning-ending double play, despite giving up a double, a single and a walk. Guerrier was much better, throwing a 1-2-3 inning on only nine pitches.
And one more thing: Can we please get these games done faster? Even though this game had a bit better pace than Friday's, the game time wound up being just 14 minutes faster. Through 110 games, the Cubs have played only 50 in less than three hours, just four in less than 2:30. Perhaps Sunday, when the Dodgers' Stephen Fife (replacing Zack Greinke, who is being pushed back to face the Cardinals) faces Carlos Villanueva.