When the epitaph of the 2017 Cubs season is written — and trust me, this is an event that’s likely going to happen soon — it can read, simply, “The Chicago Cubs were eliminated from the postseason by a far superior team.”
Never mind the analysis of managerial moves — and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made one in Game 4 that could have cost him, but it worked out anyway — the bottom line is that during the National League Championship Series, Cubs bats did the same thing that they infuriatingly did during several stretches of the regular season, simply stopped scoring runs. That is to say, a team that actually scored 14 more regular-season runs than the 2016 World Series champions somehow forgot how to do just that when it mattered most.
The Cubs lost Game 3 of the NLCS to the Dodgers 6-1, and in reality you’d probably just rather forget about this one and move on, but there are some things worth looking back on from this defeat, so let’s have at it.
For the third time in three games, the Cubs scored first. Future generations won’t believe that, but all you’ll need do is to steer them to the boxscores. Game 3’s lead was provided by Kyle Schwarber (and never mind that the freeze frame shown at the beginning of this video is the face of someone you’d likely rather not look at):
That ball: crushed to the opposite field!
The Cubs actually had Yu Darvish on the ropes, briefly. Kris Bryant singled. Yes, he did! After going 5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts in the previous seven postseason games, KB hit a sharp single to left. One out later, Willson Contreras singled to right. With two out and a run already in, the Cubs had a chance!
But Jon Jay was called out on strikes, and a chance to blow this game open in the first inning ended.
And two pitches into the second inning, the game was tied by Andre Ethier. Yes, Andre Ethier, who due to injury played in just 38 regular-season games the last two seasons combined with 58 at-bats, homered off the ribbon board in right field.
Then Chris Taylor sent a 440-foot blast to center field in the third inning and the Dodgers had the lead they would not relinquish.
True fact: Players named “Taylor” are hitting .333/.438/.852 (9-for-27) with four home runs and 11 RBI in this postseason. Perhaps pitching to those guys more carefully would help, no?
What really would have helped was eliminating all the walks Cubs pitchers issued in this postseason. The Dodgers extended the lead to 3-1 in the fifth on a double by Joc Pederson and triple by Taylor. The latter was then thrown out at the plate on a nice throw by Anthony Rizzo to Contreras when the infield was pulled in [VIDEO].
Now, I ask you: How much different is that positioning from the play in Game 1?
Moving on: The Cubs had previously advanced runners to first and second in the fourth with two out, and you could have actually forgiven Joe Maddon for pinch-hitting for Kyle Hendricks at that point because Hendricks is a perfectly awful hitter, but Kyle batted for himself and, predictably, struck out.
Still, it’s only 3-1 after five and flickers of hope still existed in Wrigley Field.
Not for long, sadly.
Yasiel Puig led off the sixth with a sharp grounder to Bryant. It went off his glove for what I thought was a tough error. Ethier singled and that was it for Hendricks, who left to a nice ovation.
Carl Edwards Jr. was summoned. He got Chase Utley on a comebacker, then walked Austin Barnes to load the bases. Pederson hit a fly ball to Jason Heyward, too shallow to score a run.
And that brought up Darvish, who entered this game with a lifetime batting record (including this postseason) of 4-for-33 with 21 strikeouts. One of those hits was a home run, hit last year while Darvish was a Texas Ranger, but in general Darvish is a terrible hitter, so bad that even with two out he put the bat forth as if he wanted to bunt.
And then CJ, as has been his undoing this postseason, walked him. On four pitches, forcing in a run.
Well, Cubs fans, you thus saw something Tuesday evening that hadn’t been done in four decades:
Unbelievable. Yu Darvish is the first pitcher to draw a bases-loaded walk in the postseason since 1977! 40 years ...— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) October 18, 2017
In that case, it was the Dodgers' Burt Hooton who walked Philly's Larry Christenson in Game 3 of the NLCS.— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) October 18, 2017
That’s known in Philadelphia as the Burt Hooton Game. Got a little loud that day!— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 18, 2017
The Dodgers won that game anyway, a famous game where Manny Mota hit a pinch double with two out in the ninth, triggering a three-run rally.
I digress, and probably for the best. Anyway, CJ got out of the inning by striking out Taylor, and walked off the mound to a chorus of boos.
That was absolutely uncalled for. I’ve written repeatedly here that the only justifiable reason for booing your home team’s players is for lack of effort. There wasn’t any such thing from CJ, just a lack of performance. It happens. That particular lack of performance has been shown by pretty much the entire Cubs pitching staff this postseason. In eight games they have issued 43 walks (comparison point: the Cubs, a pretty good team at drawing walks, have just 22 this postseason). You’re simply not going to win games by giving the other team so many baserunners.
At 4-1 this game might have still even been considered winnable, even against the excellent Dodgers bullpen, but the Cubs put it out of reach in the eighth. They managed to survive an Ian Happ dropped ball in center field with a double play in the seventh, but the eighth featured a walk, a bloop single, a dropped third strike, a wild pitch, a passed ball and a sacrifice fly, scoring two more Dodgers runs. I’m assuming here, and probably with good reason, that you don’t really want any further description of those events, which sent a good portion of the full house at Wrigley Field heading for the exits.
Now it’s time for the Javier Baez tag interlude of this recap. Javy didn’t start the game, justifiably so due to his 0-for-19 run previous in the postseason, and he made that 0-for-20 by popping up as a pinch-hitter. He stayed in the game at second base, and with one out in the ninth Puig lined a single off the bullpen door in left field off Hector Rondon. Schwarber played it well and fired to Javy [VIDEO].
Javy and Puig both had a little fun with that.
Hernandez was the next hitter, and he singled. He took off for second and Alex Avila, who had entered the game for Contreras after Willson got hit on the arm with a foul ball, threw him out, with Javy making another nice tag.
Avila, who was making his first postseason appearance in a Cubs uniform, singled to lead off the ninth against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling, the first hit by a Cub off a Dodger reliever in the entire series.
Let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge that.
Ready to continue? Albert Almora Jr. batted for Rondon and hit a ball that bounced into the ivy in left field after Kiké Hernandez failed to catch the ball on a dive.
Every player who takes the field at Wrigley is told that when a baseball does that, you hold up your hands, which stops play. Avila, probably the slowest Cubs runner, was held at third by Gary Jones, reasonably so. Almora, though, just kept running:
That could have been a pretty bad TOOTBLAN. Instead, because of this:
... Almora was spared that embarrassment and sent back to second. In fact, third-base umpire Alfonso Marquez almost immediately sent AA back. The umpires consulted the review crew, and I can hear the guys in New York saying, “What are you calling us for? That’s clearly stuck in the ivy! What was Hernandez doing? He held up his arm and then picked the ball out of the ivy? That’s not how it works. Play ball!”
So the Cubs have runners on second and third with nobody out and that briefly gave some hope of a miracle comeback, since the Cubs had found the one Dodgers reliever who couldn’t get them out.
Roberts, though, didn’t mess around and summoned Kenley Jansen, even though it was not a save situation. (Other managers, take note.) Jansen dispensed of three straight Cubs, two by strikeout, and it was over, mercifully at that point.
Circling back to the point I made at the beginning of this recap, the Dodgers are simply the better team here — a much better team. I noted that the Cubs had the lead in each of these games, but a lead produced by a solo home run that had zero margin for error, and this Cubs team just isn’t quite good enough to slam the door after taking leads like that. All four runs the Cubs have scored in this series have come home as the result of home runs, and that’s not really conducive to winning. The Cubs have just 12 hits in the three games of the series besides the home runs.
I could play the optimist here and mention the one series in major-league history where a team has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series to win it. There are two men associated with these NLCS teams that know that comeback well, the manager of the Dodgers and the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations. Both of those men likely know, even if they won’t say it publicly, that this NLCS is probably not going to end the way the 2004 ALCS did. The 2017 Dodgers are just that much better than the 2017 Cubs, just as the 2015 Mets shut down the 2015 Cubs in similar fashion in the NLCS.
There is still baseball to be played at Wrigley Field, though, and I suppose as long as elimination has not officially happened, there’s a chance for a baseball miracle. Jake Arrieta, perhaps pitching his final game in blue Cubs pinstripes, will take the mound at 8 p.m. CT against the Dodgers’ Alex Wood Wednesday evening. The weather will once again be beautiful for mid-October.
I’ll leave you with one last thought: Enjoy Cubs baseball while it’s still around. While the 2017 season is likely to leave us disappointed, the ride was still an enjoyable one, and the only reason it’s probably ending is one of the best teams in recent memory.