Posted by: Nathan | October 5, 2008

Another bitter end from the Cubs

If anyone sees the Cubs, will you tell them that the playoffs started Wednesday, and they’re out?

Once again, the Chicago Cubs found a creative way to disappoint all of their fans, and this time it was a particularly horrid one. After looking dominant for most of this season and running away with their division, the Cubs couldn’t manage one win against the Dodgers. This is the second straight year that the Cubs have made an NL West club look like a baseball titan in the playoffs; Arizona swept them last year.

But this year was different, wasn’t it? This year we had a four-man rotation as good as anyone in the league. This year our lineup was stacked. This year we won the big games, including a four-game sweept of Milwaukee that secured the division title. The Cubs looked good. They looked strong. They looked like they were having fun. They could pitch, field, and hit. Many experts picked them to finally break this stupid 100-year (now longer) drought of no titles. Chicago secured home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs, and they dominated at home. This year was different.

Then, game one started Wednesday night, and it all went to you-know-where. Ryan Dempster, who had an excellent season and pitched particularly well at Wrigley, looked awful. He had no control and gave up more walks in that game than in any other during the year. Spotted a two-run lead, he walked the bases loaded with two outs, had two strikes on frigging James Loney, and could not get the out. Grand slam.

Giving up the lead in the middle of the game really was not the problem; lots of teams do that and come back. The disaster was in the attitude of the team–and of the fans at Wrigley for that matter. By inning six of the first game of the series, everyone was thinking, “Not again. We can’t do this again!” At that point, the series was lost. You could see it in the players’ eyes. The other runs that night merely cemented the game: Dodgers, 7-2.

Game two was a new game, or at least it should have been. However, the Cubs were beaten before taking the field. I didn’t see this game, but it sounded like Zambrano pitched decently–he was an iffy choice for second starter. Each infielder had an error en route to a 10-3 drubbing. The fans booed their beloved team off the field. Why? Because each of them to-a-person was thinking, “Not again! How can this happen AGAIN?!”

Down 2-0 in the series, everyone sensed the Cubs were already done. The media acted as if they had been eliminated in Chicago, but there was at least one more game to play in Los Angeles. Maybe they could muster a win. Maybe the day off and getting away from the enormity of the expectations at Wrigley Field would work in their favor. So Rich Harden took the mound against Kuroda with one more shot for his team to be relevant in these playoffs. One more chance to stay alive–to look alive. Harden pitched a decent game. The Cubs’ batters, however, made Kuroda look like Cy Young. They couldn’t hit anything he threw. They left nine runners on base. Nine. 3-1 Dodgers, but the loss was clearly inevitable long before the last out was made.

I’ll give credit to the Dodgers. They sensed the Cubs were wavering, and they pounced. Their pitchers looked very good, and the line-up that seemed pretty weak to me (aside from Manny–he’s unbeliveable) killed Cubs pitching. The biggest difference, though, was in attitude. LA looked excited, ready, focused, and they had fun. They felt no pressure–only confidence.

Chicago, meanwhile, looked like frightened little-leaguers. They could not hit. At all. Normally when Soriano or Aramis Ramirez steps to the plate, I get a little excited, but I never felt excited when they batted because I knew they would not deliver. You could see it in their eyes and body language. Only Derek Lee showed up with a bat. The Cub batters were out before they came to the plate. They had beaten themselves mentally before a pitch was thrown. They had no confidence, no fire, no drive, no focus, no sense of purpose, and no joy throughout the series. They deserved to be swept. They sleepwalked through three games and now have winter to think about what happened.

As a life-long Cubs fan, this is the worst disappointment I’ve ever had with them, and there are plenty from which to choose. The worst part isn’t that they lost; good teams lose in the playoffs. It isn’t that they squandered home field. It isn’t that they seemed so ready to finally, finally win after so many years of futility. No, the worst part is that the Cubs did not even show up for this series. “Wake up! WAKE UP! You’re playing the friggin Dodgers! You can’t beat these guys! What are you doing?” It didn’t matter what I screamed at the TV. The Cubs lost the series when the pressure overcame them. They lost because they believed they would lose.

I wish I could say, “Screw ’em” and not care anymore. I’m tired of rooting so hard for a team so unworthy of affection–so pathetically incapable of rewarding their loyal fanbase. Henceforth, how well the Cubs play 162 games cannot matter to me as it once did; the only important thing is the playoff spot. In self-defense, I must be a doubting Thomas. Not until I see a playoff victory and from a Cubs team that looks ready to win in the post-season will I believe in them. Who knows how long from today that day will be?

Baseball is over for me today. I sincerely wish I did not care so much; I wish this weren’t so infuriating every freaking year. Go home, Cubs. You were the worst team in the playoffs. Thanks for another bitter end.

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