LOS ANGELES – The Cubs tried not to suck. They did anyway.
They find themselves down 2-1 in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series because they’ve forgotten how to hit, or as they call it, “the act by which the baseball avoids the strange wooden things in our hands.’’ Manager Joe Maddon’s cute “Try Not to Suck’’ T-shirts feel like hair shirts after a 6-0 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday night.
What has happened in the postseason can no longer be considered a small sample size, and it no longer can be dismissed with a shrug as baseball being baseball, all weirdness and statistical flukiness. The Cubs don’t remember how to hit. Anthony Rizzo doesn’t. Ben Zobrist doesn’t. Dexter Fowler doesn’t. And Addison Russell might as well be staring down at a grocery list at home plate for all the production he has offered.
When the Cubs brought in massively struggling Jason Heyward to hit for epically struggling Russell in the seventh inning Tuesday night, some natural law was broken. We humans may never be the same again. Heyward struck out to end the inning, and all that was left was a crater near the plate.
The Cubs are in trouble, serious trouble. Clayton Kershaw-on-the-horizon trouble. The loss to the Dodgers has turned this series and maybe this season upside down for the Cubs.
Their kingdom for a hitter.
“I have no solid explanation,’’ Maddon said.
“It’s happening at the wrong time obviously,’’ said third baseman Kris Bryant, one of the few Cubs who is hitting in the postseason. “We’ve got more games to play, more time to get that confidence back and figure things out. I’m sure we will. We’ve done it all year. We’re here for a reason. Belief is very powerful, and I think we all have that here.’’
Maddon tweaked his lineup Tuesday, hoping it would shake things up. It didn’t. Rizzo batted in the fourth spot, instead of third, and all that meant was that he led off the second and fourth innings. You’d prefer to have your power hitter at the plate with runners on base.
You’d prefer more than four hits from the team in the biggest game of the year to date. The Cubs are hitting .185 in the postseason.
“I think we’re trying to do too much,’’ catcher Miguel Montero said. “I think we’re all trying to be heroes here.’’
The Cubs needed starter Jake Arrieta to be better than Rich Hill, and he wasn’t. They needed more from the reigning NL Cy Young winner, but he wasn’t why they lost Tuesday. Even if had duplicated his no-hitter of Aug. 30, 2015, at Dodger Stadium, the last time he pitched here, it might not have been enough.
He wouldn’t criticize the Cubs’ hitting.
“It can happen in the postseason in these sort of games,’’ he said. “These things are possible at any moment, in any game. Our guys are prepared, our guys are ready, our guys are doing everything they can to prepare for the ballgame. When a guy makes good pitches like Rich did along with their bullpen, it’s going to be tough on us.’’
Let’s not turn Hill into Sandy Koufax. The former Cub pitcher is good and he throws a nice curveball, but a team that led the NL in on-base percentage shouldn’t be struggling this much. Hill gave up two hits in six innings, and both of those hits were by Bryant. The Cubs hadn’t seen Hill this season, but that doesn’t explain them getting only two more hits after he departed.
Bryant (.357) and Javy Baez (.333) are the only position players hitting above .179 in the playoffs. You’re not going to win anything that way. You’re not going to impress anyone at the neighborhood batting cage either.
What gives the Cubs hope is that they’ve hit most of the year. They tore through NL pitching this season.
“I’ve seen it before,’’ Fowler said. “You go in ruts and you snap back out of them and then score five or six runs.’’
The Cubs will face 20-year-old Julio Urias in Game 4. And at some point, they’ll again have to face Kershaw, who shut them down in Game 2. Whether that’s Game 5 or 6 isn’t known yet. But they had better get their act together at the plate or else their season is going to end sooner and more painfully than they ever could have imagined.
Maybe Maddon should try a more positive T-Shirt: “Try to Hit.’’
“We’ll figure it out,’’ Bryant said. “We’re all very confident here. Peaks and valleys of this game will sometimes make you go crazy, but we’ve got more games to play.’’
How many more depends on their hitting.