Their 103 regular-season wins are being swept away by a 108-year history of failure that is repeating itself before our very eyes. The Chicago Cubs are choking again.
Only this time, they can’t blame a stinky pet goat or a bespectacled fan down the left-field line.
This is squarely on them.
“We’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves,” Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said in Spanish.
Baseball’s third-highest-scoring team hasn’t scored a run in the last two games.
One of the sport’s most exalted managers is being outmaneuvered by a rookie on the opposite bench.
And following a 6-0 loss at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night, the Cubs trail the National League Championship Series, two games to one. Drop two more games and their never-ending World Series drought will be extended by another miserable year.
There’s always next year, right?
The problem is that this year was supposed to be next year.
Season after season of intentional losing had allowed the Cubs to stockpile a considerable amount of young talent, including prohibitive league MVP favorite Kris Bryant. They rounded out their roster with some big-name trade and free-agent acquisitions.
They entered this series as favorites and there’s a reason for that. They have the better lineup. They have the deeper rotation. They have a closer in Aroldis Chapman who routinely throws over 100 mph.
And they haven’t been struck by anything resembling a curse. What they were struck by Tuesday night were determined pitching performances by Rich Hill, Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton and Kenley Jansen. In their Game 2 loss, they were blanked by the tandem of Clayton Kershaw and Jansen.
Hill had trouble in the early going with command, walking a couple of batters in the second inning. The Cubs failed to do anything with that. With runners at second and third and only one out, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell struck out. Montero, who hit a decisive pinch-hit grand slam in a Game 1 victory, grounded out to end the inning.
The Cubs never threatened Hill again. The veteran left-hander threw 41 pitches in the first two innings; he delivered only 52 more over the next four.
The Cubs had only two hits while Hill was in the game, both of them by Bryant. They managed only two more hits over the remaining three innings.
“We all want to be the hero,” Montero said. “We have to do the small things.”
Like take a walk or move runners over, anything to create opportunities.
Anthony Rizzo, who drove in a team-high 109 runs this season, is two for 26 in the postseason. Ben Zobrist, who batted third, is four for 26. Russell is one for 24, his at-bats hopeless to where Manager Joe Maddon had Jason Heyward bat in his place in the seventh inning. Heyward was a .230 hitter in the regular season.
This was the same team that had a regular-season run differential of plus-252, by far the best in the major leagues.
The Cubs were curiously serene in defeat, perhaps to their detriment. Bryant described the atmosphere on the team as “super calm.”
“Nobody’s throwing stuff,” he said. “Belief is very powerful. I think we all have that here.”
The players’ laid-back mind-set is shared by Maddon, who on the opening day of the series said he wanted the Cubs to treat these games as if they were taking place in the middle of the season.
“I really want to believe our guys are going to treat it like July 15 or August 15,” Maddon said then. “I know I am.”
His strategy reflects that, presenting a sharp contrast with Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts, who is treating every game as if his life depends on it.
Maddon had Jake Arrieta bat for himself in the fifth inning with the Cubs down, 3-0. In other words, he sacrificed one of his 13 remaining outs to get one more inning out of his starting pitcher.
As much as their fortunes have turned, the Cubs wouldn’t compare what is happening in this series to what happened last year in the NLCS, when they were swept in four games by the New York Mets.
“New team, new season,” Bryant said. “I haven’t really thought about last year at all. This is a very different situation, too. I felt like last year, the pitching just beat us. And I feel like right now, we’ve had some chances.”
The Cubs have long been regarded as baseball’s lovable losers. With baseball’s fifth-highest payroll, they are no longer lovable. But if they fall to the Dodgers in this series, they will continue to be losers.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez