Where have we seen this before?
The Cubs failed to show up offensively Wednesday in a 5-1 defeat against the Marlins in Game 1 of the teams’ National League wild-card playoff series at Wrigley Field. Or maybe a better way to put it is that Cubs hitters disappeared into the afternoon mist. Or were swallowed by a sinkhole. Then again, we can’t really use the word ‘‘hitters,’’ can we?
Ugh. Oof. Oy. There’s nothing quite like the Cubs not doing a damn thing at the plate when the air gets colder, the stage gets bigger and the hopes of a return to 2016 glory get deeper and more desperate.
Many a baseball person would have us believe that swinging a rounded bat squarely into the path of a round ball is the hardest thing to do in sports, and the Cubs have spent much of the last couple of months trying their hardest to prove that. They brought a .210 home batting average and a .354 home slugging percentage into these playoffs. Each mark was the lowest in the major leagues.
But Game 1 against Marlins right-hander Sandy Alcantara nevertheless came as a gut punch. Not because the long, lean, hard-throwing 25-year-old isn’t a fine pitcher. Not because the Marlins aren’t an up-and-coming team. Not because these Cubs are world-beaters. Not even because a happy ending to a pandemic-altered season in a painful year would be so welcome.
No, it’s because the truth — undeniable now — is so unpleasant.
The Cubs can’t hit anymore.
And it has been awhile since they could, at least at money time.
They got a solo home run from Ian Happ, three ground-ball base hits and nothing else but soft-contact outs and strikeouts. An offense that came alive in the regular-season-ending series against the White Sox went back to sleep. It was no way to begin a playoff march.
‘‘We’ve just got to come back [Thursday] and play better,’’ shortstop Javy Baez said. ‘‘We’ve got to hit the ball.’’
Look, it’s hard to win a playoff game. We know this is true because the Cubs haven’t done it since Game 4 of the 2017 NL Championship Series. That night at Wrigley, Jake Arrieta threw his final pitch for the Cubs, Baez sent two solo shots over the wall and Willson Contreras crushed a monster bomb — off the videoboard above the left-field bleachers — that Statcast registered at a mind-blowing 491 feet. It was enough to top the World Series-bound Dodgers 3-2 in the Cubs’ only victory in the series.
The Cubs were outscored 28-8 in five games against the Dodgers, who only have continued to prove since that they’re a vastly superior team. Meanwhile, who can forget Game 163 against the Brewers in 2018? That was a 3-1 Cubs loss at Wrigley, another frustrating offensive no-show. And it was immediately followed by a 2-1, 13-inning loss — five wasted hours — against the Rockies in the NL wild-card game.
Two years after the offense ‘‘broke,’’ as team president Theo Epstein put it then, the Cubs are in an even worse slump. In 11 of their last 13 losses, including the playoff opener, they’ve scored two, one or zero runs. There’s a theme to that, right? If you can’t hit, you stink. Come to think of it, ‘‘slump’’ is another word that’s all wrong here. The Cubs aren’t slumping. Coming up empty at the plate is kind of just what they do.
‘‘The offense is still trying to get going,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘Give some credit to [Alcantara], but, yeah, we didn’t swing it well today. Just still working, still working and trying to get that side of the ball going.’’
Offense wasn’t the only thing that went wrong for the Cubs in a game they felt confident they would win. Starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks wasn’t sharp, although he was effective for six-plus innings. But the defense was a bit ragged behind him, making his bid to keep the Marlins stuck on zero runs harder, then Ross left him in for at least one batter too long in the seventh. Corey Dickerson’s three-run homer was one of those moments that would’ve let the air out of the ballpark no matter how many fans were in the seats.
Still, it all boils down to the Cubs’ bats. If they don’t show up in support of Yu Darvish on Thursday in Game 2, it won’t matter how the Cy Young candidate pitches.
‘‘No panic,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘We’ve got the guy we want on the mound [Thursday], for sure.’’
Have we already seen where this is headed, though? Will the Cubs get a whole lot of nothing accomplished against Marlins starter Sixto Sanchez, a 22-year-old rookie, because that’s just how they roll?
This isn’t anywhere close to as painful as it was when the Cubs were knocked out by the Marlins a victory shy of the World Series in 2003. It has the makings of something plenty frustrating, though.
‘‘We’ve got to come in [Thursday] and find a way to win,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘That’s it. It doesn’t matter how.’’