Go, Cubs, Go? Or No, Cubs, No? Let’s see if this team can avoid a season-ending collapse

For most of the last two weeks, the Cubs have been partying like it’s 1969.

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Dansby Swanson got the Cubs going Tuesday with a first-inning home run.

Dansby Swanson got the Cubs going Tuesday with a first-inning home run.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It might be . . . it could be . . . it isn’t?

For eight weeks, the Cubs played like a team that belonged in the postseason. As recently as the first week of September, they seemed almost like shoo-ins. The predictive models loved their chances. Those of us who are blissfully dim-witted enough not to even begin to understand what goes into those predictive models loved their chances, too.

But then, well, you already know what happened.

The Diamondbacks happened.

Bats going silent happened.

A team suddenly looking perilously low on gas happened.

Mounting pressure happened.

The 2023 Cubs are well on their way to collapsing, folks. With eight losses in their last 10 games heading into the final homestand of the season, there’s no other way to look at it. They entered Tuesday’s rain-delayed series opener against the Pirates with 12 games left to play, meaning there’s time enough to make October meaningful again. But will these Cubs come through or will they eat the wild-card dust of the Phillies, the D-backs, perhaps the Marlins or even — oh, the indignity — the Reds?

Go, Cubs, Go?

Or No, Cubs, No?

“Something will make it turn,” manager David Ross said. “Some player will step up and get a big knock in a big situation, and guys will take a deep breath, and we’ll be back on this roll we’ve been on for a pretty good while now.”

But for most of the last two weeks, the Cubs have been partying like it’s 1969. Or maybe the 2019 fade-out is a better comparison. Remember how that 2019 team lost 10 of 12 to go from 82-68 to over-and-out? It doesn’t live in infamy like the 1969 Cubs or the 1964 Phillies or the 2009 Tigers, but the way that September played out was still a pretty heavy-duty kick in the gut.

These Cubs have some pretty compelling excuses for stumbling, if we’re being honest. Infielders Jeimer Candelario and Nick Madrigal are out with a lower-back strain and a hamstring strain, respectively. Key relievers Adbert Alzolay and Michael Fulmer are nursing forearm strains. Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesneski — three-fifths of the season-opening rotation — are kicking around in the bullpen. And $68 million free-agent starter Jameson Taillon has been so unreliable, Ross bumped him from his scheduled start against the Pirates.

The Cubs weren’t even supposed to be a playoff contender this season, according to popular opinion. And we wouldn’t even be talking about a collapse if not for the expanded playoff format that gives any team with a pulse a chance to sneak into the dance.

But this isn’t the time of year for excuses, and, besides, nobody wants to hear them.

“No one on any team feels their best right now, but that’s where you’d like to thrive,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “When your backs are against the wall and things are a little bit challenging, that’s when you step up. That’s what you trained all offseason for. That’s what you put pennies in the piggy bank all year for — to be at this point — and you’ve just got to find a way to get through.”

Cubs president Jed Hoyer happened to be in Tokyo while the Cubs were drowning in the Arizona desert. Watching from afar, he saw what the rest of us did, a team that looked tired and maybe affected somewhat by increasing pressure as the losses piled up.

“It’s hard to diagnose,” Hoyer said. “Are you tired? Are you pressing and trying too hard? All these different things run through your mind. There’s no way to know that your opinion is right or wrong, but all of those things go through your mind as you watch that.”

The downturn “came out of nowhere,” as Hoyer put it, and could be reversed just as quickly. A successful push for a playoff berth would do a lot of good for Hoyer’s and Ross’ reputations, for building momentum for 2024 and for emboldening fans to buy into the notion that another World Series is close. And we shouldn’t outright dismiss the possibility of the Cubs winning a postseason series or even more than one of them. There have been outlandish October surprises before.

But if the opposite happens? If the Cubs just keep showing up and losing until the sky has fallen and all hope is lost?

That’s called collapsing. Choking. Spitting the bit. Making Ronnie Woo Woo change his name to Ronnie Boo Boo. Pick a descriptor.

Go, Cubs, Go?

Or No, Cubs, No?

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