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The struggling Cubs say they’re tired; nobody wants to hear it

So here the Cubs are, clinging to a sliver of a division lead and going to a place they don’t want to be to play a game they don’t want to play.

A 5-1 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday at Wrigley Field featured the same whisper of an offensive attack that has plagued them since their five-game lead in the National League Central started to shrink at the beginning of the month. The lead over the Brewers is down to one game.

Now the Cubs have to fly to Washington to play the Nationals on Thursday in a makeup game of Sunday’s rainout. It will be their 24th game in 24 days. By the time they get to their next off day, they’ll have played 30 games in 30 days, including two doubleheaders. If you haven’t heard about this, you live alone in a cave.

It’s why the Cubs lobbied so hard for the makeup game to be pushed to the end of the season. Major League Baseball said sorry, no. And what’s left is the echo of the Cubs’ complaints about having to play so many games in a concentrated period.

The Cubs' Victor Caratini reacts after lining out in the ninth inning against the Brewers on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

The Cubs' Victor Caratini reacts after lining out in the ninth inning against the Brewers on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Too bad.

There’s only one way for them to deal with this. And that’s to deal with it.

Play the games in front of you, even if they’re strung together like Christmas lights.

No whining. No complaining. No eulogies for dead legs and arms.

You play. And if you’re as good a team as you think you are, you’ll still be standing when the playoffs come.

September has taken on a strange emptiness for the Cubs, a club that thrived the previous three seasons down the stretch. Wherever they are right now is not a fun place to be, and if they don’t get themselves out of it soon, they’ll be watching the playoffs on television. Wednesday’s loss was their fourth in five games, and what seemed like a ridiculous thought – a postseason without the Cubs – isn’t quite so out there anymore.

They’re not done. It would be silly to say that about a team that has been to three straight NL Championship Series. It would be ridiculous to write an obituary for a team that is still in first place and has 10 of its final 17 games at home.

But as Wednesday night dragged on, one team rose to the occasion and another stared blankly into space. The Brewers never stopped, and the Cubs never started. You can blame it on fatigue, but that sounds suspiciously like an excuse. It doesn’t sound like a team that has prided itself on being fresh when it mattered.

And it’s not as if the Brewers have been out pricing swimsuits. Wednesday’s game was their 21st in 23 days. A day off here and there, yes. Weekends and holidays off, no.

“We’re in the same place as we’ve always been,” said Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who took the loss Wednesday. “Maybe a little tired to be honest. Obviously it’s been a tough stretch for us, but we’re fine. We know where we are; we know where we want to get to. And we always have confidence in the group that we have in that clubhouse.”

If you talk about something enough, it can take on bigger proportions. This 30-in-30 stretch is starting to sound like 40 years in the desert. And Moises Alou isn’t here to lead them out.

Reporters have asked manager Joe Maddon about the long string of games, and he has dutifully answered every question. This might have been the time for him to go against his nature and offer something worthy of the button-lipped Bill Belichick.

But he didn’t. On Monday, he talked about the effect of rainouts on a ballclub.

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“When you get rained out, it’s not a day off,’’ he said. “People have to understand that. Your motor’s still running, you go through your routine, you practice like you normally practice, you do the normal stuff, you get ready, and then you sit and then the game’s not played, which might even be worse than having to actually play

“… You’re going to get the semantic argument about that. And my best answer would be, walk in their shoes, the players’ shoes. I guess from the outside looking in you could possibly manipulate your thoughts to the point where you could convince yourself that it was a day off, but I’m telling you it’s not.”

If a player wasn’t tired before listening to that, he is now.

No Cub looked like he was going to get a hit Wednesday night. There was hardly a suggestion of it. That’s how bad it was. The team scored six runs in the three-game series against the Brewers.

This isn’t about unfair scheduling, bad luck or the demands of a baseball season. This is about a team that has lost its way of late. Time for the Cubs to try to rediscover themselves in Washington.

They’d prefer not to be there? Again, too bad. There will be plenty of time to rest in a city of their choice when the season is over. Time to go to work. If not now, then never.