Just a tiny question: Are we witnessing the collapse of the 2017 Cubs?
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Is there a nice way to say this? The Cubs didn’t just get swept by the Brewers over the weekend at Wrigley Field. When it got down to crunch time in the 3-1 series finale Sunday, they went out like lambs.
What a bottom of the ninth inning it wasn’t. First, Ian Happ struck out swinging despite having been ahead in the count 3-1. Then, with the bases still empty, Javy Baez swung repeatedly for a two-run homer — call it Javy math — to no avail. Finally, after Jason Heyward ripped a glorious broken-bat infield single that traveled approximately 18 feet, Alex Avila kindly whiffed for Brewers closer Corey Knebel, too.
Three games. Three runs scored by the Cubs. Three questions:
Where has the Cubs’ mojo gone?
Are the Brewers and/or Cardinals, each now two games back in the National League Central, going to blow the Cubs’ house down?
Are we witnessing the collapse of the defending World Series champions?
No pressure, fellas.
“I didn’t feel [pressure] before the series,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I still don’t. I just enjoy the game.”
And then, after a pause: “We aren’t hitting.”
It’s kind of a problem.
In their last eight games, the Cubs have scored 16 runs. Eight of those runs were scored in the lone game during that stretch when Cubs hitters approached the plate with detectable pulses. Otherwise, we’re talking about eight runs in seven games. In September. With the division lead fading faster than the autumn sun.
It’s still summer, you know. Do the Cubs realize that?
“We just have to keep playing good baseball and see where it shakes out at the end,” Happ said.
But Kris Bryant, the reigning NL MVP, is 0-for-September in home runs and RBI. Even Anthony Rizzo, the team’s most dependable hitter for so much of the season, hasn’t put a ball over the outfield wall since the calendar bid adieu to August. Not that it’s home runs the Cubs need, necessarily. But this team doesn’t seem to understand much about stringing together regular old hits that lead to — what’s that word again? — runs.
The Brewers came in trailing by five games. They head for home feeling like 19 games to go — including four against the Cubs in Milwaukee later this month — equals all the opportunity in the world.
One imagines the Cardinals, who have seven games left against the Cubs, feel quite the same way.
Isn’t there supposed to be a significant talent gap between the Cubs and those teams?
“Nothing happened,” Heyward said of his team being swept, perhaps the emptiest statement any man could’ve come up with in that situation. “Baseball happened.”
The Brewers definitely happened. This is a team that wore T-shirts in Chicago calling themselves the “Milwaukee Un-blank-withables.” Only the shirts didn’t say “blank.” This is a fired-up team. That much was obvious as outfielders Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton and Hernan Perez put their arms out to their sides and flew in like airplanes to high-five teammates after the sweep was complete.
You know what’s possible? The Cubs could travel to Milwaukee and eliminate the Brewers there. Then they could head straight for St. Louis and eliminate the Cardinals there. It sure would be dramatic.
You know what else is possible? The Cubs could collapse like a house of cards. Speaking of dramatic.
“We know what we can do,” said Kyle Hendricks, the losing pitcher. “That’s definitely a given.”
A two-game lead with 19 to go? At this point, there are no givens.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.