MORRISSEY: Risky to count out struggling Cubs, their befuddled manager
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The part of the brain that processes information and controls decision-making tells me that the Cubs aren’t going to come out of the National League Championship Series alive.
Their bullpen is a mess, their hitting has gone away and their manager is having a bad postseason.
But then there’s the part of the brain that deals with memory. It has seen a few things. It keeps tugging at my sleeve. It says, “Don’t be rash.’’ Rash would have counted out the Cubs when they were down 2-1 to the Dodgers in last season’s NLCS, with Games 4 and 5 at Dodger Stadium. Rash would have told the Cubs not to bother when they trailed the Indians 3-1 in the World Series.
So by those standards, it would be foolish to say that the Dodgers’ 2-0 lead is insurmountable heading into Game 3 Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. Over the last few years, the Cubs have responded brilliantly when things looked their grimmest. Good fortune has helped. And they always think great things are right around the corner, even if the corner is dark and there’s a sign that says, “You Probably Should Avoid This Corner.’’
Here’s what the current corner says: The NLCS expanded to a best-of-seven format in 1985. Since then, only one team has blown a 2-0 series lead. That team is . . . wait for it . . . the Dodgers, in 1985. So if you really, really strain, risking permanent injury, you can say the Cubs have that going for them.
Manager Joe Maddon thinks that if he says enough uplifting things about his team, regardless of any truths that get trampled in the process, good things will happen. That’s the idea, anyway. It has happened in the past. And maybe it will happen again. Two deflating games don’t mean that NL Most Valuable Player candidate Anthony Rizzo has disappeared for good or that reigning MVP Kris Bryant has forgotten how to swing a bat or that Javy Baez will never get another hit in his life.
A playoff series tends to make highs and lows look extreme. You say this low looks very much like a bottomless pit? The Cubs say they’re craning their necks to see the approaching high.
“I feel like we’re one swing away, one pitch away from being right there tied 2-2,’’ said shortstop Addison Russell, who homered in Game 2. “That’s a great ballclub, and they’re not going to go down without a fight. We’re just going to have to bring it.’’
Maddon will, too. He needs some of his decisions to start going the Cubs’ way, not the opponents’ way. His latest eyebrow-singeing postseason backfire came when he brought in John Lackey instead of closer Wade Davis during the ninth inning of Game 2 Sunday night. The result was a Justin Turner three-run homer, a roaring Dodger Stadium, a stunned Cubs team and quite possibly some effigy-burning of a certain manager with thick-framed glasses and whatever color his hair is now.
Maddon had burned through his pitching staff in the NL Division Series, which is why Lackey, who looks ready to retire and get down to the business of yelling at youth coaches and umpires, was in the game. Davis threw 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS. The most he threw in a regular-season game this year was 34. He didn’t pitch for another week. Maddon has lost his way in these playoffs.
The Cubs know what they have to do, with or without their manager.
“We’ve got to win this next one, find a way, any way possible, just to grind out a win,’’ Rizzo said. “This game is the biggest game for us.’’
The Cubs are praying for the chance to play more than four games in the series, thinking that the more they see the Dodgers’ pitching, the more they’ll be able to adjust to it. Right now, they look like they’re staring at an organic-chemistry final. When your starting pitcher gets one of your three hits, as Jon Lester did in Game 2, you have no chance, no matter who pitches the ninth.
That’s the dark side. Now we come back to the Cubs’ sunny recent history and their strut. The way they carry themselves. They won Games 6 and 7 in Cleveland last season to grab the franchise’s first World Series since 1908. They won Game 7, despite blowing a three-run lead in the eighth inning.
They believe, and it’s enough to give me doubts that they’re toast.
“We’ve done it before,’’ Russell said. “We’ve been here before.’’
The Dodgers have beaten the Cubs twice despite being without one of their best players, shortstop Corey Seager, who has a back injury. That’s bad for the Cubs.
The next three games (possibly) are at Wrigley. That’s good.
“They’re pretty good, but we’re pretty good, as well,’’ Russell said. “There’s no doubt on this team.’’
Count out the Cubs? No, that would be silly. It also wouldn’t be fair to a team that last season did what for many years had been considered unthinkable and undoable.
“We understand that we’ve got an opportunity to still win it,’’ right fielder Jason Heyward said. “It’s not over till it’s over.’’
Hmmm. Sounds familiar.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.