Cubs' latest failure is worse than ever
It wasn't a collapse. "Collapse" is too nice a word. A collapse would mean the Chicago Cubs actually showed up for the National League Division Series.It wasn't a choke. A choke is what happened in 2003, when the Cubs were exactly five outs away from their first World Series in seven decades. A choke is when you blame someone sitting in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113 of Wrigley Field. No, in some ways this latest Cubs playoff zombie film is worse than 2003's, and it's definitely worse than last year's October three-and-out. The 2003 choke produced anger and tears. The 2007 postseason losses produced disappointment, but with them came a weird, wait-'til-next-year optimism. Next year just came and went. The Cubs have become playoff-irrelevant, which is the cruelest thing you can say about a team. They simply don't matter once the leaves change. Nine postseason losses in a row. Nine. The Cubs haven't won a playoff game since Oct. 11, 2003. The Los Angeles Dodgers just eliminated them in three games. Check that. Only one of those Dodgers-Cubs games -- Saturday night's 3-1 loss -- was actually competitive. The first two were embarrassments for the Cubs. [We pause here to give the Dodgers their every prop. They bear-hugged the playoff moments. A little more than a month ago they were five games below .500 and losers of eight in a row. Now they're drying out their swim goggles and unis from the champagne and beer clubhouse showers. Their right-handed starting pitching Saran Wrapped the Cubs' predominantly right-handed lineup.
I've got them somewhere in my desk: Cubs World Series tickets for 2008 (bleacher seats, $125 per), for 2007, for 2004, and, sigh, for 2003. They're useless, of course -- just perforated strips of what could have been.I woke up Sunday morning and looked at the NLDS stats. The Dodgers' James Loney had as many RBIs as the entire Cubs team during the series. No Cubs starting pitcher lasted longer than 6 1/3 innings (Ryan Dempster 4 2/3, Rich Harden 4 1/3, Carlos Zambrano 6 1/3). Five of the eight Cubs position players hit .200 or worse. No one was more brutal to watch, with the exception of those mind-numbing "Frank TV" promos, than Alfonso Soriano (.071), but Lou Piniella never talked about benching him. Instead, Kosuke Fukudome (.100), who at least can play defense, was the one who sat at the beginning of Game 3. Anyway, the numbers are only part of the story. The real question is this: Why did the winningest team in the National League (97 victories) assume the fetal position as soon as the playoffs started? The Cubs did it last year too. The Cubs are living proof that playoff baseball requires a special kind of player, a special kind of nervous system. I don't blame Mark DeRosa for stating the obvious -- that Game 2 of the Dodgers series was do or die. It was do or die. What I don't understand is how almost an entire team could belly flop again. I think it was Cal Ripken Jr. who said it on the TBS postgame show: The winningest team isn't always the best team. He's right. The Cubs won lots of regular-season games, but they switched to fragile mode once October arrived. They lacked the mental toughness of the Dodgers, or even of the less-talented White Sox, who grinded their way into the postseason. The Cubs' body language screamed, "We're doomed." You only get so many chances at greatness. This was the Cubs' chance, maybe their best chance. And like Soriano, they whiffed. The year began with Dempster saying the Cubs were going to win it all. It ended with the Cubs not even able to win an NLDS game. -- Gene Wojciechowski
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.