CHICAGO — After it was over, the Cubs were more disappointed than stunned that their season came to a close, after scoring only a single run in their 2-1 defeat in 13 innings to the Colorado Rockies in the National League wild-card game on Tuesday.
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Perhaps they weren’t shocked because just the day before they had lost the NL Central tiebreaker 3-1 to the Milwaukee Brewers. Twenty-two innings of the most important baseball of the season and the Cubs managed only two runs. It’s really the storyline of their season’s second half, as they went from the best record in the NL to out of the postseason in the span of less than 48 hours.
“Let’s get one thing straight: We’re best record in the league, minus one,” Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said after Tuesday’s season-ending defeat. “We had to play 163 in order to lose that title. I like my chances every year if you come down to the last game of the year and you’re fighting for best record in the league.”
The Cubs put up some fight but not many runs in the second half of the season. So when they came up short on Monday and Tuesday, it wasn’t something new for them. Like the rabid crowd at Wrigley Field on both days, Chicago manager Joe Maddon was waiting for something to happen on offense. Inning after inning went by against the Rockies’ pitching and nothing materialized, other than a game-extending RBI double by Javier Baez in the eighth inning. Then, silence.
Maddon has seen this act before.
“Yeah, we played that game a lot,” he said. “Believe me, it was on my mind for a large part of it. We had some opportunities; we just could not cash in.”
It was the 40th time this season that the Cubs had scored one run or no runs — tops in the league. The Cubs’ front office will have the offseason to figure out what went wrong on that side of the ball, because Tuesday’s game was simply a microcosm of much of the season. The club managed one extra-base hit in 13 innings. They’re slugging capabilities have dried up for a position-player base that won the World Series two seasons ago. It’s the same players.
“As an offense, we need to mature and develop a little bit more,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “At times, we did this year, as a unit, and at times … not so much.”
As expected after the game, players vowed to return in a better mindset after a rough end to the season, which saw them at a ballpark on 42 of their last 43 days. The mental fatigue wore on their faces. And they recognized, as one of the top teams in the NL over the past few years, everyone wanted a piece of them.
“Sometimes, you have to take the bad with the good,” Lester said. “Right now, we’re taking the bad. … Maybe we needed that.”
MVP candidate Baez offered his take.
“We struggled the whole year, the whole year,” Baez said. “We just kept [saying] we’re going to get it back … but it never came to us. We were never in a rhythm of winning games. I think it was because we were paying attention to other teams.”
Though in first place the entire second half, there was a constant feeling of things slipping away for the Cubs. Most of the time, they responded when they needed to. But in the end, two teams took what the Cubs were barely holding onto: National League supremacy. Now, they’re the first team eliminated from the postseason.
“I don’t feel like we lost this,” Lester said. “They beat us. We played our hearts out. … Maybe in the long run, this will be good for us. You can only learn from losing.”
The Cubs will have the longest offseason in four years to do some soul-searching, as they had advanced to the NL Championship Series over the previous three postseasons. Maybe rest is simply what they need most. It’s also entirely possible that major personnel changes are coming. For the players, they’ll lament losing a wild-card game at home, something this organization would have been thrilled with a few years ago. Now the stakes are higher. And so is the hurt.
“It sucks,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “I’ve been fortunate [in his career] to not be eliminated this early.
“This is the best time for this organization. The fans have suffered for a long time. I think it’s important for us to be proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. We didn’t accomplish what we wanted this year, but there’s still a lot to be proud of where the Chicago Cubs have come from.”