It is official.
We now have scientific proof.
2016 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 2017.
Unfortunately, the 2017 Dodgers are also > the 2017 Cubs.
Tonight was going to be a tough task with the Cubs taking on Clayton Kershaw in an elimination game. As you know, Kershaw is the modern day Sandy Koufax, so the best conceivable strategy was probably:
Convert him to Judaism.
Convince him that Yom Kippur lasts all October.
Unfortunately, the Cubs instead chose to give Kershaw a 9-0 lead by the fourth inning. Of all the controversial moves Joe Maddon has made this postseason, I’d say that one backfired the most. It was a clunker and made it feel like the Cubs were determined to close their season the same way they finished the first half.
Jose Quintana’s five solid innings on short rest in Game 1 gave Cubs fans some hope that he’d be able to keep up with Kershaw tonight. Sadly, that lasted all of three batters as Chris Taylor drew a nine-pitch walk to lead off the game, and Cody Bellinger drove him in with a one-out triple into the right field corner.
Ben Zobrist had a long run to chase the ball down, and there was some Twitter speculation that Taylor might not have scored if Jason Heyward started in right. Maddon instead chose Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber in the corner outfield spots, presumably only because Ralph Kiner and Hank Sauer were dead.
Quintana just didn’t have it, and this was the worst possible night for that. Much is made of the Dodgers’ ability to take pitches just out of the strike zone and force pitchers to come to them. And that certainly manifested itself with Quintana needing 26 pitches to get out of the first and generally looking more like the pitcher we saw too much of in mid-August.
But perhaps just as impressive is the Dodger lineup’s ability to repeatedly foul off pitchers’ pitches to frustrate the opposing hurler and drive his pitch count up even more. Taylor, Justin Turner, and Bellinger were especially proficient at this in Game 5. It felt like every Dodger hitter trained himself to spend each at bat killing enough time to allow Vin Scully to finish his story about the night Steve Garvey celebrated the 1981 World Series by fathering half the population of Bel Air.
By the time the game reached the third inning, the Cubs were down 3-0, and Quintana was wiped out, leaving the bases loaded and no outs for Hector Rondon. The erstwhile closer gave us a brief glimpse of hope, striking out Logan Forsythe on three consecutive sliders.
Unfortunately, Dodgers’ left fielder Kiké Hernández deposited the next pitch into the right field basket for his second of three home runs on the night—this one a grand slam. And the most effort that would be expended after that came from Brian Anderson and Ron Darling figuring out how to kill six innings’ worth of time.
Anyway, enough. This series was a faceplant (with the exception of the sublime Game 4), and the Dodgers clearly have a much deeper roster than the Cubs this year. They earned this NLCS win in every way and will be a very formidable World Series foe.
As for the Cubs, this season was full of frustrating moments, occasional underperformance, and a nagging feeling that they just couldn’t live up to their considerable talent. And yet despite all that, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable years of our lifetimes.
I tend to agree with Jon Heyman’s assessment from a couple days ago. The Cubs are a very good but flawed team. And they ended up beating a better Washington Nationals team in the most epic way possible during a classic NLDS. Unfortunately, this meant that when they were matched up against an even more powerful Dodgers roster, there was not much left and they would have to be almost perfect to survive.
Ron Howard Voiceover: They weren’t.
Theo Epstein is not one to let a series like this stand and just concede the National League to the Dodgers for the foreseeable future. There will be a flurry of moves soon enough, and it will be very interesting to see how the Cubs replace Jake Arrieta and John Lackey and how much of the bullpen gets revamped for 2018.
There’s also a very good chance that this series is going to stick with the Cubs during the offseason, similar to how 2015 NLCS sweep against the Mets did. The Cubs showed up to 2016 Spring Training motivated by that sudden and decisive exit, and we all know what happened next.
There will be no hangover next year. Instead, the chip on their shoulders will be back and bigger than ever.
And there’s a pretty damn good chance the Cubs will be right back here at this time next year.
Is it March 29 yet?
Lead photo courtesy Jim Young—USA Today Sports