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The Cubs are a loss away from remembering how hard it is to win

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The Cubs scratched and clawed to get to the NLCS. Then they bled out

League Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Chicago Cubs - Game Three Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s not like the 2016 Chicago Cubs didn’t face any pressure that made them reconsider their specific place in baseball purgatory. They were down by four runs on the road in Game 4 of the NLDS. They were down 3-1 in the World Series. All of the demons stuffed in their anxiety closet were rattling the hinges and screaming — oh God, the screaming — but the Cubs persevered. They came back and came back again. They survived a Rajai Davis-shaped harpoon right to the soul. Don’t question their ability to succeed in October.

But it was never easy, and it’s a fine line between winning the improbable, close games and being humiliated by the other team. The 2017 Cubs are in the middle of being humiliated. This is the second time in the last three years that they’ve been down 0-3 in a best-of-seven series. In 2015, they scored five runs in three games against the Mets.

They’ve scored four runs in the first three games of this series. If the Cubs killed the even-year Giants dead, it would appear that they picked up an It Follows demon-virus that has to do with odd years. I’m looking forward to the Cubs scoring exactly three runs in the first three games against the Padres in the 2019 NLCS.

Allow me to recount the history of baseball teams down 0-3 in a best-of-seven series. The last time I updated this bad boy was when the Indians stormed out to a 3-0 lead last year. This is a history of all the series with one team taking a 3-0 lead in the first three games, with the result in the series in parentheses.

League Championship Series

1988 - Oakland Athletics over Boston Red Sox (4-0)
1990 - Oakland Athletics over Boston Red Sox (4-0)
1995 - Atlanta Braves over Cincinnati Reds (4-0)
1998 - San Diego Padres over Atlanta Braves (4-2)
1999 - Atlanta Braves over New York Mets (4-2)
2004 - Boston Red Sox (down 0-3) over New York Yankees (4-3)
2006 - Detroit Tigers over Oakland Athletics (4-0)
2007 - Colorado Rockies over Arizona Diamondbacks (4-0)
2012 - Detroit Tigers over New York Yankees (4-0)
2014 - Kansas City Royals over Baltimore Orioles (4-0)
2015 - New York Mets over Chicago Cubs (4-0)
2016 - Cleveland Indians over Toronto Blue Jays (4-1)

World Series

1910 - Philadelphia Athletics over Chicago Cubs (4-1)
1914 - Boston Braves over Philadelphia Athletics (4-0)
1927 - New York Yankees over Pittsburgh Pirates (4-0)
1928 - New York Yankees over St. Louis Cardinals (4-0)
1932 - New York Yankees over Chicago Cubs (4-0)
1937 - New York Yankees over New York Giants (4-1)
1938 - New York Yankees over Chicago Cubs (4-0)
1939 - New York Yankees over Cincinnati Reds (4-0)
1950 - New York Yankees over Philadelphia Phillies (4-0)
1954 - New York Giants over Cleveland Indians (4-0)
1963 - Los Angeles Dodgers over New York Yankees (4-0)
1966 - Baltimore Orioles over Los Angeles Dodgers (4-0)
1976 - Cincinnati Reds over New York Yankees (4-0)
1989 - Oakland Athletics over San Francisco Giants (4-0)
1990 - Cincinnati Reds over Oakland Athletics (4-0)
1998 - New York Yankees over San Diego Padres (4-0)
1999 - New York Yankees over Atlanta Braves (4-0)
2004 - Boston Red Sox over St. Louis Cardinals (4-0)
2005 - Chicago White Sox over Houston Astros (4-0)
2007 - Boston Red Sox over Colorado Rockies (4-0)
2012 - San Francisco Giants over Detroit Tigers (4-0)

Just look at the World Series results. The last 15 times a team has gone up 3-0 in the World Series, they’ve swept the series. Just twice has the trailing team won that fourth game. Only twice has a team in the LCS forced a sixth game. Only once has a team forced a seventh game, and that’s still the only example of a team winning.

The Cubs aren’t going to win this series. You could see it on the players’ faces as they popped up or grounded out or whiffed or fell into a cleverly disguised pit with spikes. You could see it in the exasperated faces of the fans who kind of knew they’d pawned a whole lot of future hopes and dreams last year to get just the one championship. It was the payroll advance of postseasons, and that’s fine. Everyone is incredibly fine with that.

This post started with an idea of looking at different decisions of Joe Maddon with regards to the NLCS roster. Jon Lester is old, and he could have used some extra rest after his relief stint in Game 5 of the NLDS. Jose Quintana isn’t old, but he could have used some extra rest, too. John Lackey starting a game in the NLCS for a team with four superior starters seems weird, but it might have been the best option. And if your argument is that Lackey isn’t to be trusted, well, he was certainly trusted with the winning run on base in the ninth inning of Game 2. So there’s a disconnect.

Then it shifted to an idea about how the Nationals might lose every NLDS, but they make sure to extract their bloody consolation prize. They’re like the bee that stung Macauley Culkin in My Girl. They lose, but so does the other team. The Cubs were desperate to advance to the NLCS, so they pulled out tricks and bells and trick-whistles, and it led to a tired (or out-of-rhythm) Lester and Quintana starting the first two games against the Dodgers. Then Jon Heyman wrote about it. Curse you, Heyman. Always one step ahead.

Then I kept perseverating on the bullpen, which I’ve written about already. Maddon pulled Hendricks, because he was imperfect, which is keeping with the current postseason trend. But he put in Carl Edwards, Jr., who looked like he wanted to die and be reincarnated as a cooper in 17th-century England, where there was no baseball. The Cubs are not flush with shorten-the-game relievers, and it’s showed.

But this all ignores the real reason the Cubs are losing. They’re losing because Clayton Kershaw is good. They’re losing because Yu Darvish is good. They’re losing because the Dodgers’ bullpen isn’t filled with high-walk question marks, but does have a rock solid anchor at the end. And, yes, they’re losing because the Diamondbacks weren’t as helpful as the Nationals were to the Dodgers.

If you had to put it under one umbrella, the Cubs are losing because of baseball reasons. They’re not hitting. The other team is. They’re not pitching the other team is. Way back over there, they were hitting and pitching enough to win a division. Now they’re not. Well, shoot.

It’s a little too glib to suggest that every postseason team that advances to at least an LDS has only a one-eighth chance of winning the World Series. The exact odds ebb and flow. But tell that to the Dodgers, who have lost 10 postseason series since winning their last championship. They get the odds. Baseball is hard, and the postseason is Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins without save states. The Cubs powered their way through the Giants’ hilarious bullpen, the Dodgers’ beleaguered and fatiguered roster, and the Indians’ injury-riddled rotation last year. They won’t get that again, just because seven of the eight teams in the postseason don’t.

If the Cubs win four straight games — seriously, not that unlikely — I’ll be right back here to explain how it was all so obvious. Until then, it looks like their season is over. And it looks like it was ...

[pulls out cards from Clue envelope]

... baseball in the baseball room with a bunch of baseballs. Well, I’ll be. Never would have guessed.