If lethargic Cubs don’t wake soon, nightmare will become reality

LOS ANGELES — The Cubs? Where are they at, folks?

Remember when they were the best team in baseball, with three pitchers contending for the Cy Young Award and two sluggers contending for the MVP?

At the end of the regular season, they played ‘‘spring training,’’ with manager Joe Maddon putting bench guys all over the field and doing other fun stuff.

On to the World Series!

Cubs players watch from the rail of the dugout during the eighth inning of Game 3 of the NLCS on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers won 6-0.  |  David J. Phillip/AP

Cubs players watch from the rail of the dugout during the eighth inning of Game 3 of the NLCS on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers won 6-0. | David J. Phillip/AP

Now there’s this: A 6-0 defeat Tuesday at Dodger Stadium put them in a 2-1 hole in the National League Championship Series, and they have lost anything resembling momentum or good cheer in the process. Every goat and black cat in America should be trembling with fear of retribution.

The Cubs have scored no runs in their two losses to the Dodgers, and if they once had great hitting, it has drifted into the San Gabriel Mountains like smog from a Pasadena bus.

‘‘We have to just mentally hang in there, man,’’ Maddon said afterward.

His attempt at getting something going offensively by moving guys around in the order was as effective as a dud grenade. It almost seemed as though the real Cubs had had their brains and souls removed and gotten them replaced with cotton wadding and air.

Remember when they came from behind to win games, when they even could beat a team 1-0 when almost no one was hitting, as they did in their victory against the Giants in Game 1 of the NL Division Series?

There’s no sense jumping off a bridge — there are hardly any here, anyway — but this series now has a frighteningly fail-oriented thrust to it.

Baseball is a funny game in that 95 percent of the time you stand and wait. Getting all riled up is of no benefit. You have moments when you sprint, throw, catch or swing the bat, and that’s it.

So when a whole team looks so blah and virtually every player is performing far below his regular-season level, there only can be so many things that are wrong.

One would be that you didn’t take your opponent seriously. Not taking the Dodgers seriously — ever — is absurd. This Dodgers lineup has more lefties than a Bernie Sanders rally. Cubs pitchers seem dumbfounded by this.

Perhaps the Cubs peaked too soon, and their arms are weakening and their hitters are fried. It was fine irony that Anthony Rizzo finally got his second single of the postseason with a shattered-bat infield dribbler that scared the Dodgers more because of the flying wood shards than its velocity.

Another possibility: The Cubs, for some vague reason, aren’t built for the playoffs. What good is it, after all, if you have a 103 mph closer such as Aroldis Chapman and there’s no time to use him?

Then, too, when the Dodgers have a flame-throwing monster in 6-5, 270-pound closer Kenley Jansen, who had 47 saves this season, do you really have an advantage there?

No player can hit better just because he wants to. That’s not how baseball works. You have to relax, be what you’ve always been.

Indeed, there was Dodgers starter Rich Hill — a former Cub, for God’s sake — burbling about ‘‘staying in the moment’’ as being key. Is everybody — and not just Maddon — quoting from the Phil Jackson mindful-warrior recipe these days? Seems like it.

Maddon is correct when he says there’s really nothing different he can have the players do to improve. Juggling lineups is a thought but not an original one.

You dance with the ones who brought you. With the Cubs, that means Rizzo, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward, who are hitting like T-ballers. Moving corpses around does nothing but change the graveyard.

These walking-dead Cubs had better wake up fast. The cemetery of broken dreams beckons.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

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