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Weekend wipeout sweeps away last shreds of Cubs’ championship legacy

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CHICAGO — There was a time when the sight of rain at a Chicago Cubs game would elicit a smile and bring back a happy memory. After all, rain is associated with the team’s 2016 World Series championship, as much as anything that went down in their Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

On that night, the Cubs rallied around each other during a late-inning rain delay, famously led by right fielder Jason Heyward.

Fast-forward to Sunday. At Wrigley Field. With rain falling once again, just as it did on that November night nearly three years ago, the Cubs were again trying to rally. This time, around starter Yu Darvish, as well as their own legacy. For the second straight day, they had a ninth-inning lead against their archrivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. And again, they lost it.

And in doing so, they lost who they were. The Cubs who won that championship are gone forever — leaving behind only the memory of a dominant team. Some players will remain — though likely not the manager — but the vibe won’t ever be the same.

And that’s a good thing.

As these things go, the Cubs need a shakeup of epic proportions. The math says they still have a chance at the playoffs, but no one really believes that. Not after losing five consecutive one-run games and six overall at home.

At Wrigley Field. In the hunt for the playoffs.

The Cubs folded.

Using a twist of a Joe Maddon saying, there is little doubt they let the pressure of the moment exceed the pleasure of the game.

“No matter what the end results end up being, the character is not determined by the final results,” veteran Ben Zobrist said as philosophically as possible. “It’s determined by how you go about the process. We do believe in the process here.”

But that process might be broken. It’s possible that it began to break the day the Cubs won that World Series, but first, it started to bend. And then bend some more, in 2018, and slowly but surely, the team — and its players — lost what set them apart in 2016.

“It’s hard to pinpoint anything,” Maddon said of the breakdowns this season. “Lot of guys are having really good seasons. We’ve lost a lot of one-run games. Is that the lack of a hit or is that lack of a pitch? I don’t know.”

It’s a lack of everything, including the fundamentals of the game. Some numbers lie, but some don’t: The Cubs lead the majors in outs made on the bases, are third in the NL in errors and have the worst save rate in the NL in the ninth inning or later, blowing an MLB-worst 15 of 50 opportunities. They do some things well, such as hitting home runs and shutting down the opponent during blowout wins.

In perhaps the most misleading statistic of any team, the Cubs actually rank third in bullpen ERA in the NL. But take a shovel and dig just below the surface — not very far at all — and you see the underbelly of a bullpen that has been a mess. In high-leverage situations — you know, close games — the Cubs’ relief crew is last in the NL in walk rate (13.6%) and K/BB ratio (1.6), 12th in WHIP (1.50) and opponents’ OPS (.856). Talk about the pressure exceeding the pleasure.

It happened over and over again to the Cubs this season. Not good enough to run away from teams, they also weren’t good enough to grind their way to a better season.

Then came the injuries. Baseball has a cruel way of revealing who you really are over the course of 162 games. And so do the baseball gods. What they told the Cubs over and over again — including Maddon — was that they weren’t good enough or deep enough to play sloppy baseball and still win enough games. The team fought back on that notion, reinforcing the roster by calling up hot-shot Double-A prospect Nico Hoerner to fill in for the ailing Javier Baez. And before that, the front office traded for doubles machine Nick Castellanos. We’re deep enough now, they thought.

Still, it wasn’t enough.

Neither was a heroic return to the field for their ailing captain, first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Days after spraining an ankle, he was back to lead the team to greatness.

They haven’t won since his return.

Of course, there is nothing they can do about injuries, but the issues facing the team came long before anyone got hurt. A lot of them came when the front office didn’t properly equip itself with a closer to start the season. And either Craig Kimbrel is simply struggling because he got a late start or this is who he is. Either way, it’s a problem for the Cubs. That’s what happens when you mess with the baseball gods. Signing a pitcher midseason who had been struggling at the end of the previous year is a recipe for disaster. That is, unless, you’re sure those workouts at a local high school have proven his readiness.

The manager isn’t off the hook, either. How many more runs do the Cubs score if they don’t lead the league in outs on the bases? How many runs do they save — as well as pitches they subsequently wouldn’t have to throw — if not for being at the top of the league in errors? Does a manager have no influence in these areas? Does he not affect young players? When shortstop Addison Russell came up from the minors, in 2015, Maddon was praised for the environment he set for him to succeed. Is criticism unfair when that player regresses? When several others do, as well?

Perhaps no single person is emblematic of the Cubs’ regression than center fielder Albert Almora Jr. The very first draft pick of the Theo Epstein regime — No. 6 overall — is a shell of himself. Once an up-and-coming gold glover who could at least mash lefties, he has been relegated to backup to the backup duty. On Sunday, he entered the game in the ninth inning only to misplay the very first ball he saw. It led to the Cardinals’ win and the Cubs’ collapse.

Pressure. Exceeding. Pleasure.

“We want to win the World Series,” a dejected Almora said after that play. “The chances of that are getting slim.”

Slim has left the building. Miracles are the only thing left, for this season and perhaps for Almora as a Cub. But make no mistake, he isn’t the only player who has regressed.

As for Maddon, he’ll go out as the Cubs’ manager confused about several things, but he really shouldn’t be. When you’re not good enough and you’re not playing sharp, strange things occur. Maddon has wondered: Why is the Cubs’ record in road night games (19-35) so bad? It’s simple, because the team isn’t good enough, and those losses have to show up somewhere, right? It means nothing that it has happened more at night and on the road. It’s an oddity, not the big reason for the Cubs’ woes. There’s more.

“Statistically, if you look at all of the numbers, it doesn’t correspond to where we’re at,” Maddon said. “We’ve had a lot of good individual years offensively. We’ve had starting-pitching issues recently. And then the bullpen has been maligned, but look at the overall numbers with the bullpen, they’re actually really, really good.”

It’s inconceivable, with all the metrics available to the team and manager, that anyone would look at those high-leverage numbers and believe the bullpen has been “really, really good.” But Maddon is right about individual performances. They’ve had some good ones, before the injuries hit. But it’s a further indictment on the group that they haven’t played better as a team.

“It’s hard to cull it down to one particular event or moment or thought,” Maddon said. “It’s difficult.”

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Locker room video shows Cardinals manager Mike Shildt giving expletive-filled speech after win

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In a video that surfaced online Wednesday night, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt can be seen giving a fiery, expletive-filled speech to his team in the locker room following a win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the NLDS.

“The [Braves] started some s—. We finished the s—,” Shildt says in the video, which outfielder Randy Arozarena later acknowledged he posted. “And that’s how we roll. No one f—- with us ever. Now, I don’t give a f— who we play. We’re gonna f— them up. We’re gonna take it right to them the whole f—— way. We’re gonna kick their f—— a–.”

The video is no longer available on Arozarena’s Instagram account, but it gained traction on social media. Arozarena, 24, said in a statement that he was sorry for the footage being released.

“I want to apologize to my teammates, manager, the Cardinals organization and baseball fans for the video I posted tonight after our victory in Atlanta,” Arozarena said. “It was a moment meant to be private. I made a rookie mistake by sharing it on my social media account.”

It’s unclear exactly what Shildt was insinuating the Braves started. There doesn’t appear to be media present as he talked to his players.

The Cardinals defeated the Braves 13-1 after scoring 10 runs in the first inning of Wednesday’s game. They’ll play in the NLCS against the winner of Wednesday’s Game 5 between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Arozarena made three appearances in the series against the Braves, including as a pinch-hitter on Wednesday. He went 0-for-3 in the series with two strikeouts.

Arozarena made his major-league debut in mid-August but saw inconsistent playing time. He finished the regular season 6-for-20 from the plate with one homer, two RBIs, four runs scored and two stolen bases in 19 games.

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Nationals vs. Dodgers – Live Game – October 9, 2019

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That top of the fifth felt like a very big turn of events. The Nats got the first two batters on, Walker Buehler was reeling, but Dave Martinez chose not to pinch-hit for Stephen Strasburg. What followed was three consecutive outs, and the Dodgers maintaining a three-run lead.

Alden Gonzalez, ESPN Staff Writer22m ago

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St. Louis Cardinals set postseason record with 10 runs in first inning, reach NLCS

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ATLANTA — Fans were barely in their seats for the decisive fifth game of the National League Division Series before the St. Louis Cardinals made history, becoming the first team to score 10 runs in the first inning of a postseason game en route to a 13-1 win.

“I’ve never seen that in the postseason,” Cardinals veteran catcher Yadier Molina said after the blowout. “We put the ball in play. We saw the ball better.”

The double-digit output against the Braves is also a record for the most runs scored in an inning in a division series or in any winner-take-all game, and it equals the most runs scored in any inning in any playoff game.

Of the four times that teams have scored 10 runs in a postseason inning, the Cardinals are the first to do so without hitting any home runs.

Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz lasted just one-third of an inning before being pulled with the bases loaded and the home team already trailing 4-0.

“I knew we had him on the ropes,” third baseman Matt Carpenter said. “I’m just trying to take a good at-bat and extend the inning. It felt like we blinked and it was 10. It happened so fast.”

Foltynewicz walked Carpenter with the bases loaded, the first of two walks in the inning with three Cardinals on base. Reliever Max Fried didn’t fare much better than the starter, walking Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty to make it 5-0 before allowing a pair of two-run doubles to Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong.

“One out, bases loaded, second time up in the inning, I’m just trying to put something in play to the outfield,” Fowler said.

When it looked like the Braves finally had the third out on Marcell Ozuna‘s strikeout, the ball got away from catcher Brian McCann, who fell down trying to retrieve it, allowing Ozuna to reach and the 10th run to come home.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt couldn’t believe what he was seeing in an elimination game.

“You play the game right, good things happen,” Shildt said of the walks and contact in the inning. “You can’t expect 10 runs but we definitely didn’t mind it.”

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Tim Kurkjian breaks down his surprise after the Cardinals put up a 10-run spot in the first inning and everything that came out of it.

The Braves missed a chance to get out of the inning after allowing just one run, but Freddie Freeman could not field a hard-hit ball that the first baseman could have turned into an inning-ending double play.

Asked after the game how much blame he thinks he should shoulder for the Braves elimination, Freeman said “all of it.”

“I didn’t come through,” said Freeman, who matched his hit total for the first four games combined by going 2-for-4 in Game 5. “I know everybody is going to say what they want to say but it’s on me.”

Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson had his teammate’s back, saying the Braves would not have reached the postseason without Freeman.

“Freddie Freeman is one of the best players in baseball,” Donaldson said. “You never expect him to make a mistake. The guys has been on point all season long.”

Foltynewicz was charged with seven runs on three hits and three walks, after he did not allow a run on three hits over seven innings in Game 2.

“The guy goes out and pitches seven shutout and looks unhittable and the same guy can go out the next time he pitches and have a completely different outing,” Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright said. “That is baseball at its finest right there.”

The Cardinals had just five hits in the inning, marking the first time a team scored at least 10 runs with five or fewer hits since June 2011. It’s the second time this season a team scored 10 runs without hitting a homer, after the Marlins scored 11 against the Brewers in June.

To save their season, the Braves would have had to break a 90-year-old record for the largest postseason comeback. In Game 4 of the 1929 World Series, the A’s trailed the Cubs 8-0 heading to the bottom of the seventh before plating 10 runs in the inning to take the lead for good.

But St. Louis didn’t let up, plating three more runs to set another postseason record for the most runs through three innings, and the Cardinals advanced to the NL Championship Series for the first time since 2014.

“It was never enough runs, man. Just keep eating, boys, keep going, which we did,” Shildt said. “I love the fact we added on after that, and the next couple of innings as well. As far as that goes, this is a very present group, just kept right there, pitch to pitch.”

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