There was only one winner Friday at Wrigley Field: the inclement weather.
That’s the word — ”inclement” — the Cubs used to announce that their series opener against the Dodgers had been postponed, with a doubleheader now set for Saturday.
It instantly raised three vitally important questions:
One, when was the last time anyone used ”clement” in a sentence, 1852?
Two, why does it seem as though nobody remembers pitcher Matt Clement’s big 2003 season? Dude won 14 games, tossed a gem in his final regular-season start to help the Cubs clinch a division title, then pitched 7 2/3 innings to beat the Marlins for a 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series. All these years later, you would think Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano were the only starters on that roster.
And three, help! OK, that’s not a question. But let’s just say it’s hard enough to find relevant things to write about the current Cubs — a rebuilding, next-to-last-place, talent-stripped team — even when they do play.
An empty, quiet Wrigley is a metaphor for where the Cubs are at, which couldn’t be more different from where the Dodgers are at.
Since the clubs squared off in the NLCS in back-to-back seasons — the Cubs winning in 2016, the Dodgers in 2017 — the Cubs have been in a steady decline that turned into an all-out capitulation. In 2018, the offense ”broke,” according to then-president Theo Epstein, and the division title was stolen by the Brewers. In 2019, manager Joe Maddon was a lame duck, bad free-agent signings and poor pitching development had blown up in the Cubs’ faces, an ”October begins in March” rallying cry packed zero punch and, in the end, Epstein surmised the stars of the team were too comfortable and not leaders. In 2020, a pandemic-shortened season, nobody hit and star contracts became elephants in the room. In 2021, the writing was on the wall until some heartbreaking trades ended the whole charade.
But the Dodgers? All they’ve done is win and continue striving for world domination. It will shock all of baseball if they fail to make the playoffs for the 10th year in a row, a streak that already dwarfs what the Cubs managed in their modern heyday. The Dodgers have won only one World Series title during that stretch — it came in 2020 — but there have been five appearances in the NLCS and three in the Fall Classic (including a seven-game Series loss to the fraudulent Astros in 2017).
The Dodgers have set the bar so high, it took a franchise-record 107 victories by the Giants last season to top them by a game in the NL West, which this season appears to be the best division in baseball. The Dodgers — clearly better than they were when the Cubs were reaching their own zenith — are the powerhouse organization in the sport.
Manager Dave Roberts signed an extension in the spring that should keep him around through 2025, a 10th season in a giant, demanding market. Maddon never had a chance to go beyond five in a comparable market with deep-pocketed ownership, brimming revenue streams and a dream fan base.
One club brings up blue-chip prospects — Will Smith, Dustin May, Gavin Lux, Brusdar Graterol — to go with homegrown superstars such as Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler and mega-free agents Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman; the other lets its big-league roster die on the vine. One is relentless; the other makes empty claims about being competitive as it rebuilds. One is state-of-the-art; the other is, perhaps, in a state of denial.
When did the Dodgers and Cubs diverge? When did it start? There’s time on a rainy day to try to imagine it.
Was it Game 1 in 2017, which the Cubs lost after blowing the two-run lead Albert Almora Jr. had given them with a home run against the great Kershaw?
Was it Game 2, when Maddon turned to John Lackey out of the bullpen for a second consecutive day? Justin Turner’s two-out, two-strike, walk-off home run in the ninth inning lives on.
Was it Kris Bryant admitting during that series that the Cubs — with a curse-busting title to defend — were tired?
After making the last out of the fifth and final game at Wrigley, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looked at the Dodgers in the field and clapped as he made his way back to the dugout. It was a gesture of impressive respect. The Cubs would be back. Two outstanding teams would wage October battle again.
But it hasn’t happened. The Cubs haven’t won a playoff game since that series. When these Dodgers who’ve been around awhile look down their noses this weekend, they won’t even recognize the opponent they see.