Mike Nadel: Choking Cubbies swept again

Mike Nadel

It's not a stinkin' curse, folks. It's just another stinkin' choke job by a franchise that officially has entered its next 100 years of failing when games matter most.

In 2009, after the Cubs complete their 162-game schedule, can't they simply save their beaten-down fans some grief -- and themselves some embarrassment -- by forfeiting their three playoff games? It would be quicker, it would be neater and it would let them get a jump on their tee times.

Saturday night's 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers marked the second consecutive three-game sweep suffered by Lou Piniella's incredibly shrinking Cubs. Once again, the hitters -- especially the three All-Stars who are paid handsomely to drive in runs -- disappeared when the calendar turned to October.

Incredibly, Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez registered nary an RBI in 74 at-bats over two postseasons.

No wonder the Cubs scored -- are you ready for this? -- 12 runs in six playoff games. To underscore the chokiness (if that wasn't a word, it is now) of the situation, Soriano, Lee and Ramirez combined for 157 homers and 529 RBIs the last two regular seasons.

Fittingly, the priciest player in Cubs history -- $136 million man Soriano -- struck out to end the game and touch off a wild celebration at Dodger Stadium as the Cubs only could watch in stunned silence.

After getting whiffed by Hiroki Kuroda in the fifth inning, an angry Lee slammed his bat and threw his helmet to the ground. Otherwise, Lee actually hit the ball hard, with two doubles and a single. Had Soriano and Ramirez done anything, the Cubs might have delayed their vacation by at least a day.

James Loney, whose first-inning double plated the only two runs Kuroda and the L.A. bullpen needed, drove in six runs in the series. That equaled the Cubs' RBI total as they got outscored 20-6 by Joe Torre's Dodgers.

OK, I'll stop boring you with statistics now because I think you get the point:

Big games, big situations, big salaries, big hype ... little, itty, bitty results.

Next spring, when Sports Illustrated, ESPN and other "experts" proclaim the Cubs as the team to beat, the only fitting response will be: "Yeah, and they will get beat in the playoffs, almost surely in three straight games."

And if the Cubs have another 97-victory season, roll your eyes and say, "We'll see what that means in October."

For all of the wonderful things he has done since taking over as manager, Piniella is 0-6 with the Cubs in the postseason. Heck, even Dusty Baker won a playoff series! (Baker's boys didn't start choking in 2003 until you-know-when after You-Know-Who tried to catch a foul ball.)

It's hard to blame Piniella for the failures of his best players, though. He can't go to the plate for them – though Cubbie fans no doubt wish he could. Even in his mid-60s, Sweet Lou probably would come through at least once in two postseasons.

It was this kind of series for Piniella: His big move Saturday backfired. He finally benched slumping Kosuke Fukudome, moving Mark DeRosa from second base to right field and playing Mike Fontenot at second. Fontenot's bad relay after fielding Loney's double let Manny Ramirez score to make it 2-0. And badness knows, the Cubs can't come back from a two-run deficit in a playoff game.

Hard-throwing Rich Harden, acquired to give the Cubs a "championship-ready" rotation, wasn't very good Saturday. But at least he was better than Ryan Dempster, the Game 1 starter, and no worse than supposed ace Carlos Zambrano.

In recent weeks, Piniella bristled at the suggestion that these Cubs were "built to win the World Series." He felt several teams were built to win, and he included the Dodgers on that list even though they only had 84 victories during the season.

He was right about the Dodgers, whose outstanding right-handed pitchers completely shut down a Chicago lineup that is far too right-handed. The results likely won't change next October unless the Cubs address that issue. They've spent nearly $500 million over the past two years, and the new owners will have to keep opening the vault to fix this flawed team.

As discouraging as this is, the Cubs are close to having the talent they need.

That being said, when the best, highest-paid players fail repeatedly, it's tough to take any team seriously.

Mike Nadel ( is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at