THE PLAYOFF CUBDATE: The Heartbreaking Kids

LOS ANGELES – Evolution in baseball is a funny thing. One moment, you’re a sympathetic figure, the next you’re the one who is making people feel bad.

That was the case on Thursday night, when the Washington Nationals lost arguably one of their most painful games since arriving in the Nation’s Capital back in 2005. A 4-1 lead was squandered by their best pitcher, then a great comeback was thwarted by a head’s up pick-off move and timely review by their opponents.

With their best hitter up against a pitcher working in his longest outing of the season, Bryce Harper struck out. Hard luck Dusty Baker was on the receiving end of a second Game 5 loss in as many years. and his fifth “Winner-Take-All” game defeat in 14 years.

“It’s very disappointing, not to be going to L.A., not to go home see my family and play in Dodger Stadium and go to the next step,” said Baker in what has become a familiar scene lately.

So who is this time causing this sadness? The Chicago Cubs.

So long “Lovable Losers,” this group of opportunities winners have turned the tables on Major League Baseball, becoming their resident heartbreakers.

Just to see the fight that my team had, and to stand behind every single one; everyone’s up there top-stepping every pitch,” said Addison Russell of the Cubs’ latest dispensing of bad news on Thursday. “Just to see like the energy, you know, flow within the dugout was just — I get chills just talking about it. It was awesome.”

Other would disagree. Just ask the Cleveland Indians, who had their chances for their first title shut down in an impressive three-game rally by Joe Maddon’s team last October and November. In grand style, the Cubs lost a three-run lead four outs from the championship but rallied back in the tenth inning after a rain delay to end their 108-year championship drought.

Those in Cleveland might still be a little sour at the Cubs considering the team was dumped from the playoff this year after losing another two-game series lead in the American League Division Series to the Yankees. They can take a spot in line with the Nationals and the Cubs’ upcoming opponent for the National League Championship Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Last year they had a 2-1 lead at home in Game 4, having shutout the Cubs for 21-straight innings. Yet a bunt by Ben Zobrist led to a four-running inning and the emergence of the Cubs’ offense, who scored 23 runs from there on out to win their first pennant in 71 years. To add insult, the Cubs blasted ace Clayton Kershaw for five runs, four earned,  in the clinching victory at Wrigley Field in Game 6.

He’ll start Game 1 on Saturday against the Cubs as the series opens in Los Angeles this time. Kershaw says he’ll try to learn from the mistakes made in that final game last year against the Cubs, but he’ll have to do so without Corey Seager, who is off the NLCS roster with back issues.

Once again, the Cubs are in position to be a heartbreaker, a nemesis for another National League team. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admits to not really caring who the team faced in the NLCS, but he doesn’t exactly mind it’s the Cubs either.

“They’re the world champs, the defending champs. So I guess they say to win a championship you’ve got to go through the current champions,” said Roberts. “So it’s going to be a fun series.”

Others have said that before recently against the MLB’s traditionally “Lovable Losers.” They’re singing a different tune these days.