CHICAGO – It might seem so sudden, but here we are.
The Cubs status as defending World Series champions now depends upon their ability to win four-consecutive games in a row against a Dodgers team that’s yet to lose this postseason.
The daunting task of completing a comeback from 3-0 in a best-of-seven series has only been completed by one team – Theo Epstein’s 2004 Boston Red Sox. That was an incredible exception in Major League Baseball, and when the Cubs have been down by that many, they haven’t stayed around long.
In the 1932 & 1938 World Series against the Yankees and the 2015 NLCS against the Mets, the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs. In 1910, the Cubs were able to force a Game 5 in that World Series against the Philadelphia A’s but were gone after that.
The odds aren’t looking great as the team gets ready for Game 4 tonight at Wrigley Field. Their resiliency has been a trademark of their season, but this is going to take something special even if the players are trying to downplay it.
“No, not really,” said Kris Bryant when asked if this deficit felt different from the one the Cubs overcame in the World Series to beat the Indians in 2016. “Obviously the amount of games are different, but no. We are down but not out, we still have a pulse. As the saying goes, we really need to take it one game at a time.”
The man trying to create two more of them for the Cubs is Jake Arreita, the Cubs’ Game 4 starter against the Dodgers’ Alex Wood on Wednesday evening. He’s no stranger to elimination games, having led the Cubs to a win in the 2015 NL Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh and Game 6 of the World Series last November in Cleveland.
Yet this one isn’t just to save a season. For Arrieta, it’s the attempt to keep his career in Chicago from coming to a likely end with a defeat at any point over the next five days.
As a free agent likely to demand a high salary, the Cubs are likely to let Arrieta test the waters where he would most likely sign a deal with another team. It would bring an end to one of the more celebrated pitchers over the last generation of the franchise, who won a Cy Young, contributed to three consecutive playoff appearances, and, of course, helped the team to a World Series title.
Arrieta isn’t denying this is a possibility. He discussed it before his Game 4 start in the National League Division Series against the Nationals and was asked about it again at his news conference on Tuesday at Wrigley Field.
“Yeah, it is a repeat. Very similar situation, but still optimistic and looking forward to making a couple more here,” said Arrieta. “I’m still going to kind of take everything in as well as I can and prepare to the best of my ability and be ready to face these guys Game 4.”
“He’s just such a good guy in the clubhouse,” said Maddon of Arrieta. “Just talk about a ‘Steady Eddie,’ there’s no panic, he’s just getting ready to pitch another game. He takes such great care of himself. He’s really set a high bar regarding physical conditioning and diet and nutrition. He’s into all of this. And again, he’s a great teammate.
“Listen, I don’t know if we’re going to be working together again next year or not, but I’ll tell you one thing, it’s hard to beat this guy.”
It will be equally hard for Cubs fans to say goodbye, if indeed tonight is the end of the Arrieta era along with the reign as world champions.