LOS ANGELES -- The moment summed up Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon's predicament. It was the seventh inning of Tuesday's National League Championship Series matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his team was trailing 4-0. Maddon sent Jason Heyward to the plate to pinch hit for Addison Russell. A .105 postseason hitter replacing an .042 one. That's what it has come to for the Cubs.
"We're not hitting the ball hard," Maddon said after the 6-0 loss. "Obviously, I have no solid explanation."
No one does.
When an offense slumps, particularly its stars, finding a reason can be as tough as finding the solution. One thing feels certain: The number of players slumping at once isn't a coincidence -- and it's not all about Dodger pitching.
"I think it's our hitting," Dexter Fowler (.179) said. "We've hit the best of the best. The past few days we just haven't been doing it."
But why? That's what every Cubs fan wants to know. Why now? They can't buy a big hit -- they were shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since May 2014 and now trail 2-1 in their best-of-seven series. The slump could not have come at a worse time.
"Offensively, we haven't executed and put it all together and passed the baton," Chris Coghlan said. "We have to have more productive at-bats. There's not one solution."
If you're keeping track, the Cubs haven't scored since they rocked Wrigley Field in the eighth inning of Game 1 with Miguel Montero's grand slam followed by a Fowler solo shot. That feels like ages ago; the Cubs have managed six hits since then, including just four on Tuesday.
Maybe Game 3 changes if Russell comes through after Dodgers starter Rich Hill opened the door for a rally by walking two batters in the second. A passed ball moved them up a base, but the man who came through in the clutch so often this season has done anything but during the playoffs. Russell struck out -- granted it was on a nasty curveball -- and the offense did little the rest of the game. Hill was good; Cubs' hitting was not. That's the storyline of the postseason so far.
"One you get something on the board, you're like let's roll," Coghlan said. "Then it is contagious. We can pretend like it's not, but it is."
It's contagious both ways, and unfortunately for the Cubs, everything is working against them. It seems that Kris Bryant (.357) is the only batter who's having a good playoffs. Even Javier Baez came back to Earth, showing some shakiness in the field and going 0-for-4 at the plate.
So now what? Where do the Cubs go from here? Let's start by examining their attitude. For the first time since the start of the regular season, they're in a negative position, trailing in the series, but the locker room was anything but negative after the Game 3 loss. You can decide if that's a good thing or not. Maybe you'd like to see a table or two turned over, but that's not the Cubs' style under Maddon. Bryant quickly dismissed the notion of frustration setting in.
"Not at all," he said. "Super calm. No one throwing stuff. On the outside, you would think that's what's going on because it's fun to hit, but there is no panic. Nothing in here."
It's probably a good thing because hitting is about the only activity in sports where trying harder or even getting mad usually doesn't work. You can say enough is enough, but this isn't playing defense in basketball where it's all about effort. This is a mental grind.
"We're just not hitting the ball well," Maddon stated. "We're doing the same kind of routines, the work is the same, the batting practice is the same, or the lack of it is the same, and we're just not getting the results right now. There is really no excuse. We just have to pick it up quickly."
That's the thing about the playoffs. You can't come out of it slowly. It can't take a week. It has to happen now. Easier said than done, but it has been done. And now the ‘P' word is going to be thrown around. Is the pressure at the plate mounting?
"I've seen it before," Fowler said. "You go in ruts then snap right back out of them."
Fowler is going to have to take charge, as should Anthony Rizzo (.077), and if Heyward could pile up a few hits, that wouldn't hurt either. It's too much to ask Baez or Willson Contreras or even Russell to carry the team. Youth has to show up in a bad way once in a while, and perhaps that's what's happening with a few players. That leaves no excuses for the rest of the team.
"You have to be able to push back mentally as much as anything right now," Maddon said. "Because when it comes down to work, you don't need any more batting practice or video study or data information. You just have to mentally hang in there and keep pushing back until you get it. It's just about hard contact."
The Cubs are hitting .185 this postseason, which might actually be spun into a positive if you're so inclined. How are they still in this series with those numbers? And if they've been that bad, shouldn't a 107-win team show up in a positive way at some point? Maybe not. Tuesday's loss arguably was a reminder of last season's four-game sweep in the NLCS to the New York Mets. Nothing was happening at the plate, and Clayton Kershaw or Noah Syndergaard weren't on the mound.
"We're better than this," Coghlan said. "I think 3-1 [in the series] feels a lot different than 2-1. You still feel like this isn't going to be a runaway thing."
That was the hope inside the locker room, that this is going to be a long series and the past two games are bumps in the road. It's the positive spin, but the only one they could come up with on short notice. What else is there to say after even a few lineup changes didn't make a difference?
"Belief is very powerful, and we all have that here," Bryant said. "The peaks and valleys sometime make you go crazy, but we have more games to play."
That's about as philosophical as Bryant gets, but this is the time of the year when it might be needed most. The Cubs are not done. Down 2-1 is hardly the time to lose faith -- though something has to change at the plate. That much is obvious.
"If you can't hit, you can't score runs," Fowler said. "Period."