LOS ANGELES — By the end of it, a dominant season suddenly fragile, harrowing memories from last October gnawing at their fringes, this is what the toothless Chicago Cubs were reduced to.

In the ninth inning, Anthony Rizzo hacked at a Kenley Jansen cutter, and his bat exploded into three pieces. The biggest piece, the barrel, somehow helicoptered behind him, U-turning like a boomerang in mid-air, and crashed high into the netting behind the plate. The ball? It dribbled toward first base for a single.

Now, Rizzo was 1-for-11 in this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Broken bat pieces were flying everywhere,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant marveled. “That’s the hit we needed.”

That’s what the Cubs were reduced to. A 6-0 pummeling in Game 3, the humiliation of 18 consecutive scoreless innings (and counting) heading into Game 4 and they were hanging onto this as maybe the hit that will scoot them out of their collective slump.

Maybe it’s not quite time to break the glass in case of emergency.

But maybe it is time to pick up a hammer and move into position.

Just don’t let Rizzo or shortstop Addison Russell be the one to wield that hammer. Those two are a combined 1-for-20 in this LCS and 3-for-50 in this postseason.

“We’re not hitting the ball hard,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

And: “Obviously, I have no solid explanation.”

Now, a team that won 103 games this season and spent just one day (out of 183) not in first place will be furiously playing from behind in Game 4 on Wednesday night and beyond.

History is beginning to sandbag them, and I’m not talking that 108-year World Series drought.

No, I’m talking more recent history: Of the nine times a 100-win team has fallen behind 2-1 in a best-of-seven series since 1985—the challenge the Cubs now face—five times that team went on to lose.

More worrisome for the Billy Goat Gang is that four of the past five 100-win teams to fall behind 2-1 went on to lose: the 2005 St. Louis Cardinals (NLCS vs. the Houston Astros), the 2001 Seattle Mariners (ALCS vs. the New York Yankees), the 1997 Atlanta Braves (NLCS vs. the Florida Marlins) and the 1995 Cleveland Indians (World Series vs. the Braves).

Playing from behind is not something the 2016 Cubs are accustomed to.

But it’s something they are faced with, and there’s increasing urgency.

“I feel like last year, the pitchers beat us [in the NLCS, when the New York Mets swept the Cubs],” Bryant said. “I feel like this year, we’ve had some chances.”

From Maddon to nearly every player in that clubhouse, that’s the feeling. That last October, the Cubs simply ran into the wrong pitching staff at the wrong time. But this year, aside from against Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 (as Maddon succinctly put it, “Kershaw happened”), they’ve had plenty of chances. And they’ve blown them.

“In this game, nothing can surprise you,” Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. “Obviously, things are happening. Obviously, we had high expectations for ourselves. It’s what’s happening now.

“Maybe have a few drinks tonight and forget about this and come back tomorrow.”

Given how dominant the Cubs were this season, this is the time when we thought we’d be toasting them.

Instead, Maddon adjusted his lineup for Game 3, and more changes are expected for Game 4, while he scrambles to keep the Cubs from becoming toast.

Against left-hander Rich Hill on Tuesday, Maddon moved Javier Baez into the five hole, benched struggling right fielder Jason Heyward, inserted Jorge Soler into right field and flip-flopped Rizzo and Ben Zobrist in the lineup.

With rookie lefty Julio Urias set to start Game 4 on Wednesday, who knows, maybe David Ross will be back behind the plate.

Regardless, there are only so many levers Maddon can pull. His team is his team.

And right now, it is keeping sketchy company:

What if somebody had told Montero before this series started that the Cubs would go 18 consecutive innings without scoring?

“I don’t gamble, but I probably would have gambled on that one,” Montero quipped.

Here’s the risk of tweaking the lineup, as the Cubs did in Game 3: You do it, it doesn’t work, then what? That will be Maddon’s Game 4 challenge. Stick with it? Revert to the way the Cubs were? As he said the other day, during the long season you can give things a few dozen games to settle in. That changes drastically in the postseason.

Before Tuesday’s game, Maddon spoke of “rearranging the chairs.” He also acknowledged a little concern over the fact the Cubs “got stuck” offensively in the NLCS last year.

While getting swept by the Mets, the Cubs batted .164 with a .225 on-base percentage and 37 strikeouts in 128 at-bats (a 28.9 percent rate).

Against the Dodgers, the Cubs are batting .161 with a .235 on-base percentage and 25 strikeouts in 93 at-bats (a 26.9 percent rate).

The numbers are eerily similar. It’s October, and the Cubs couldn’t find home plate with a GPS and a metal detector.

“It’s more of a mental trend than a physical trend,” Maddon said. “You have to be able to push back mentally as much as anything right now. 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. Overall, the at-bats haven’t been that bad. We’re just not hitting the balls. We’re not striking it well. So, we’re making it easier on their defense.”

The Cubs beat the Dodgers in four of seven regular-season games this summer. Maybe they’ll find comfort against Urias on Wednesday night because, unlike Kenta Maeda in Game 1 and Hill in Game 3, they’ve faced Urias this year. He started at Wrigley Field on June 2, and the Cubs ambushed him for eight hits and five earned runs in five innings.

However, in a second meeting with Urias, at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 27, the kid held the Cubs to six hits and one run in six innings.

Still, familiarity usually favors the hitters.

“Obviously, we have a history with him, so it will be easier to establish what we want to do,” Bryant said after a night of watching Hill paint the corners with just two pitches, his 74 mph curve and 91 mph fastball.

Momentum swings are notoriously dramatic in these seven-game series, and as Maddon noted, the narrative will change drastically, again, if the Cubs can beat Urias and the Dodgers in Game 4 and even the series.

“We trust in each other,” Baez said emphatically.

Yeah, well, that’s great.

But you know what would be better for the Cubs? Hits.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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