Collapse? Failure? Disappointment? However you frame it, the Cubs weren't expecting this


PITTSBURGH — Kris Bryant doesn't want to use the word "collapse."

He prefers "disappointment" in summing up how the last week has gone for the 2019 Cubs. 

Losing five straight 1-run ballgames is one thing, especially when the last four of those contests came against the first-place Cardinals.

But committing 5 errors and losing by 7 runs to a 91-loss Pirates team is another story, especially when this Pittsburgh squad entered play Tuesday night on the heels of a nine-game losing streak and a negative-61 run differential in that stretch.

Use whatever word you want to sum up the last seven games, but the end result is the same — the Cubs are on the brink of playoff elimination with five games still to play in the season.

"Stunning, for sure," said Kyle Hendricks, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning Tuesday night before the wheels fell off in a 7-run seventh inning. "It obviously doesn't feel good at all. Didn't expect this to be happening. So I don't really know what to say to it. 

"We weren't prepared for this at all. It's just unfortunate that his group, we just couldn't come together and get the job done."

Tuesday night's loss moved the Cubs' record to 20-37 in night games on the road — a perplexing area of ineptitude that the entire organization is struggling wrap its head around.

But this is also a team that had 51 wins at home before dropping the final six contests. Up until last week, they could at least hang their hats on their performance at "The Friendly Confines."

"Losing those games to St. Louis, the way it happened was very shocking," Bryant said. "Just the wrong side of the ball there. I think it's kinda hard to answer the question — like how do you lose that many 1-run games in a row? You just don't know. How do you win those games that many times in a row? Who knows? They just beat us those days. They performed better than us. It happens."

Expanding out beyond the final two weeks of the season, the Cubs have no answers yet for how this season went off the rails. 

A year of reckoning that began with World Series or bust expectations and an "October begins in March" edict from team president Theo Epstein will end with a third-place finish and not even one game in October. 

"I try to think of ways and answers to your guys' questions as to why certain things happened and try to do it genuinely and I can't really think of just to pinpoint here or there," Bryant said. "I really can't. That's the honest truth. I'm trying to think of ways, but it's been a hard season to pinpoint those reasons."

Bryant can't recall a time he's ever been a part of a season that began with such high hopes and ended in such a miserable way.

"Not like this, by any means. No," he said. "It kinda seems like it all came on this last week. I mean, obviously, this is gonna be a week we're gonna look back at for a long time. But not in my whole baseball playing career, even going back to high school. No, I can't. It's been a crazy, weird season for us."

Hendricks is always optimistic and is generally able to rely on his intellect to find answers and solutions to struggles. But even he doesn't have any answers yet and he couldn't hide his disappointment as he stood at his locker in the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park.

He knows changes are coming for this team, whether that's regarding manager Joe Maddon or the core of players that — by and large — have been together since 2015-16.

"Yeah, I feel like that's naturally the next thought to have at this point with what's been occurring," he said. "So I haven't really had a lot of time to think about that yet. But yeah, I'm sure a lot of us in here will have some things said to each other and figure out next steps going forward to just prevent anything like this from happening again."

That last point was something Epstein and a lot of different members of the Cubs said at the end of 2018 — they wanted to find a way to ensure they would not come up one game short again. 

But all the talk of urgency this season and making sure very game counts has now resulted in a situation where the Cubs have to play out their final few games as the role of "spoiler" with only pride — and no playoff implications — on the line.

This certainly isn't how anybody saw this season ending.

"You don't ever envision failing," Jason Heyward said. "As a parent, someone that goes to work, playing a team sport, but you understand you're gonna fail at times. It's part of it. It's cliche, but how do you handle it? What are you gonna do about it?"

Soon enough, we'll see what Epstein and the Cubs are going to do about it.

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