Since they suffered their season-ending, first-round playoff elimination at the hands of the Dodgers, several theories have surfaced as to why, after the best Cubs season in recent memory -- maybe ever -- the formerly formidable Cubs could look so horrible. So inept. So drastically changed from their dominant, never-out-of-a-game regular-season selves. So utterly ugly.
It's either the easiest thing in the world to explain, or it's the most complicated. What do I mean by that? I mean this: The explanation is either that some discrete combination of mathematical probability, matchup tendency, psychological analysis, and random chance theory, all rolled into one cognitive mess that I couldn't even begin to unravel, underwrote what fans saw on the field and explain why a formerly good team was suddenly bad. That would be the complicated version. Maybe some day Malcolm Gladwell will write a book about it.
The really, really simple version is that the Cubs played well for most of the season, but that they lost plenty of games, too, and sometimes you just go cold and your pitchers have a bad day or two, which happens all the time during the regular season, but no one notices because no one cares. In the playoffs, people notice. It happens. Life goes on. You get the point.
In between these versions are the purely pyschological explanations offered up by the players and coaches, which may or may not have merit. Lou Piniella's was, essentially that the Cubs tried too hard. Today, Ryan Dempster offers a not-unrelated theory:
"Maybe we underestimated how prepared you have to be, how ready you have to be, especially in a five-game series," Dempster said. "It's like a short heavyweight bout. Ding, the bell is ringing, you've got to go. I think sometimes we almost expected it, go out there and play hard and we're good enough and just expect it to happen, and we'll win this series and then the next one and all the excitement will happen once we get to the World Series," he said. "Maybe L.A. was just a little more prepared for us than we were for them."
So, thus far, we have Piniella's 100 Years of Pressure explanation, and now we have Dempster's diametrically opposite thought: Instead of trying too hard, the Cubs weren't ready for the adjustment to high-pressure, every-pitch-means-everything baseball. After the ease of their 162-game season, we suppose that makes sense.
Us? We'll take the simple explanation: Sometimes, good teams lose baseball games. Besides, thinking is hard work, you know?