LOS ANGELES — The Cubs aren’t playing the Nationals anymore. And this is a new October, much different than 2016. Even with instant-replay challenges.
Unlike the Nats, the Dodgers finished Saturday night, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 5-2 victory at Dodger Stadium over the exhausted Cubs in Game 1 of the NLCS.
It was a frustrating seventh inning. An out call at home plate on the Dodgers’ Charlie Culberson was challenged by Dave Roberts. The call was overturned, and Culberson, Corey Seager’s replacement at shortstop, was ruled safe on a violation of the collision rule by Cubs catcher Willson Contreras.
Joe Maddon argued and was ejected.
Contreras made the play the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez did not make earlier in the day. Left fielder Kyle Schwarber made a tremendous throw to Contreras, but it was overruled by instant replay.
Maddon said the spirit of the rule is wrong.
“I saw a great baseball play,’’ Maddon said. “A great play by Contreras. I could not disagree more with the interpretation of that rule; however, I will defend the umpires. The umpires have done everything they’ve been told. But from Day 1, I have totally disagreed with the content of that rule. I think it’s wrong.
“Anybody who has played major league or even minor league baseball will agree with me,’’ said Maddon, a former minor league catcher. “That was a beautifully done major league play all the way around. It’s tantamount to the soda tax in Chicago.’’
Contreras said he would make the same play again and the rule needs to be changed.
On the television broadcast, Ron Darling was upset, saying it was a “bad rule. … I hate it.”
Maddon also questioned a play from the previous series involving a slide by the Cubs’ Jon Jay.
“I know I’m going to get in a lot of trouble for saying all of this,’’ Maddon said. “But, like I said, I know a lot of dudes who have played this game. … That was a well-executed play that we were penalized for.’’
Maddon has a point.
Baseball is burying itself with the overadministration of rules, taking the game out of the hands of the players.
“Sometimes laws and rules are made that aren’t necessarily good ones,’’ Maddon said.
Maddon pointed out this was a call he had not seen made all year.
“I’ve got to stick up for my boys,’’ he said. “I’ve got to stick up for everybody that plays this game.’’
That call did not cost the Cubs the game.
Like that soda tax Maddon alluded to, the Cubs bullpen was taxed and the Dodgers took full advantage, scoring all five runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
This is a much different October for the defending World Champs. They are going to have to find a way to counter the many weapons the Dodgers have, even though the Dodgers lost one of their biggest pieces when Seager was not put on the playoff roster because of a bad back.
No team has won back-to-back World Series since the Yankees won three in a row in 1998, ’99 and 2000. No National League team has won back-to-back World Series since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.
No Cubs team has had such magic since 1907-1908.
After a postseason travel day from hell, the Cubs were on the short end of it, playing in front of an energized Dodgers sellout crowd.
Anthony Rizzo reacts after striking out in the ninth inning Saturday.Getty Images
The Cubs offense was stagnant. They managed a 2-0 lead over Clayton Kershaw on a night the lefty surrendered his fifth home run in only two postseason starts.
Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig hit solo home runs for the Dodgers.
Javier Baez is one player who can ignite the Cubs, but he still is looking for his first hit of the postseason (0-for-17). Only Jimmy Sheckard (0-for-21) in 1906 had a longer hitless streak to open a Cubs postseason.
All year it has been a struggle for the Cubs to find the rhythm they had last year when it was a magic carpet ride to a World Championship.
New year, a much different challenge in every way.