The Chicago Cubs have been a staple of “Sunday Night Baseball” telecasts for years, thanks in part to a star-studded lineup, a national following and the photogenic ballpark they call home.

Wrigley Field looks as good as ever, and fans still turn out in droves if the weather is nice and the beer is cold.

But Sunday night’s ESPN game against the Los Angeles Dodgers could be one of the Cubs’ final appearances in 2022 the way their season is trending.

There are only so many ways to talk about Wrigley before admitting the obvious: The Cubs are not ready for prime time.

The Dodgers swept the Cubs by scores of 7-0 and 6-2 in a split doubleheader Saturday, leaving them with four straight losses and 13 in their last 16 games.

Clayton Kershaw dominated the Cubs with seven shutout innings in the opener before the Dodgers won the nightcap with only three hits, including Mookie Betts’ bases-clearing double in the second off Keegan Thompson and his two-run homer off David Robertson in the ninth.

Cubs pitchers issued nine walks in the nightcap, including five by starter Daniel Norris and Thompson during the Dodgers’ four-run second. The Cubs fell to eight games under .500 at 9-17.

They have a .341 winning percentage (42-81) since June 14, 2021, picking up where they left off last season.

After a day off Thursday and Friday’s postponement, the sun finally came out at Wrigley on a chilly Saturday afternoon, so it wasn’t a total loss for the announced crowd of 37,594 — aided by a large contingent of Dodgers fans.

Even Dodger-hating Cubs fans should have been glad for the opportunity to watch the 34-year-old Kershaw, a future Hall of Famer, defy his age with another dominant performance.

“At some point you feel like the ball will bounce our way or some of those balls will fall in,” said manager David Ross, who pointed to several hard-hit balls off the Dodgers veteran.

Perhaps, but Kershaw scattered five hits over seven shutout innings to improve to 4-0. He has a 1.00 ERA over his last three starts and is one of only three starters this season with 30 or more strikeouts and three or fewer walks.

Hitting aside, baserunning gaffes by the Cubs also were on display early in the opener.

“Making outs on the bases, we can’t do that when you’re facing a good pitcher like that,” Ross said.

After Kershaw picked Seiya Suzuki off first base to end the first inning, Nico Hoerner was tagged out chugging into second base to end the second. After reaching on an infield hit, Hoerner apparently believed the errant throw went into a camera well and bounced back, entitling him to a free base. Ross said Hoerner should’ve waited for the umpire to make the call.

“Just one of those tough lessons,” Ross said.

Drew Smyly lasted 4⅓ innings in the opener, allowing two earned runs on six hits and four walks in his return from the bereavement list. Command issues in the first put the Cubs in a quick hole, and his only other mistake was a fourth-inning home run by Austin Barnes.

Ross said Smyly threw “extremely well,” but Smyly conceded he “wasn’t very sharp today … and threw a ton of pitches” in the first.

“That’s probably the worst team to face when you’re not being aggressive in the zone and attacking,” Smyly said. “They don’t really chase.”

Ross acknowledged before the game that Cubs starters collectively haven’t pitched to their potential, but he still believes they can become “a solid pitching staff if we continue on the trajectory we’re on.”

But the Cubs no longer can use the excuse of a short spring training to explain their 5.16 ERA entering the day or the lack of quality starts. Cubs starters have lasted five or more innings in only nine of the first 26 games after Norris went 1⅓ innings as the “opener” in the nightcap. The only starters who have thrown more than five innings are Marcus Stroman (twice) and Kyle Hendricks (three times).

Justin Steele, who compiled a 9.35 ERA over his last three starts and failed to last more than three innings in any of them, was pushed back to Monday night’s game in San Diego. The Cubs have only four starters on the roster, though Ross said the Steele move “was a product of how our roster is shaped.”

Wade Miley said he would throw a bullpen session Sunday after pitching four scoreless innings Thursday in a rehab start for Triple-A Iowa. Miley could be ready to join the team on the upcoming trip to San Diego and Arizona.

It won’t save the season. But at this point, the Cubs can use all the help they can get.

“It takes a lot to win a game,” Smyly said. “They’re never easy.”

And it’s harder than ever for the Cubs.


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