We're certainly not the first to think it. We may not even be the first to write it. But we're the first to write it here:
The Cubs are dead.
Oh, they're still in the National League wild-card hunt, and maybe they'll smoke-and-mirror their way into a brief playoff appearance. But they ain't catching the Cardinals in the NL Central.
The Cubs entered Thursday's schedule 10 games behind first-place St. Louis. On the face of it, perhaps it's not an insurmountable lead. Except that we're not talking about the 1914 Braves, the '51 Giants or the '78 Yankees. We're talking about the Cubs.
The official postmortem will say injuries did them in. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were supposed to be their twin aces. Right now, Carlos Zambrano has more wins (nine) than both of them put together.
The time of death? Tuesday, July 20, 2004. The place? Wrigley Field. The Cubs had lost a 5-4 heartbreaker to the Cards the night before. But they led this one 8-2 after five innings and appeared well on their way to salvaging a morale-building split of their two-game series.
But St. Louis scrapped back. The Cards got four in the sixth and one in the seventh before So Taguchi tied it with an eighth-inning home run. After Albert Pujols slammed a two-run go-ahead homer off LaTroy Hawkins in the ninth and Hawkins was tossed for arguing with plate ump Tim Tschida, the Cubs' meltdown was complete.
Even really good teams have trouble coming back from something like that. The Cubs? Hah. If the late Lewis Grizzard hadn't already written it, the story of their season could be titled They Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat.
Because of baseball's capricious schedule-making, Tuesday's game was the last regular-season matchup between the Cubs and Cardinals this year. That's been the source of much moaning and groaning, but maybe it's not such a bad thing.
The Cubs finished 8-11 against the Cards, and just 4-8 in their last three series. If it somehow turns out that we're wrong about this whole thing -- gasp! -- it may well be because they don't have to play St. Louis the rest of the way.
On to the rankings ...