Cubs win the 2016 NL Central title after the Cardinals’ loss to the Giants
CHICAGO – A potential dream division clinching scenario didn’t quite pan out the way that Cubs fans might have wanted on Thursday evening.
At the end of the night, however, the goal was still accomplished.
With their Magic Number at 1 the team lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 in front of a crowd at Wrigley Field ready to celebrate a National League Central Division Championship. But those fans got what they wanted a little later in the evening when the Giants beat the Cardinals 6-2 in San Francisco, mathematically eliminating St. Louis and giving the Cubs a division crown.
That gave Joe Maddon’s team their first NL Central title since the 2008 season. It is the sixth time the Cubs have won a division since it was introduced during the 1969 season. It’s also the earliest the Cubs have ever clinched a division championship, besting 2008 when they won on September 20th.
The 2016 season marks the third time in the modern era of the franchise that the Cubs have qualified for the postseason in back-to-back years, also doing so from 1906-1908 and 2007-2008. The Chicago White Stockings made it to the World Series in 1885 and 1886 in the franchise’s infancy.
Oddly enough it marks the second-straight season that the Cubs have clinched a spot in the playoffs with the loss of another team. Ironically it was the Giants that lost to the Athletics last season on September 25th that locked up a Wild Card berth for the Cubs in the 2015 playoffs.
Maddon said that the Cubs would celebrate the division championship following their afternoon game against the Brewers on Friday.
Now the Cubs focus turns to the best record in the National League so the team can have home field advantage should they make the League Championship Series.
From Yahoo Sports:
Cubs clinch NL Central title in near-record time
Win or lose, there will be a celebration at Wrigley Field on Friday. And the Chicago Cubs are hoping it will just be the first of many celebrations this season.
Despite losing to the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 on Thursday night, the Cubs clinched the National League Central title as the St. Louis Cardinals lost to the San Francisco Giants 6-2.
The Cubs are the first team to secure their postseason spot this year and it’s the first time they’ve topped the division since 2008 after making the playoffs last year as one of the wild card teams and ultimately reaching the NLCS.
Oozing with young talent and bolstered by the addition of some key veterans in the offseason, it was no big shock that Chicago was the preseason World Series favorite.
It didn’t take long to see why, either. The Cubs roared out of the gate, going 17-5 in April, and kept up a terrific pace through the first half, but a less-than-stellar July really hurt their chances of challenging the 2001 Seattle Mariners’ record of 116 regular-seasons wins.
The Cubs will come short of that, though they should still break the 100-win mark, and they’ve also got this to say for their dominance this season: only four teams have clinched in fewer games during the division era, according to ESPN.com.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo power the offense. Addison Russell and Dexter Fowler are difference-makers at the plate and in the field. Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have been terrific in the rotation while John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward have fit right in after signing as free agents. Aroldis Chapman was brought in from the Yankees before the non-waiver traded deadline to fortify the back-end of their bullpen.
They’ve got over two weeks now to ensure all their players get as much rest as they need and they’ll have no problem setting up their pitching. The Cubs head into October as the team to beat and are in a great position to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1908.
Thank you Yahoo Sports
With NL Central title within reach, Cubs ready for Wrigley Field party
By Jesse Rogers ESPN Staff Writer
CHICAGO — Clinching day is finally here.
A Chicago Cubs victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday night at Wrigley Field or a loss by the St. Louis Cardinals later in the evening at San Francisco would secure the Cubs’ first division title since 2008. After that, they could lose their final 16 games and still make the postseason.
“It’ll be fun,” Anthony Rizzo said before leaving St. Louis on Wednesday. “It will be a good weekend at Wrigley. We will really enjoy it when we do clinch. And we won’t take it for granted because it’s not easy. A lot of us have been [saying] this since spring training. We set our minds to it, and we’re on the brink of it.”
Remember: This could potentially happen Sept. 15, in the Cubs’ 146th game of the season, which is the same number of games it took the 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners to clinch, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Only four teams have clinched in fewer games during the division era.
“It’s inevitable,” Dexter Fowler said in St. Louis.
It has felt inevitable for a long time, and of the many factors that have the Cubs in position for early clinching, none is as prominent as the starting rotation. Ironically, it won’t be any of the Cubs’ top five guys taking the mound Thursday night. Rather, it will be relative newcomer Mike Montgomery. The lefty acquired in July from Seattle will start the game that could vault the Cubs into the postseason.
“I haven’t even thought about the clinch thing until right now,” Montgomery said to reporters after Wednesday’s victory over the Cardinals. “I know things can change quickly in this game. You have to be ready. I think I’ve prepared myself. I’ll treat it like any other game.”
But we know it won’t be like any other game. Clinching affairs never are. In any case, Montgomery isn’t likely to finish what he starts, so perhaps flamethrower Aroldis Chapman will be on the mound in the ninth inning with Wrigley Field ready to explode in celebration. That would be quite the scene.
“It’s a lot of fun to be a Cub right now,” catcher David Ross said, “and go to that stadium and feel that energy.”
Manager Joe Maddon has often cited the Cubs’ schedule as a reason for fatigue. They’re coming off a road trip that featured three games starting before 1 p.m. local time, plus a Sunday night game, but to a man, the Cubs say that when they step onto the field at Wrigley, with 40,000 in the stands, they become energized.
“You go out there after a long road trip, and it brings you to life,” Rizzo said. “We want the fans to enjoy it.”
Last season, the Cubs backed into a playoff berth with a loss by another team, so the celebrating wasn’t as “organic” as it could’ve been. The same could happen Thursday, if a Cubs’ loss is followed by a Cardinals’ loss. In that case, the Cubs would probably celebrate Friday instead, and despite a brand-new clubhouse to party in, they’ll undoubtedly acknowledge their fans and let the festivities spill onto the field, as they did last season.
“We definitely don’t like to party too much,” Jon Lester said. “I’m sure it will be fairly low-key.”
Of course, Lester was being sarcastic because if there is one thing this team knows how to do, it’s celebrate. Early in his tenure, Maddon decreed that the Cubs would party after every regular-season victory. They’ve gotten even better at that this season, with the potential for their 94th win to produce the biggest party of the year to date. They’ve earned it.
“We have to focus on the baseball side of it when we show up to play [Thursday],” Lester said. “We can mess around with the other stuff when we’re done. It’s right in front of us. We talk about it every day.”
Four reasons the pressure is on the Cubs to win the World Series in 2016
The Cubs have won the NL Central. That’s only step one toward reaching their ultimate goal
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Cubs became the first team to clinch a spot in the postseason this season. Although they lost Thursday night to the Brewers (MIL 5, CHC 4), the Cardinals lost to the Giants (SF 6, STL 2) to give the Cubs the NL Central title outright. This is their first division title since 2008.
The Cubbies have been baseball’s best all-around team pretty much since Opening Day. They reached 93 victories before any other team reached 89. That’s how far ahead of the pack they are. Chicago is on pace to win 104 games, which would be the most by any team since the 2004 Cardinals won 105 games.
Last season, the team’s rebuild under Theo Epstein yielded results in a big way; the Cubs went from 73 wins in 2014 to 97 and a trip to the NLCS in 2015. Expectations were sky high coming into the 2016 season. Anything less than an NL Central title would have been deemed a colossal failure, even for such a young team.
The NL Central title is merely the beginning for these Cubs — or so they hope. This team is not the Lovable Losers anymore. They’re a bona fide juggernaut that is making good on all the top prospect lists we’ve read over the years and all the expectations coming into the season. They’re not overachieving. They’re only doing what’s expected.
For this group of the players, the NL Central title and another trip to the postseason was never the ultimate goal. Their goal is to win the World Series. Simple as that. Last year, the Cubs snuck up on everyone to win 97 games — even Epstein admitted the team “arrived” a year ahead of schedule — and there was no sneaking up this season. Not at all.
No team has a brighter future than the Cubs thanks to all their young players, many of whom are already providing star-caliber production, but keep in mind the club’s best chance to win with this group is right now. They might never have a better chance to win a World Series than in 2016. There’s a few reasons for this.
1. There is no other dominant team in MLB
By record, the second-best team in baseball this season is the Nationals, the same Nationals who might not have their co-ace (Stephen Strasburg) for the postseason due to a recent elbow injury. The Rangers, the team with the third-best record in baseball, are without their starting right fielder (Shin-Soo Choo) and have some middle-relief issues. The Indians just lost Danny Salazar to an injury. The Dodgers have all sorts of injury problems, too.
We all know any team can beat any other team in a short postseason series. That unpredictability is what makes baseball so fun. That 105-win Cardinals team in 2004? Nearly lost to the Astros in the NLCS, then got swept in the World Series by the Red Sox. The fact there is no other dominant team in baseball bodes well for the Cubs. There is never an easy path to the World Series, but the Cubs have it a little easier than everyone because … well, they don’t have to play the Cubs.
2. Will the pitching ever be better than this?
The Cubs came into Thursday with a team 3.07 ERA, best in baseball by more than three-tenths of a run. Their rotation has a 2.89 ERA, best in baseball by nearly six-tenths of a run. The combination of great pitchers and a historically great team defense has made the Cubs the preeminent run-prevention team in the game.
Realistically, is it possible to sustain this level of run prevention going forward, or even coming close to matching it? Possibly, sure. But consider …
- Jon Lester will be 33 in January and is likely to soon enter his decline phase.
- Jake Arrieta will be a free agent after next season and is said to be seeking huge money.
- John Lackey will be 38 in October.
- Kyle Hendricks probably isn’t the type of pitcher who will lead the NL in ERA by nearly a half-a-run every year.
- The farm system is short on potential impact pitchers close to MLB.
There are reasons to believe the Cubs will never prevent runs this well again. That isn’t to say they’ll be bad going forward. Certainly not. But when will it be better than this? Their best chance to win is with the team collectively keeping runs off the board as well as they have in 2016.
3. They paid big for Chapman
Epstein and the Cubs front office declared themselves in it to win it when they traded four players, including top prospect Gleyber Torres, to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline. That’s not a trade you make when you’re content with sneaking into the postseason. That’s a trade you make when you want to win the World Series.
Remember, the Cubs only traded for half a season of Chapman. He’ll be a free agent this winter, and sure, they could sign him, the same way they could have signed him had they never acquired him in the first place. They paid a big price to get three months of an excellent reliever, and they paid that price for the third month. They brought in Chapman to be a difference-maker in October, not August and September.
4. Those young players will be expensive soon
I’ve seen estimates that suggest a World Series title would lead to billions in revenue for the Cubs. Billions. With a B. So perhaps it won’t matter much when young players like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell hit their arbitration years and get expensive, or when it comes time to re-sign or replace Arrieta. One championship and those folks have more than paid for themselves.
Now, that said, the fact players like Bryant and Russell are so cheap now gives the team more payroll flexibility to make moves. It allows them absorb Chapman’s salary, or pay big annual salaries to get Lackey to take a short-term contract. Simply put, the more expensive their young players get in the coming years, the less money they Cubs will have the spend elsewhere on the roster. Payroll is not infinite.
Make no mistake, an NL Central title and a seemingly inevitable 100-something wins are a tremendous accomplish for any team, even one as heavily favored as the Cubs. And yet, despite their history, the pressure is on the Cubs to win right now. Their best chance to win their first World Series since 1908 is with this group in 2016. It’ll only get more difficult in the years ahead.
Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com, and YESNetwork.com. Mike is a native New Yorker.