Although they and their fans would have preferred to do so with a win of their own, the Chicago Cubs have clinched a postseason berth. With the San Francisco Giants' loss Friday night to the Oakland Athletics, the Giants were eliminated from postseason contention, meaning that the Cubs have clinched at least the second National League Wild Card position in the 2015 Major League Baseball postseason.
Clinched! Your 2015 Chicago Cubs are heading to the postseason! #FlyTheW pic.twitter.com/Q24R9ZrVuB— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 26, 2015
The Cubs entered play on Friday with a magic number of one over the Giants, the only team left in the wild card race. The clinching was inevitable, but Friday's game at Wrigley Field had even more importance.
The Cubs trailed the Pittsburgh Pirates by 3.5 games in the race for the top spot and home field advantage in the one-game wild card playoff, and they began a crucial three-game set with those same Pirates. The Cubs needed a sweep to give themselves a legitimate chance at catching Pittsburgh for the top spot. However, they left the tying run stranded on third in the ninth inning and lost 3-2.
The wait to celebrate, however, did not last long.
San Francisco took an early 2-0 lead against Oakland. The Athletics, though, forged ahead 3-2 in the bottom of the third. Billy Butler's 14th home run of the season in the sixth and Josh Reddick's RBI single in the seventh gave the Athletics some insurance, and they held on to win 5-4.
The Giants' loss means that the Cubs are playoff bound.
The Cubs will play postseason baseball for the first time since their back-to-back N.L. Central division titles in 2007 and 2008. In both of those years, though, they bowed out in three-game sweeps in the NLDS -- to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008.
Back then, there was only one wild card team in each league. The second wild card began in 2012. Because of this addition, the Cubs on Friday became the second third-place team in Major League history to make the postseason -- assuming they do not catch Pittsburgh. In that case, the Pirates would win that distinction.
Pittsburgh, though, now leads by 4.5 games with only eight games remaining (the Cubs have nine), giving them a magic number of five to secure the top spot. Pittsburgh is also just three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the division crown.
In the 2011-2012 offseason, the Cubs brought in a new front office consisting of team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. Their job was to sell off the aging veterans that won just three years before but were winning no longer. The first big move they made was trading up-and-coming flame thrower Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres, Hoyer's previous team, for a young slugger named Anthony Rizzo. Epstein and Hoyer drafted Rizzo when they were with the Boston Red Sox, and Hoyer knew Rizzo was the man he wanted at first base in Chicago.
After several seasons of trades for the hottest MLB prospects, the Cubs became the most-talked-about "team of the future." They were supposed to seriously contend beginning in 2016 or 2017. However, they reached the playoffs ahead of schedule, thanks in very large part to new manager Joe Maddon, whom Epstein hired during the past offseason.
The addition of star left-hander Jon Lester also had a lot to do with the team's success. Lester started the season rough, but since May, he has pitched more like the ace that signed a six-year contract last December. His 10-12 record may not look that way, but his 3.43 ERA says so. Lester also adds veteran prescience that has already won two World Series.
MLB.com's Carrie Muskat quoted Epstein discussing the 2015 season that his young but very talented team endured and how well the players have handled the pressure of postseason contention. Said Epstein,
"It's really impressive that they're unfazed by the length of the season, the fact that they're in a pennant race, the natural ups and downs that come. We're relying on numerous rookies and young players, and they're just finding a way to contribute, finding a way to improve through the course of the season, which is not easy to do... I think that's who we are, that's why we are where we are. I think that's the kind of people they are. They deserve a ton of credit for it."
Rizzo is a serious candidate for National League Most Valuable Player. The Cubs also have three other legitimate candidates for the biggest awards in Maddon (Manager of the Year), Kris Bryant (Rookie of the Year), and Jake Arrieta (Cy Young). Bryant seems to have the best chance of winning, but Arrieta has made a whole lot of noise since late in the season's first half, including 17 straight quality starts and a no-hitter.
It appears that the Cubs will visit Pittsburgh in the N.L. Wild Card Game, which is set for Wednesday, October 7. Most likely, Arrieta will face Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole, who beat the Cubs Friday. The Cubs recently won three of four in Pittsburgh, so there is still much hope for them and their fans as the baseball world will see if the Cubs can win it all for the first time since 1908.