In case you missed it … despite losing to the Brewers 5-4 on Thursday night, the Cubs clinched the N.L. Central title when the Giants beat the Cardinals 6-2 in San Francisco.
It’s the Cubs’ first division title since 2008 and their sixth championship of any kind in the last 71 years. They also won the division in 1984, 1989, 2003, 2007 and 2008. With 16 games to play, this is the earliest the Cubs have ever clinched a championship — eclipsing the 2007 National League title, which they clinched with 14 games to play.
Even the seven-year drought was long by National League standards. Ten of the league’s 15 teams have won division titles since the Cubs last won in 2008 under Lou Piniella — with the Cardinals and Dodgers winning four times, the Phillies three times and the Giants and Nationals two each.
Only four other teams have had longer dry spells — the Pirates (24 years), Marlins (24), Rockies (24) and Padres (10).
In fact, only eight current Cubs were in the big leagues the last time the Cubs won the division — Jon Lester (Red Sox), John Lackey (Angels), Jason Hammel (Devil Rays), Ben Zobrist (Devil Rays), Miguel Montero (Diamondbacks), Dexter Fowler (Rockies, as a September call-up) and Joe Smith (Mets).
The last time the Cubs won the division, Addison Russell was an eighth grader in Florida. Jake Arrieta was in A-ball with the Orioles organization. Kris Bryant was starting his junior year at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas. And Anthony Rizzo was with Class A Greenville in the Red Sox organization — undergoing chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma, and getting the news that September that he was in remission.
The early clinching gives manager Joe Maddon the opportunity to set up his position players and particularly his rotation starters exactly as he wants them for the postseason.
But the next order of business is clinching the best record in the National League and home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. The Cubs (93-53) have a six-game lead over the Nationals (87-59) with 16 games to play. The Nationals have won eight of their last 10 game and lead the Mets by 10 games in the NL East.
While the Cubs want to go into the postseason rested, they also have some individual honors at stake. Kris Bryant (.295, 37 home runs, 95 RBIs) and Anthony Rizzo (.290, 31, 101) are among the leading contenders for National League Most Valuable Player. Kyle Hendricks (15-7, 2.03 ERA, 0.960 WHIP) is a contender for the Cy Young Award.