Franchise growth spurt? Cubs to keep champagne on ice until bigger prize in hand

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Daniel Murphy congratulates Cole Hamels after Hamels hit his second career home run Monday for the Cubs’ only run in a 5-1 loss to the Pirates.

The Cubs arrived Monday at Wrigley Field on the brink of franchise history.

Not that anyone could tell. Not that any of them had any idea.

They didn’t achieve it Monday, largely because of a 5-1 loss to the Pirates. But sometime in the next day or two, the Cubs should clinch a fourth consecutive postseason appearance for the first time in their history — without a drop of champagne in sight.

Pop a cork for the imminent playoff-clincher ahead of the National League Central clincher the Cubs have in their sights?

‘‘I don’t know,’’ manager Joe Maddon said before the start of the four-game series against the Pirates. ‘‘I’m not worried about it.’’

Maddon spoke more in the context of thinking only about the moment. But the fact is, no champagne-and-goggles postgame celebration was planned for a potential clincher Monday — or Tuesday, for that matter.

And that spoke volumes about the transformation the last four seasons of a franchise that spent 40 years celebrating a 1969 team that didn’t even make the playoffs.

‘‘The goal’s to win the division,’’ said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, one of eight players in the clubhouse who was also on the 2015 playoff roster. ‘‘It’s not easy to get into the playoffs, and we don’t take that for granted. But we’re not going to be ‘tarping’ this nice locker room just for [clinching] an away wild-card game.’’

Assuming they clinch that before clinching the division, it will mark the first time the Cubs have clinched a postseason berth without doing the classic postgame spraying of the clubhouse.

In 2015, the wild card was the Cubs’ only avenue to the playoffs, sparking a wild celebration of their first postseason berth under the current ownership and front-office regime.


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Each of the last two seasons, the division clincher was the initial playoff-berth clincher.

‘‘I think the standard for every organization is getting to that place where playing baseball in October is something that is assumed and not celebrated,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘You never take it for granted. But at the same time, I’m happy in four years that it’s come to that, that no one’s talking about that possibility tonight.’’

The only other time the Cubs qualified for the postseason in three consecutive years was 1906-08.

With their magic number for clinching the division at five, the Cubs needed a victory against the Pirates and a Rockies loss to the Phillies to assure themselves a spot in the NL playoff field. Neither happened.

And the division race only got tighter when the Brewers beat the Cardinals to pull to 1½ games behind the Cubs.

‘‘We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,’’ Rizzo said.

Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon (14-9) made sure of that on this night, pitching seven innings and allowing only pitcher Cole Hamels’ second career home run in the third. It was the 21st consecutive start in which Taillon allowed three or fewer earned runs. He’s 12-5 with a 2.63 ERA in that stretch.

‘‘Sometimes you run into the wrong guy,’’ Maddon said.

How about the wrong team? The Cubs finish the season with three games against the Cardinals after this series.

‘‘We’re playing a lot of teams that can be spoilers,’’ said Hamels, whose two earned runs allowed in six innings came on a two-run homer by Francisco Cervelli in the first. ‘‘I’ve played this game long enough [to know] that when you have an opportunity to be a spoiler, it creates a little bit more energy in the clubhouse, and you play for a little bit more — to kind of disrupt what’s going on. We just have to keep our focus and keep to the game plan and . . . not try to overdo it.’’

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