Cubs clinch NL Central, but Wrigley bash will wait another day

Cubs clinch NL Central, but Wrigley bash will wait another day

Miguel Montero stood at his locker late Thursday night with his hands behind back his back, holding designer sunglasses, not high-tech goggles. The Cubs catcher wore a white Miami Beach Golf Club hat and a pinkish-orange Lululemon polo shirt instead of 2016 National League Central Champions gear.

There was no ear-splitting music blasting from the sound system. The reporters surrounding Montero after a 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers could actually hear what he was saying inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse and not worry about getting drenched in champagne and beer. 

With the magic number still suspended at one, the Cubs didn’t wait around to see if Johnny Cueto and the San Francisco Giants would beat the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park and hand them the division title.

“There’s no reason to be disappointed,” Montero said. “It’s a great feeling, because regardless, we can actually have a chance tomorrow and the next day and the next day. It’s not like we have that much pressure on our back because they’re going to catch us or something like that.” 

Exactly. By the time the Cardinals lost on the West Coast, a few minutes before midnight Chicago time, the Wrigley Field video boards had turned to black and the night crews were cleaning up from a raucous crowd of 41,362 that didn’t get to see the party that will now wait until Friday.

Up in the Wrigley Field press box, you could hear the car horns and cheering throughout the neighborhood once San Francisco’s 6-2 victory over St. Louis went final. Instead of that game, the TV screens inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse had broadcast a message:

Schedule for Friday
DRESS AT 11:30 a.m. 
Game at 1:20 p.m. against Brewers

And if the Giants did win Thursday night…

“I’ll probably go to a club,” Montero said. “No, just kidding. I’m going home. I’m going to watch a TV show or something like that, because I don’t really watch baseball that much. The reality is that I don’t care what happens (to the Cardinals). I want to come back tomorrow and win a game and celebrate on our own.

“It tastes a little different.”

Yes, the Cubs are a different team, with their ritualistic celebrations, a Party Room built into their state-of-the-art-clubhouse and a nonchalant attitude toward advancing to consecutive postseasons for only the fourth time (!!!) in franchise history (1885-86, 1906-08 and 2007-08, when they last won the division and captured back-to-back titles).

“Well, I’m sure they’ll have it taped off, plastic everywhere, to make sure nothing’s ruined,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said before the game. “But I don’t know how crazy we’ll get. We’ll enjoy it, for sure. But the next one – as they continue to come – will get bigger.” 

After changing the culture around this team, pushing so many of the right motivational buttons and pulling all those in-game levers, manager Joe Maddon didn’t plan to extend his 30-minute rule or change his morning Starbucks routine.

“Sure, go home,” Maddon said. “I am.”

Because ultimately a World Series-or-bust team with multiple MVP and Cy Young Award candidates will be judged in October. And, once again, Maddon delivered a win-or-lose line that would hold up for this news cycle.

“This is just the first step,” Maddon said. “We have much larger baseball fish to fry in our skillet.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your postseason gear here!]

Now the Cubs can align their rotation for October, deal with any nagging injuries, lock up home-field advantage through the NL Championship Series and prepare for whatever team – St. Louis, San Francisco, New York Mets – emerges from the wild-card battle. 

“It’s what we envisioned all along,” Arrieta said. “I’m just proud of all the guys in here for growing and learning at such a quick pace, especially the young players in this locker room. And to all do that together has really put us in this position we’re in right now. It’s given us the ability to have this lead, give guys rest and move forward into the most important part of our season.”

When Maddon came here with the Tampa Bay Rays in August 2014, the Cubs were a fifth-place team playing out an 89-loss season, but he still felt the energy at Wrigley Field, looking up at the lights and the crowd and feeling like he was in the middle of a computer-generated scene from “Gladiator.” 

As Maddon kept listening to modified versions of the disappointment question during Thursday’s postgame news conference, he should have snapped and screamed: “Are you not entertained?”

“To some it might be anti-climactic,” Maddon said. “But 93 wins, that’s not a bad season. However we get this accomplished, I’ll take it.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis


Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.