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.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Flashback to Jake Arrieta's second no-hitter


Cubs Talk Podcast: Flashback to Jake Arrieta's second no-hitter

Luke Stuckmeyer takes a trip down memory lane on the 3rd anniversary of Jake Arrieta's no-hitter against the Reds in Cincinnati. You'll hear all the biggest calls of the game from Len & JD, plus Jake's immediate reaction after tossing his second no-no in a span of 11 regular season starts.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish accomplished something Saturday he has never done in a Cubs uniform — he pitched at least 5 innings in three straight starts for the first time since signing that $126 million deal more  than 14 months ago.

That's not exactly an indicator that Darvish will be contending for the National League Cy Young this season, but it's certainly a step in the right direction from his previous 10 starts in Chicago.

Darvish lasted just 5 innings in Saturday's 6-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, needing 88 pitches to get through those frames before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

He retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts to end his last inning. 

Does he feel like he's still moving forward?

"I think so, especially that last inning," Darvish said. "The fifth inning — mentally — was very good. It's good for next start."

The end line Saturday wasn't great — 5 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, 2 homers — but he kept his team in the ballgame after giving up back-to-back homers to the second and third hitters of the afternoon.

He was still hitting 96 mph in the fifth inning and acknowledged he could've easily gone another inning if the Cubs weren't trailing 3-0 when his spot in the batting order came up.

"The fastball velocity came up as the game was going on, the breaking ball got sharper," Joe Maddon said. "...They got him quickly and then [Zack] Greinke pitched so well. I thought keeping it at 3, which Yu did do, and that's really not a bad thing after the beginning of that game. We just could not get to Greinke. 

"Had we been able to get back into the game, I think Yu's performance would've been looked on more favorably, because he actually did settle down and do a pretty good job."

Still, the Cubs need more than moral victories every time Darvish takes the ball.

Theo Epstein said earlier this month he doesn't think it's fair to issue a "start-to-start referendum" on Darvish, but this is 5 starts into the season now for the 32-year-old right-hander, who's walked 18 batters and served up 6 homers in 22.2 innings so far. 

Forget the salary or the big free agent deal. This is a four-time All-Star who has twice finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting, yet fell to 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 13 starts in a Cubs uniform. 

In those 13 starts, Darvish has walked multiple batters in 11 of them and allowed at least 3 earned runs in 8 outings. He's also averaged less than 5 innings a start overall, and that number is down to just 4.5 innings per outing in 2019. 

Darvish said he wants to pitch into the seventh inning (something he's never done as a Cub) and believes that would be great for his confidence that's been building — slowly but surely — since the start of the season. But he still has to get over that hump.

"His stuff's nasty — plain and simple," Jason Heyward said. "Any time I pitch with Yu in a video game, guarantee at least a 1-hitter. I feel like his confidence is just another thing he'll have to keep building on for himself. 

"Every game is different. Today was — I guess you could say — a step back or whatever. Last start was pretty good and next start, I know he's gonna come out and be hungry again. ... Today was one day. We got a long season. Hopefully next time we can scratch a few runs across."

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