Cubs

Dodgers join Cubs in postseason, clinch third straight NL West title

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Dodgers join Cubs in postseason, clinch third straight NL West title

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Clayton Kershaw pitched the big-money Dodgers to their third straight NL West title, tossing a one-hitter as Los Angeles beat the San Francisco Giants 8-0 on Tuesday night.

Kershaw allowed just a third-inning single and struck out 13, and now he'll get a chance to erase those sour postseason memories as the Dodgers (88-69) advance to face the NL East champion New York Mets in a best-of-five Division Series.

Kershaw (16-7) finally got the best of his 2015 nemesis in the fourth matchup of the year against World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, striking out the side in order three times and retiring the final 19 batters as the Dodgers snapped a four-game losing streak.

"There's a little bit, if you don't win this one then you've got two more and you start getting a little nervous, you start panicking a little bit," Kershaw said. "We've still got something to play for. We're still trying to fight the Mets for home-field advantage. It's kind of a sigh of relief. We weren't playing that well."

Don Mattingly's Dodgers earned a third straight playoff berth for the first time in franchise history, and did so by snapping a seven-game losing streak at AT&T Park this year. It's also their sixth postseason berth in 10 years.

When Kelby Tomlinson grounded out to end it and rookie shortstop Corey Seager made a nice throw to first, Kershaw raised both arms in the air as his teammates streamed out of the dugout. They all began hugging and dancing on the mound.

"He knows what he needs to do against these guys," catcher A.J. Ellis said.

The Giants immediately offered a message on the main scoreboard: "CONGRATULATIONS, L.A. DODGERS! (hash)RESPECTTHERIVALRY"

Los Angeles players stayed on the field for several minutes, pulling on their new NL West champion caps.

Justin Ruggiano and Ellis hit back-to-back home runs in the sixth to chase Bumgarner (18-9), denying the Giants their first 19-game winner in 18 years.

Andre Ethier added a two-run triple in a four-run eighth, and Los Angeles captured its 14th NL West title and earned their 29th playoff berth - 20th in Los Angeles. Ellis and Seager added run-scoring singles that inning.

Los Angeles lost a four-game division series to St. Louis last October and the club hasn't reached the World Series since winning it all in 1988, losing in either the division series or NL Championship Series in its last eight postseason appearances since.

Now, with two of the top pitchers in the game - Zack Greinke and Kershaw - stellar rookies such as Seager and outfielder Joc Pederson, veteran infielder Jimmy Rollins and August acquisition Chase Utley leading a loaded bench, the Dodgers are counting on a deep October run.

"It's a fun mix, it's a talented mix and hopefully it's the right mix," Kershaw said.

They got this far with huge expectations under first-year President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman, and new general manager Farhan Zaidi - and with a whopping regular-season payroll of $285 million.

It took a few days longer than expected to secure their latest playoff berth after a surprising sweep by last-place Colorado at Coors Field over the weekend and a 12-inning loss Monday night. But, the way it worked out, the Dodgers got to celebrate on the home field of their rival at sold-out AT&T Park.

"They've won three out of the last five," Mattingly said. "You've got to earn it."

The only other time in the ballpark's 16-year history that a visiting team clinched a playoff berth or series here was the Dodgers when they captured the NL wild card on the second-to-last day in 2006.

Before the game, an impatient fan yelled to Los Angeles reliever Kenley Jansen, "Stop messing around!" To which Jansen fired back from the dugout: "We're not messing around. We tried to clinch 3 days ago."

The Dodgers ended their longest skid in San Francisco since June 12, 1961-April 16, 1962, when they lost a franchise-worst nine straight road games in the rivalry.

Kevin Frandsen's one-out single in the third was the Giants' first baserunner against Kershaw.

But the defending champion Giants miss the playoffs in another odd year following a World Series win for the third time in six years - after their 2010, `12 and `14 titles.

Bumgarner allowed Justin Turner's first-inning sacrifice fly and a leadoff homer to Kike Hernandez in the third.

The big lefty had been 2-0 with a 1.31 ERA in his previous 2015 outings opposing Kershaw, who had gone 0-2 with a 3.54 ERA in those starts.

He won't forget watching the Dodgers celebrate here.

"You take that, and you remember that feeling going into the offseason. It's not a good feeling," he said. "You don't want to be a part of that. You want to be the one celebrating. You let it give you a little bit of fuel for next year."

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.