Cubs streak into playoffs with 8 straight wins
MILWAUKEE -- The Cubs did their part to bring the postseason to Wrigley Field, riding a trio of first-inning runs to a 3-1 win over the Brewers in Sunday's regular-season finale and a three-game series sweep. Then Anthony Rizzo & Co. retreated to the visitors' clubhouse at Miller Park to see where they'll go next.
Chicago began the day one game behind Pittsburgh in the National League Wild Card standings, and the Pirates needed a win to host Wednesday's Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser. Pittsburgh posted a 4-0 victory over Cincinnati, finishing up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon was meeting with the media at Miller Park.
"We're going to P-burgh -- we're going to the 'Burgh,'" Maddon said.
The Cubs and the Pirates will meet Wednesday at PNC Park in the NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser (7 p.m. CT on TBS) with the winner advancing to face another Central Division rival, the Cardinals. Chicago won the season series, 11-8, including a 6-4 record in Pittsburgh. Jake Arrieta, who finished the regular season leading the Majors with 22 wins, will start for the Cubs against Gerrit Cole.
"We played good there," Cubs catcher David Ross said. "It's going to be a little bit different environment, obviously. We've played well there, we know this team, they know us, they know we're good, we know they're good. It'll be about who goes out there and plays the cleanest game. It's all about the starting pitcher, too, and we have a really good one."
The Cubs led Sunday's finale throughout after Brewers rookie right-hander Jorge Lopez hit the first batter he faced and walked the next two in his home debut. Austin Jackson, Chris Coghlan and Kris Bryant all scored, the first two on Rizzo's single through the right side of the infield.
The Cubs won their final eight games to finish the regular season 97-65, their best season since 2008. The Brewers went 68-94 in their worst season since 2004.
"I don't think anybody anticipated them being this good, this soon, and certainly, they're set up really well for the foreseeable future," said Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who was sidelined for the season by a back injury that will require surgery next week. "That's the blueprint."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Farewell tour: Sunday was Dan Haren's final big league start. The right-hander said he'll be available in the postseason if needed but is retiring after this year. He finished on a strong note. Haren, who has the unique distinction of facing all 30 Major League teams, held the Brewers to three hits over six innings, striking out three. This was his 380th career start (391st game).
"It was awesome," Haren said of his stint with the Cubs. "I'm happy with the way the last few starts have gone and that I was able to contribute to this amazing team. I mean, 97 wins, I'm just thankful to be a part of it.
"If I have to pitch in the postseason, I'll be ready for sure," he said. "If I don't pitch in the postseason, that's it."
Century mark: Rizzo had plenty of chances on Saturday to notch his 100th RBI when he stranded seven. On Sunday, Rizzo delivered a two-run single with the bases loaded in the first for his 100th and 101st RBIs. He's the 43rd player in Cubs history to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100, and the first since Alfonso Soriano did so in 2012. Bryant singled and drew three walks to finish with 99 RBIs.
"It gives him something to shoot for next year," Maddon said of Bryant, who did end the season leading all Major League rookies in home runs, RBIs and doubles.
Strong finish: Lopez, Milwaukee's Minor League pitcher of the year, didn't record his first outs on Sunday until his 24th pitch, and needed 29 pitches to get through the first inning of his first career start at Miller Park. But he rebounded nicely, following that long opening frame with four more scoreless ones, and calling it a season after a 93-pitch outing that included three double plays, including a strikeout, throwout twin-killing with catcher Martin Maldonado in the third. Lopez logged 170 innings between the Double-A regular season and postseason, plus two Major League starts, and finished 15-7 with a 2.44 ERA and 162 strikeouts versus 63 walks.
"I think Jorge pitched well; the first inning got him," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "I don't think they squared-up much at all. I don't think they squared up his fastball. But if you put three runners on without a ball in play, you're going to give up runs there."
"How could you possibly be disappointed with anything our players have done this year. It's pretty phenomenal. This division, to have that many wins come out of one division, I'm sure that never happened before. It's pretty incredible." -- Maddon
"I'm certainly aware there's a possibility that this is not going to happen overnight, and I think that there's a lot more work ahead, possibly more pain ahead. I'm aware that it's not easy to turn around these things." -- Counsell, on the Brewers' rebuilding project More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Sunday was the Cubs' 97th win, and Maddon holds the franchise record for most wins in his first season at the helm, topping the old mark of 96 set in 1984 by Jim Frey.
Cubs: Arrieta will take the mound for the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday at PNC Park, live on TBS at 7 p.m. CT. Arrieta was 3-1 with an 0.75 ERA in five starts this season against the Pirates, holding them to a .151 batting average. The right-hander ended the regular season with 20 consecutive quality starts, and was 16-1 with a 0.86 ERA in that stretch, walking 27 and striking out 147. The only loss came July 25 when the Phillies' Cole Hamels no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field. First pitch will be 7:08 p.m. CT.
Brewers: Pitchers and catchers report to Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. The Brewers, who finished 68-94, open the 2016 regular season at home on Monday, April 4 against the Giants.