CHICAGO -- For the first time in franchise history, the Cubs are headed to the postseason for a fourth consecutive year.The Cubs clinched a playoff berth when the Brewers beat the Cardinals, 2-1, on Wednesday night. Shortly thereafter, Chicago beat Pittsburgh, 7-6, to maintain a half-game lead over Milwaukee for
CHICAGO -- For the first time in franchise history, the Cubs are headed to the postseason for a fourth consecutive year.
The Cubs clinched a playoff berth when the Brewers beat the Cardinals, 2-1, on Wednesday night. Shortly thereafter, Chicago beat Pittsburgh, 7-6, to maintain a half-game lead over Milwaukee for first place in the National League Central.
Here are some of the highlights from a memorable season:
This was the Cubs' slogan for the 2018 season, and it was never more true than on Aug. 12 when rookie David Bote smacked a walk-off grand slam against the Nationals. The Cubs trailed by three runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against Ryan Madson, and Bote launched the homer to center. Bote was one of several unlikely contributors.
You could list 10 Javier Baez moments and still not include them all. The versatile infielder made acrobatic plays on defense, ran fearlessly around the bases and set personal highs in homers and RBIs. On June 26 against the Dodgers, he went 4-for-5 with a single, double and two home runs, including a grand slam, plus he made a heads up defensive play in the Dodgers' second to get Yasiel Puig at first. He's a leading MVP candidate. Baez's daring on the bases created fits for pitchers and defenders. On July 4 against the Tigers at Wrigley Field, he singled to lead off the fourth inning, then stole second and reached third on a throwing error. After Addison Russell walked, Baez stole home. It was his second steal of home during the season (he also did so June 3 in New York against the Mets).
With Yu Darvish injured and Tyler Chatwood struggling, the Cubs acquired veteran Cole Hamels from the Rangers prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The lefty made a good impression in his fifth start, throwing a complete game in a 7-1 win over the Reds on Aug. 23. Hamels struck out seven. It was the 17th complete game by Hamels in his career and marked the first time a Cubs pitcher went the distance this year.
The Cubs were resilient and didn't let an extended stretch of 30 games scheduled over 30 days get them down. On Sept. 13, they had to play a make-up game against the Nationals on an off day, which meant a quick round-trip to Washington. Anthony Rizzo didn't pack any clothes and wore his road uniform on the team charter. The Cubs won the game, 4-3, in the 10th inning on Baez's RBI bunt single, and both Baez and Rizzo wore their uniforms on the charter home after the game.
Jonathan Lester appeared to tap into the fountain of youth in the first half. On June 20 against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field, Lester threw seven shutout innings in a 4-0 win. It was his third start that month in which he did not give up a run over seven innings (also June 3 vs. the Mets and June 9 vs. the Pirates). Lester finished June 5-0 with a 1.13 ERA and was named NL Pitcher of the Month.
Pitchers who rake
Lester contributed at the plate, too. On July 1 against the Twins, he hit his second career home run in the second inning. On Aug. 27 against the Mets at Wrigley, Lester helped himself by hitting a two-run single in the third. But Lester surprised the Brewers on April 7 at Miller Park when he pinch-hit and delivered a run-scoring sacrifice in the ninth to secure a come from behind win.
In February, the Cubs signed Yu Darvish to a six-year contract, but the right-hander was limited to eight starts and went at least six innings only three of those outings, including May 20 against the Reds. That was his best and last start as he struck out seven. Darvish was bothered by right triceps tendinitis and couldn't come back. On Aug. 21, an MRI revealed a stress reaction on his right pitching elbow. Mike Montgomery was promoted to the rotation, which is what the lefty wanted to do. He is 5-5 with a 3.68 ERA in 18 starts and is scheduled to pitch the season finale on Sunday.
Brandon Morrow was projected as the closer when he signed in December. However, injuries limited the right-hander to 35 games. Who was the closer? Manager Joe Maddon didn't designate anyone, he but used seven different relievers, led by Pedro Strop. In one stretch, five different pitchers picked up saves.
During the offseason, the Cubs contended that having a leadoff man was a luxury. Rizzo showed he could handle that role. Rizzo batted .328 as the leadoff man with six home runs and six doubles in 31 games. Rizzo kept maintaining that he only had to lead off once at the start of the game. On July 26, that was true, as he hit a walk-off homer against the D-backs. It was Rizzo's 1,000th career game.
Willson Contreras was named the starting catcher for the NL All-Star team, and in the third inning, launched the first pitch he saw from Rays pitcher Blake Snell into the left-field bleachers. The solo home run was the first All-Star blast by a Cubs catcher. It was a busy year for Contreras, who took advantage of an off-day on May 3 to get married to Andrea Villamizar at City Hall in downtown Chicago.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.