CHICAGO -- The Cubs finished with the best record in the Major Leagues. They have won 100 games for the first time since 1935. But none of that will matter if they don't win the last game of the year and can be called World Series champions for the first
CHICAGO -- The Cubs finished with the best record in the Major Leagues. They have won 100 games for the first time since 1935. But none of that will matter if they don't win the last game of the year and can be called World Series champions for the first time since 1908.
"No matter what you do during the season -- it's nice, it's fun, it's the process -- but what matters here is another month," Chicago's Jason Heyward said. "What this team will be remembered for is [October], not during the season and how many wins and all that stuff."
The postseason road begins Friday when the Cubs face the Giants at Wrigley Field at 9 p.m. ET on FS1. The Giants defeated the Mets, 3-0, in the Wild Card Game on Wednesday.
:: NLDS: Wild Card winner vs. Cubs coverage ::
What will it take for the Cubs to win their first World Series in decades? Here are three things the Cubs need to do to reach their goal.
1. Throw strikes
For the first time since 1935, the Cubs have four pitchers who have won at least 15 games, and two of them -- Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks -- have been mentioned as National League Cy Young Award candidates. The Cubs also have the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in Jake Arrieta. The rotation boasted the best ERA in the Major Leagues at 2.96, and the Cubs know how crucial good pitching is in the postseason. Last year, the Mets held the Cubs to a .164 average in the NL Championship Series. All manager Joe Maddon needs to do is find the right bridge to closer Aroldis Chapman. His options include Héctor Rondón, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and lefty Travis Wood.
2. Keep the pressure on
The Cubs compiled an obscene run differential of plus 252, and they have to continue their offensive approach, powered by NL MVP Award candidates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, and the team's second-half surprise contributor, Addison Russell. With two weeks remaining in the regular season, Maddon met with his hitters to talk about "self awareness" -- which may sound like that scene from the "The Natural," when the psychologist tells the Knights, "Losing is a disease." Maddon's message was to think about what they need to do in situations to keep the line moving, advance the runners and have productive outs.
• Get postseason gear
So the Cubs' goal is to knock the starter out early. Can the hitters be patient enough at the plate? It starts with leadoff man Dexter Fowler. Maddon tells Fowler before every at-bat, "You go, we go." If he follows through, the Cubs will go deep.
3. Use their secret weapon
Maddon has benefitted from a versatile roster, with players who are willing to go wherever he asks -- even if it means moving an All-Star third baseman like Bryant or a pitcher like Travis Wood to left field on occasion.
Coach Mike Borzello is integral to making these moves. He helps break down the scouting reports, and he is one of the reasons for the variety of lineups. For example, when Hendricks is pitching and the Cubs can anticipate a lot of ground-ball outs, check where defensive whiz Javier Báez is starting. Baez might be at third in Game 1 of the NL Division Series to back up Lester. Borzello also talks strategy with the pitchers and catchers to devise a game plan. It's worked so far.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.