The Cubs' terrific winning streak to end the 2015 season -- their sixth winning streak of at least five games -- didn't quite get them enough wins to tie the Pirates for the top wild card and thus get the wild-card game at home.
They finished the regular season 97-65, three games behind the Cardinals and one game behind the Pirates. And so, after this game, it was on to Pittsburgh for the National League wild-card matchup three days hence.
Which, in the Cubs' case, they do -- since the Pirates defeated the Reds 4-0 in this first all-MLB-games-at-the-same-time day, the Cubs will board a plane to Pittsburgh for their first-ever wild-card postseason game Wednesday night at PNC Park. (Actually, the Cubs will bus back to Chicago and fly to Pittsburgh sometime Monday.)
It's not as if the Cubs didn't give it their all to try to pull even with the Bucs and get that home-field advantage. In their season-ending eight-game winning streak -- a franchise first! -- the Cubs outscored their opponents 34-9, threw three shutouts, and had their starting pitchers allow just two earned runs in 51⅓ innings. That's an 0.35 ERA from the starting staff over that stretch. Granted that six of the eight games were against undermanned Brewers and Reds teams playing out the string, but still. Also in that stretch, the starters issued just three walks and struck out 56. Impressive doesn't begin to describe it.
Dan Haren, who some of us wanted to sit on the bench in early September and not start another game, threw very well, allowing just three hits and one run. That (likely) finishes his career as a Cub with a 4.01 ERA and 1.260 WHIP, perfectly suitable numbers for a fifth starter, making the trade that acquired him at the end of July from the Marlins completely worth it, in my view.
Justin Grimm, who struggled at times late in the season, pitched an encouraging seventh inning. He did issue a walk, but also got a nice called strikeout and ended the inning unscathed with a double-play ball. Grimm will be a big part of this team in the postseason, so that was good to see.
Neil Ramirez, also likely being considered for a spot on the postseason roster, threw an efficient 1-2-3 inning. That's another good sign as Ramirez continues his comeback from shoulder issues. Travis Wood finished up, also 1-2-3, in the ninth for his fourth save.
Anthony Rizzo singled in two runs in the three-run first, finishing the season with 101 RBI to go along with his 31 home runs. It's his first 100-RBI season, we hope the first of many.
Kris Bryant, who singled and walked three times and looked much better at the plate Sunday than in a poor performance Saturday, finishes one short of the century mark for RBI at 99. That in no way diminishes the marvelous rookie campaign Bryant put together, a season that (in my opinion) should make him the unanimous choice for N.L. Rookie of the Year. Bryant even got through the day without striking out, which left him one short of a club a player doesn't want to join -- the 200-strikeout club. Bryant led the National League with 199 K's, which matters little given his offensive production. He finishes with 77 walks, 10th in the league (one behind Rizzo). The 99 RBI are tied for fifth with Bryce Harper, and Bryant's 26 home runs were 13th in the N.L. He should get some downballot MVP consideration, as should Rizzo, as should Jake Arrieta, whose Cy Young credentials are impeccable.
Let's look at more team numbers from this incredible, magical Cubs regular season.
- The 97 wins ties the 2008 club for the most by any Cubs team since 1945. In 2008, the team had one rainout not made up, so that team still has the highest percentage mark since '45.
- The 97 wins ties the 1977 Red Sox for the most wins ever by a third-place team, and this is the first time since divisional play began that the best three records in baseball all belong to one division. The Royals, best in the A.L., are fourth-best at 95 wins.
- The Cubs drew three walks Sunday, bringing their season total to 566. That leads the National League, but they fell three short of leading the major leagues for the first time since 1929, because the leading Blue Jays walked four times, bringing their total to 569. The total of 566 ranks 18th in Cubs history.
- The Cubs won 48 games on the road and 49 at home. This is the first time they've done both of those things since 1945.
- The Cubs went 23-9 from September 1 through the end of the season. That's the most wins in that timespan by any Cubs team since the 1935 team went 23-3.
- The Cubs went 42-18 from August 1 through the end of the season. That's the best record in the major leagues in that span, one game better than the Blue Jays (40-18).
In case you are interested in these bits of minutiae that really don't mean anything except for fun, here are other records I've been keeping track of since the season began:
Cubs 2015 regular-season record on various TV channels: WGN: 25-16 CSN: 49-34 (includes CSN+) ABC-7: 15-9 WPWR: 2-2 Fox: 3-2 ESPN: 3-2 (not including games also on other channels)
Cubs 2015 regular-season record wearing various uniforms: Home pinstripe: 46-30 Blue alt: 32-23 CUBS alt: 4-4 Road gray: 10-6 Holiday: 1-1 Throwback: 4-1
The Cubs, being the superstitious types baseball players often are, wore the blue alternate jersey for the entire six-game season-ending road trip. It wouldn't surprise me if they show up in Pittsburgh Wednesday in that uniform, just to keep the mojo going.
The Cardinals finished the year by being swept in a doubleheader by the horrendous Braves, and they were shut out in both games. I mention that not to say that this will carry over into the postseason -- it likely won't -- but that in so doing the Cardinals were swept by Atlanta in that entire series and didn't score a single run. And Edwin Jackson recorded the final out against the Cardinals in the regular season, posting his first career save. They finished 2-5 against the Braves, perhaps a nemesis just as the Phillies were to the Cubs. That made the Cardinals' final record 100-62, and the Pirates finished just two games behind them and the Cubs three games back. (In case you were wondering why this recap was delayed, I was waiting for the Cardinals' second game to end before posting.)
Sure, you could go back and talk about two or three games the Cubs blew in the late innings to the Cardinals and if they'd won those they would have won the division, or if they'd won any of the eight games they'd lost to the Pirates, the wild-card game would have been at Wrigley Field. Those are fool's errands, I think; that doesn't take into account other Cubs games where they came back and won games late that they otherwise would have lost. Things like that tend to even out over the course of a 162-game season.
What's more significant is that since the three-game spanking the Cardinals gave to the Cubs in St. Louis in late June, the Cubs are 57-30, the best record in the major leagues, and seven games better than the Cardinals' 49-36. The Cubs are also 6-4 against the Cardinals since then. So... presuming the Cubs win the wild-card game, I think they'll match up very well against St. Louis in what would be the first-ever Cubs/Cardinals playoff series.
I can't wait for Jake Arrieta to take the mound Wednesday in Pittsburgh against Gerrit Cole. How about you?
I'm heading to Pittsburgh for the game, and then, if the Cubs win, on to St. Louis for the division series. Regarding coverage here, we'll have the usual game previews and game thread sequence for every Cubs postseason game. I'll also post separate threads for other postseason games, beginning with the American League wild-card game Tuesday between the Astros and Yankees. That game's scheduled for 7 p.m. CT, so expect a single game thread for it to post at 6 p.m. CT.
I'm adding one feature to BCB coverage of postseason games, since I will likely be at many of them. In order for you to have an immediate place to discuss all Cubs postseason games right after they end, Josh is going to write a brief, just-the-facts recap of the game, similar to how he summarizes Cubs minor-league games during the season. That will post as soon after the game ends as possible, and we're calling it the "Rapid Recap." Then I'll post my own recap, either at the usual 8 a.m. CT time following night games, or if the Cubs play any afternoon postseason games, as soon as possible after the game ends.
I kind of liked this last day with all games at the same time, though it made it nearly impossible to watch more than the Cubs. Following along with the scores on my phone, I found, was enough for me, especially since the Reds forgot to bring their offense to Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon.
Usually, I'd end this final regular-season recap with the Bart Giamatti quote I like so much. You know, the one that says baseball "is designed to break your heart." But that's not appropriate today, because our hearts are full with the memories of this amazing Cubs season, and hope for the next four weeks of baseball. There's much more Cubs baseball to come this October, we hope, and maybe, just maybe, 2015 will end in happiness and joy. Stick around. I'll have much more here over the next couple of days, leading up to Wednesday's matchup with the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Can't wait.