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The top 10 Cubs stories of the 2010s, #10: The 2015 season and NLDS victory

First in a series.

The Cubs celebrate winning the division series over the Cardinals, October 13, 2015
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This is the first in a 10-part series intended to sum up the biggest stories surrounding the Chicago Cubs in the 2010s.

I’m pretty sure you don’t have to guess which story will be No. 1, so there’s little suspense in awaiting the top story of the decade. That post will come before the end of 2019.

But I wanted to take the days remaining in the year and the decade to remind all of you of what the top stories were about our favorite team over the last 10 years. This isn’t about specific games, which I did earlier this offseason. Instead, these are intended to look at overarching themes or events that drove attention and discussion during the 2010s.

The Cubs entered the 2015 season on a run of five consecutive losing seasons, one of which (2010) was just the third 100-loss season in franchise history. A rebuild had been undertaken by Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, and several key players had already entered the system by draft or signing (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Jorge Soler).

But at the end of the 2014 season, a year when the Cubs lost 89 games, it still wasn’t clear that the Cubs would contend anytime soon, even after the hiring of Joe Maddon as manager. For his part, Maddon expressed confidence, if not a bit of bravado, in his introductory news conference in November 2014:

“For me, I’m going to be talking playoffs next year. … We’re going to set our marks high. So I’m going to talk playoffs, and I’m going to talk World Series. This year. I promise you. And I’m going to believe it. And I’m going to see how all this is going to play out. It’s within our future, there’s no question about that. I don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen, but in my mind’s eye, we’re going to the playoffs next year. That’s how I’m going to approach next season.”

Maddon presided over a change of culture in the Cubs clubhouse, and we’ve discussed this previously. The 2015 team began slowly, but maintained a winning record through May and June, even as the Cardinals ran out to a huge division lead and the Pirates held on near the Cubs’ second-place position, even pushing them back to third toward the end of June.

The Cubs lost 10 of 16 at one point in July, including being no-hit by Cole Hamels, then of the Phillies. They’d fallen back to five games over .500 and were 11x games out of first place and 2x games behind the second wild-card spot when they went on a remarkable run.

From July 29 through the end of the 2015 season, the Cubs posted a 45-18 record, the best in baseball. That included two winning streaks of six and one of nine. The run featured Jake Arrieta having one of the most remarkable second halves of anyone in MLB history. In 20 starts from June 21 through the end of the season, he posted an 0.86 ERA and walked only 27 in 147 innings, while the Cubs went 18-2 in those games. His 1.77 season ERA was the best for any Cubs pitcher since the Deadball Era, and he won the Cy Young Award.

The Cubs then put together another long winning streak, eight games, to end the regular season. That last one nearly had them catch the Pirates for second place, but one game behind them, they had to travel to Pittsburgh for the wild-card game. Arrieta, scheduled to start that game, responded to a Pirates fan on Twitter:

Arrieta backed up his Twitter boast by throwing a five-hit shutout (with 11 strikeouts) against the Pirates, a game that was capped by this blast into the Allegheny River [VIDEO] by Schwarber off Gerrit Cole.

The Cubs headed to St. Louis for a division series against their biggest rival. Losing the first game, they won the second after some Cardinals errors helped lead to this long home run [VIDEO] by Soler.

The Cubs came back to Wrigley and won Game 3, hitting a postseason-record six home runs, and put the exclamation point on Game 4 with Schwarber’s home run that landed on top of the right-field video board [VIDEO].

It’s worth listening to the TBS network call of that blast. [VIDEO]

“Mercy.” “What in the world...” Even the network announcers couldn’t believe it.

Hector Rondon’s strikeout of Stephen Piscotty put the Cubs in the NLCS, and it’s worth listening to Pat Hughes’ call [VIDEO].

The victory gave the Cubs their first-ever postseason series win at Wrigley Field.

Of the NLCS, we’ll speak no more. But even getting there in 2015 felt like a gift, something that came to the Cubs earlier than anyone had expected. It established the young Cubs stars as a team that would have to be reckoned with in the future and set the table for the World Series year that was to come.