All season long the Cubs have been ahead of schedule, going from 73 wins to 97 wins in Joe Maddon’s first year as manager. And now they’ve knocked out the kings of the National League Central, dispatching with a Cardinals team that won 100 games for their third straight division title.
Maddon gave starter Jason Hammel a quick hook in the fourth inning and then pieced together the rest of the game playing the matchups with a motley bullpen crew that was made up of ex-starters, waiver wire pickups, and previously washed up veterans rescued from the scrap heap.
It was a helluva thing to watch–Trevor Cahill! Fernando Rodney! Clayton Richard!–and the bullpen holding the Cardinals in check allowed the Cubs lineup to do what it’s done all year: Young hitters hit bombs. Chicago set an all-time record with six homers in Game 3 and went deep three more times in Game 4, with those long balls coming from a 25-year-old (Anthony Rizzo) and a pair of 22-year-olds (Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber). Overall in the four-game series the Cubs scored 15 of their 20 runs on homers.
Schwarber’s homer was particularly mammoth, leaving Wrigley Field:
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John Lackey shut down the Cubs in Game 1, but the 36-year-old veteran of 20 playoff starts couldn’t come up with another gem on short rest and failed to make it out of the fourth inning. Baez, filling in at shortstop for injured rookie Addison Russell, delivered a three-run, opposite-field blast to do most of the damage. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny no doubt envisioned a Cubs-like, pieced together bullpen performance and Adam Wainwright did his part with two shutout innings, but left-hander Kevin Siegrist–who’d been so dominant all season–served up two homers to left-handed hitters and that was it.
Chicago has finally won a playoff series at Wrigley Field for the first time in franchise history and the Cubs now await the Mets-Dodgers winner in the NLCS, with ace Jake Arrieta fully rested for Game 1.