The Cubs finished third in the National League Central during the regular season, but now find themselves as the last remaining NL Central team in the postseason after eliminating both the Pirates and the Cardinals.
After defeating Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card Game, the Cubs advanced to the NL Division Series where they took down the rival Cardinals, the only team to win 100 games during the regular season. That's an accomplishment that was not lost on the Cubs, who ultimately eliminated St. Louis with their 101st victory of the year, including the postseason.
"I mean, it's a shame that three of the best teams in baseball, one is only moving on to the Championship Series," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "I've said that all along, two unbelievable clubs we just beat, the Pirates, who have an unbelievable organization and the same with the Cardinals. We just beat a really good team. They know how to win. They've dealt with so many injuries and they still were the best team in baseball."
The Cardinals had won 13 postseason series -- and two World Series title -- since the Cubs had last won a postseason series back in the 2003 NLDS. Overall, St. Louis has won 11 World Series titles since the Cubs last claimed a championship in 1908.
"First I'd just like to congratulate the Cardinals," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I mean, they're the standard bearer, so for us to be able to beat them tonight really is important to us as a franchise [and] organization. They've done it for so many years. Everybody knows I grew up a fan of that group as a kid, so I just want to say, for us, believe me, it's kind of special to be able to beat a team of that magnitude."
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein echoed a similar sentiment, relating it to the 2004 ALCS when the Red Sox knocked off the Yankees during Epstein's tenure as Boston's general manager. Like the Cubs, the Red Sox entered the '04 postseason as a Wild Card team, while the Yankees had just won their seventh consecutive AL East title.
"We beat the Cardinals. These guys are like our older brothers -- they've been kicking sand in our face for a hundred years," Epstein said. "There's a lot of similarities to when [the Red Sox] knocked off the Yankees in '04. This one just gives us a nice date on Saturday."
The Cubs not only knocked out the team with the best regular-season record, but they also snapped the Cardinals' streak of representing the division in the NLCS in each of the last four seasons. That fact only figures to add to the pride the Cubs take in clinching their first NLCS berth in a dozen years.
"This was one of the best divisions in the history of baseball," Epstein said. "I'm not saying that, the numbers say that. To go through the heart of it on the way to the NLCS makes it even more meaningful. It resonates even more to us to make this be an even bigger accomplishment."
In each of the last four postseasons, the Cardinals have either won the World Series or been eliminated from the postseason by that respective season's World Series champion. St. Louis won the World Series in 2011 before being eliminated by the eventual World Series-champion Giants in both the 2012 and 2014 NLCS. The Cardinals also lost the 2013 World Series to the Red Sox.
So perhaps there are yet more accomplishments in store for the upstart Cubs this October.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.