Cubs now aiming for NL home-field advantage

Cubs now aiming for NL home-field advantage

CHICAGO -- Now that the Cubs have won the National League Central, what's next? Home-field advantage throughout the NL half of the postseason, of course. The magic number to do so is 10. Any combination of wins by the Cubs or losses by the second-best Nationals would give the Cubs the top seed in the NL and the right to face the winner of the NL Wild Card Game, which will be played on Oct. 5.

Once the Wild Card winner is decided, the Cubs will open the best-of-five NL Division Series at Wrigley Field on Oct. 7, and the game will be broadcast on FS1 and MLB Network. Game 2 will be Oct. 8 at Wrigley Field, and the series will then shift to the road for Game 3 on Oct. 10 (FS1/MLB Network). If a Game 4 is necessary, it will be played Oct. 11 at the Wild Card winner's home field, and a deciding Game 5 would be played Oct. 13 at Wrigley Field. Both of those games would be broadcast on FS1.

As of Thursday, the Giants and Mets were the Wild Card leaders. This season, the Cubs went 4-3 against the Giants, and 2-5 against the Mets, but manager Joe Maddon will be quick to remind everyone that those records don't matter. In 2015, the Cubs were 7-0 in the regular season against the Mets, who then swept Chicago in four games in the NL Championship Series.

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"Their pitching was unbelievably good," Maddon said of the 2015 Mets. "When you run into hot pitching, there's not much you can do about it."

The Mets also swept the Cubs in a four-game series at Citi Field this season, June 30-July 3, and outscored Chicago, 32-11. Those games came during the Cubs' toughest stretch, when they played 24 straight games leading up to the All-Star Game -- won by the American League to secure home-field advantage in the World Series.

But Maddon noted the Mets are different this year because of injuries to players like Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and David Wright.

"Any team that makes it [to the postseason], the pitching will be good regardless," Maddon said. "Their command last year, under the weather conditions, I was baffled by it, how well they threw and the command they had in extreme conditions in New York. I have to give them a lot of credit."

The Cubs took three of four against the Giants at Wrigley Field from Sept. 1-4, including an extra-inning, 3-2 win in the finale when Jason Heyward delivered a game-tying RBI single in the ninth and the game-winner with a single in the 13th.

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Chicago played in San Francisco from May 20-22, and Jake Arrieta won the first game, but Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks lost the next two. At that time, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain were in the Giants' rotation.

Having the best record isn't enough for the Cubs.

"The Cardinals won 100 games last year," Lester said. "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. What this team will be remembered for is next month, not during the season and how many wins and all that stuff."

Until the postseason begins, Maddon said he expects the players to continue with the same approach. The goal will be to balance rest with staying ready.

"I still want us to play like our hair's on fire, and that people are coming after us, which they are," he said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.