Ranking the Cubs postseason teams of the 2000s (Part 2)
The other day, we starter our ranking of the Cubs postseason teams for 7-4. Today, we dive into the final three as these seasons are forever going to be remembered by the Cubs franchise for both good and bad reasons.
Here are your rankings for teams 3-1. 3. Cubs 2015 (97-65 record): After enduring five consecutive last-place finishes, 2015 was a year of change from the coaching staff on down as big things were about to come. Give Rick Renteria credit in 2014, as his 71-91 team may not have done much most of the season, but the final two months gave us a glimpse of what the Cubs had for the future. It was at that time when prospects like Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, Jorge Soler, and others began to showcase themselves on the big stage, which set the tone for the next offseason. That is when the Cubs proved to be in it for the long haul, as they signed Jon Lester via Free Agency and hired Joe Maddon to be their man in charge. While the team was performing well most of the season, call ups like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber all began to establish their roles with this team as they climbed to eight games over 500 by the all-star break. The second half is when the Cubs started to turn it on as they posted a major league-best 24 games above .500 the rest of the way to finish 97-65 and earn the team’s first postseason berth in seven years.
Here are your rankings for teams 3-1.
3. Cubs 2015 (97-65 record): After enduring five consecutive last-place finishes, 2015 was a year of change from the coaching staff on down as big things were about to come. Give Rick Renteria credit in 2014, as his 71-91 team may not have done much most of the season, but the final two months gave us a glimpse of what the Cubs had for the future.
It was at that time when prospects like Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, Jorge Soler, and others began to showcase themselves on the big stage, which set the tone for the next offseason. That is when the Cubs proved to be in it for the long haul, as they signed Jon Lester via Free Agency and hired Joe Maddon to be their man in charge.
While the team was performing well most of the season, call ups like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber all began to establish their roles with this team as they climbed to eight games over 500 by the all-star break. The second half is when the Cubs started to turn it on as they posted a major league-best 24 games above .500 the rest of the way to finish 97-65 and earn the team’s first postseason berth in seven years.
Usually, that 97 wins would be enough for the division and perhaps even tops in the national league, but this year, it was good for third place as the Cardinals and Pirates landed first and second with 100 and 98 wins, respectively. Fortunately for the Cubs, they found themselves in the wild card game against Pittsburgh, where they turned to CY Young winner Jake Arrieta who dealt a complete-game shutout for the Cubs first postseason win in 12 years.
The train didn’t stop there as they faced the team with the best record in the majors in St. Louis in the divisional round and had to battle from an 0-1 series deficit. That was no problem for this group as they mashed a division series record for homers taking the next three from the Cards to advance to the NLCS for the first time since 2003.
Now playing with house money, the Cubs looked to do the unthinkable and go from last to world series in just one year. Standing in their way were the flame Mets staff as they caught fire toward the end of the season. The trio of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jake DeGrom at the top of the rotation proved to be too much as they Cubs were swept in the series ending what was a fantastic run.
2. Cubs 2003 (88-74 record): Say what you want about the record, but 2003 was the most magical run the Cubs gave us since 1945, at least up to that point. With a new manager in Dusty Baker in charge, the Cubs used an inflex of youth in the rotation to go along with a solid core of veteran position players to pull out the NL Central in what was an overall down year.
With players like Damien Miller, Mark Grudzielanek, Alex Gonzalez, Moises Alou, Corey Patterson and Sammy Sosa anchoring the lineup, it was clear that the Cubs wanted more which was evident at the trade deadline that season. Jim Hendry certainly awarded the Cubs with a trio of big names as he acquired Randall Simon, Aramis Ramirez, and Kenny Lofton in mid-July, all who played starting roles down the stretch for the Cubs.
With the offense now becoming more diverse, it was up to Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Clement to continue their dominance on the mound, which they did most of the season. After claiming the division, the Cubs faced off against an Atlanta Braves team that was viewed as heavy favorites in the NL Divisional round. However, the Wood, Prior duo starter three games in that series, winning all three starts to propel the Cubs to the NLCS 3-2 and face the upstart Marlins team.
Winners of the wildcard round, the Marlins, meant business as they crushed Cubs pitching the first two games at Wrigley to tie things up 1-1 heading to Miami. Strong outings from Clement and Wood had the Cubs looking pretty as they held a 3-1 lead heading into game five. Unfortunately, that is when things began to go south as Rookie sensation Josh Beckett twirled a gem in game five to pick up the win sending the series back to Chicago with the Cubs up 3-2.
Despite the loss in game five, all the momentum was on the Cubs side as Prior was set to go in-game six with Wood waiting in game seven. There was no way the Marlins could take the next two. Was there? With the Cubs leading 3-0 in-game six heading to the eighth inning, everything was in line for Prior and the Cubs to pop the champagne as things were getting exciting at Wrigley.
That excitement turned to nervousness, which quickly turned to gloom as the infamous Steve Bartman play in left field allowed a potential out to extend the inning in which the Marlins were able to cut the lead to 3-2. A few batters later, a potential inning-ending double play was dropped by Gonzalez as the Marlins capitalized for six more runs sending the series to game seven following an 8-3 win.
With Wood on the hill, the Cubs were still confident, but it was the Marlins who now had all the momentum in the world as they struck for four runs early. Wood was able to answer the bell at the plate with a big homer of his own, but he was not able to live up to the task on the mound as the Cubs saw their world series hopes stolen from them with Miami celebrating on their mound to claim the series 4-3.
1. Cubs 2016 (103-58 record): The obvious pick on this whole list is the No. 1 spot as we go with the year the Cubs won it all. Ever since the start of the 2016 season, the Cubs were viewed as the favorites especially considering what they did in 2015. Chicago wasted no time flexing their muscles as they raced out to a 27-8 record to start the season and never looked back as they led the NL Central from start to finish that year.
It was in Mid-June when things began to sour a little bit for the Cubs as they went into a 40-game funk that saw the Giants overtake them for the best record in the NL come the all-star break. Have no fear; the Cubs were not only healthy following the Mid-Summer classic but more focused than ever as they started the second half on fire to retake the Giants before making a move to put them over the top.
Trading away Gleyber Torres still hurts, but getting Aroldis Chapman in return made the Cubs the most complete team in all of baseball with literally no holes. Chicago would end up running away from their division and the national league as they secured home field throughout the NL playoffs, where it would be the Cubs vs. NL West.
First on the list were those same Giants who fell off the map the final month of the season to earn a wild card berth. Despite giving the Cubs all they could handle in three games and having things on the verge of going back to Wrigley tied 2-2 the Achilles heel of the Giants was always their bullpen, and that proved to be true in game four when the Cubs plated four runs in the ninth inning to take the win and advance to another NLCS.
The Dodgers were next on the docket as the Cubs looked to erase their 2008 memory from the last time these two met. After Lester pitched a gem in game one, the Dodgers were able to rally to tie things up before Miguel Montero cranked a grand slam for the victory. Things were good for now, but the Cubs bats went south the next two games as they dropped the next two and were in danger of going down 3-1 to one.
That is when Russell decided it was his turn to step up and with one swing the Cubs took the lead in game four and never looked back as they closed out the series winning the next three capped off by the Kyle Hendricks gem in game six to send the Cubs to their first world series since 1945. It was also finished off at Wrigley, which is something Cubs fans are used to seeing other teams do.
Finally, the Cubs reached the pinnacle of the World Series as they needed just four wins against the Indians to finish the job. After splitting the first two games in Cleveland, the Indians took it to the Cubs at Wrigley, taking the next two for a 3-1 series lead. In game five, it was Lester on the hill as he made sure the Cubs wouldn’t go home on their home turf, sending things to game six back in Cleveland.
With Arrieta now on the bump, the Cubs backed him with seven runs of support in the early stages of the game before cruising to the win to force game seven. Already with one historic win under his belt, Hendricks looked to make it another as he toed the rubber in game seven. After frustrating the Indians through five innings, the Cubs elected to go with Lester in relief, giving the tribe some hope despite being down 6-3.
Now, down to their final six outs, Cleveland knew it was now or never as they needed to capitalize off Chapman. With two outs in the eight, it was one swing that Cubs fans could feel their hearts break as Rajai Davis took Chapman deep to left to tie things at 6-6 before the teams went to extras. A brief rain delay was all the Cubs needed to recover as singles from Ben Zobrist, and Montero had the Cubs up 8-6 in the bottom of the 10th.
Down one with two outs, it was up to Michael Martinez to extend the game against midseason acquisition Mike Montgomery. After a first-pitch strike with a breaking ball, we received the most memorable call in Chicago sports history. A chopper, this is going to be a tough play.
BRYANT TO RIZZO AND THE CUBS WIN IT 8-7 IN 10. THE CUBS WIN THE WORLD SERIES! THEY FINALLY WIN IT ALL!