The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS–The last time the Cubs went to the post-season three-straight years was in 1906-08.
The World Series champions won the NL Central Division for the second-straight year with a 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals last night.
Under .500 and trailing Milwaukee in the division race at the all-star break, the Cubs turned things around with a stellar second half.
“It was tough,” admitted starter John Lackey. “It’s always a challenge and we got a lot of people’s best shots.
“We played well and we’re back in the playoffs, and we’ll see what happens.”
Addison Russell hit a three-run homer and Lackey pitched six strong innings for Chicago.
The Cubs are the first defending World Series champ to win their division the next season since the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies, and the first defending champion to reach the playoffs the next season since the Cardinals won the wild card in 2012.
“It’s fun to be a team that people want to beat,” said Cubs’ infielder Kris Bryant.
“We embrace that and we’re going to go with that for as long as we can,” he added.
“It feels good right now knowing they [the Cardinals] always beat up on us before and now we’re able to kind of get of a taste of that, too.”
The Cubs became the second visiting team to celebrate a title at Busch Stadium III.
The 2009 L.A. Dodgers won the NLDS at St. Louis.
“It’s a blessing to be in a situation to win a World Series on a team and win a division in a tough division the very next year,” said Cubs’ outfielder Jason Heyward.
“That’s not my plan,” he stressed. “That’s someone else’s plan there. It just happened to be here.
“Fans, rivalry, whatever, it is what it is, but I know we had a lot of fun competing.”
Lackey (12-11) retired the final 10 batters he faced. The former Cardinal and three-time World Series winner struck out three while giving up two hits and two walks.
“I’ve got to keep telling these kids [young Cubs’ players], ‘Don’t take anyone of these for granted. You never know if it’s your last one,'” Lackey stressed.
“If you start thinking this is something easy, it’s time for you to go home.”
The loss, meanwhile, dropped the Cardinals’ elimination number to one.
Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny didn’t watch the Cubs’ celebration.
“Usually when I watch, we don’t have any more games to play,” Matheny noted. “We’re getting ready for tomorrow [Thursday].
“When I watch in the playoffs, it’s because our season was over. Our season is not over.”
The Cubs will draw Washington in the NLDS but Lackey isn’t focused on the Nationals yet.
“I think we’re going to have a good time tonight,” he remarked.
“I don’t really care about the Nationals.”
Elsewhere in the NL, Colorado pounded Miami 15-9, Arizona edged San Francisco 4-3, Philadelphia topped Washington 7-5, New York dumped Atlanta 7-1, Cincinnati blanked Milwaukee 6-0, and L.A. routed San Diego 10-0.
Pittsburgh beat Baltimore 5-3 in interleague play.