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2016 World Series: How the Cubs got here

Recounting how the Cubs broke a 71-year drought to end up in the World Series with a chance at even more history

MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs are in the World Series.

Once again, the Chicago Cubs are in the World Series.

On the surface of things, it should be no surprise that a team as successful as the Cubs is in the World Series. But, the surreal feeling of the Cubs finally getting in to the Fall Classic spurs some odd emotions in all of us, Cub fan or not.

After finishing last season with 98 wins, the Cubs’ season came to an end in rather disappointing fashion in the LCS at the hands of the Mets. The Cubs failed to win a game in that series and were effectively silenced by the Mets pitching staff. On top of that, Daniel Murphy did to the Cubs what could be considered a crime in several states. However, it was considered a leap forward for a young Cubs team that had just started to come together.

In response to their successful season and postseason run, the Cubs were active players in the offseason, justifiably so as the Cubs were a hot destination. Arguably the top free agent on the market in Jason Heyward reportedly took less money to join the Cubs, spurning the Cardinals. The Cubs did not stop there. Ben Zobrist, who spent years playing for Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay, joined the club on a four-year deal. Zobrist’s deal opened up the opportunity to trade Starlin Castro to the Yankees for Adam Warren. John Lackey, joining his former Cardinal teammate in Heyward, hitched on for two years. Finally, late in the offseason, the Cubs resigned Dexter Fowler after he presumably had signed with Baltimore. All in all, the Cubs ended up with three starting regulars, some pitching depth, and a mid-rotation starter. Not a bad offseason.

Along with their aforementioned offseason additions came an impressive core. Jon Lester, who was signed in the 2015 offseason, had been placed among the league’s best pitchers for years. The man sharing those coveted, top two spots of the rotation with him, Jake Arrieta, was the reigning Cy Young Award winner. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber were considered one of the best power hitting trios in the league. Then you had the potential of guys like Addison Russell, Javier Baez, and Jorge Soler all on the Opening Day roster.

As the 2016 season started, the Cubs were favorites of many and were considered contenders by all. Presumably, this season was supposed to be a bit of a walk to the playoffs for the Cubs. And, for all intents and purposes, it was as they won 103 games and took the NL Central by 17.5 games (Ties are evil, like the metric system and the designated hitter).

But, the Cubs weren’t without their troubles. In just the second game of the season, the Cubs lost Kyle Schwarber to a torn ACL after he collided with Dexter Fowler. Despite that, the Cubs rolled on to a historic start. But, the Cubs hit a bit of a snag midseason. Everyone was slumping. Their lead on July 26th was only 6.5 games and they were tied with the Giants for the best record in the league. This prompted them to make a deal to acquire Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees in exchange for a package of young players headlined by Gleyber Torres.

The acquisition of Chapman set the Cubs up to roll into the playoffs, and they did. Their division lead stretched to the 17.5 mark. They took control of the best record race and beat out Texas by eight wins. And, obviously, they had home field advantage in the National League. On top of that, the Cubs ended 2016 with 11 players over two fWAR.

The Cubs ended the season with several players making huge leaps forward. After a good but not great 2015, Jon Lester was again among the Cy Young conversation after putting up a 1.76 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 25.1 percent K rate, and 6.8 percent BB rate in the 2nd half. His season as a whole left him with a 3.10 DRA, 5.26 PWARP, and 4.3 fWAR, which all placed him among the league’s leaders. Kyle Hendricks had a breakout year that placed him, too, in Cy Young contention. Hendricks took home the ERA title, led the Cubs pitchers in fWAR with 4.5, and finished second on the team with a 4.38 PWARP. At this point, Kris Bryant is the presumptive MVP of the National League after posting a whopping 8.4 fWAR season on the back of 39 home runs, a .396 wOBA, and a 149 wRC+. Bryant finished first in the NL in fWAR by nearly a full win as Corey Seager slotted in with 7.5 fWAR. Addison Russell and Javier Baez posted career highs in WAR. Baez also was insane with the glove at second where he finished with 12 DRS in only 383 innings. The Cubs called up Willson Contreras and Carl Edwards Jr. in the middle of the season. Both of them proved to be extremely valuable contributors.

In their first playoff series, the Cubs dispatched the Giants in four games. The first game was a well-pitched one with Lester going against Johnny Cueto. Cueto went the full way for the Giants but gave up a solo shot to Javier Baez in his final inning that gave the Cubs the 1-0 win. In the second game, the Cubs capitalized on a poor start by Jeff Samardzija by knocking in four runs in the first two innings. Despite a short outing by Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs cruised to a 5-2 win.

Then, Game 3 the Giants bit back. After Madison Bumgarner gave up a three-run home run to Jake Arrieta, the Giants clawed their way back and took the lead in the eighth inning. The Cubs ended up tying the game in the ninth but fell to the Giants in 13. In the fourth game of the series, the Cubs were behind the 8-ball early being down five to one. Then the Cubs started a ninth inning rally that plated the four runs to go ahead and win 6-5. In those four games began the Javier Baez coming out party to the world. Baez hit his way to a .375/.412/.563 slash line along with his stellar defense. He also knocked in the winning run in two of the three games — the other was knocked in by Kyle Hendricks.

Then the Cubs went on to face the Dodgers, whom they pushed past in six games. In Game 1, the Cubs put out plenty of run support behind six innings of one-run ball from Jon Lester. They beat the Dodgers handily 8-4. Game 2 was Clayton Kershaw’s masterpiece. Kershaw went 7 innings scoreless giving up only two hits before passing the ball to Kenley Jansen to record a two-inning save in a 1-0 Dodger victory.

Game 3 continued the Cubs’ terrible offensive trend when they were shut out by the Dodgers 6-0. Then the bats broke out. Game 4 was a rout with the Cubs winning 10-2 (10-3 according to Adrian Gonzalez). Game 5 was more of the same. Despite a two-run rally by the Dodgers in the ninth, the Cubs held the lead for all nine innings. Then, Game 6 came along, which was the vaunted second Kershaw start. The game didn’t go quite as planned for the Dodgers. Kershaw lasted only five innings and gave up five runs. The Cubs won the game 5-0. Javier Baez took home the co-NLCS MVP with Jon Lester, who started two of the Cubs’ wins. Anthony Rizzo also broke out of a slump that extended back to the NLDS and posted a .320/.370/.640 slash along with two home runs. All in all, after a slow start to the series offensively, the Cubs took control of the series in Game 3 and never looked back.

Now, as the Cubs face the Indians, they’ve added a familiar face in Kyle Schwarber to the postseason roster. After suffering that ACL tear in the second game of the season, Schwarber got in some at bats in the Arizona Fall League and tested out his knee. The Cubs are now comfortable enough not only rostering him, but starting him at DH and hitting him fifth in the first game. All of this after not playing for over six months. It’s a bold move. It’s played out well for them, Cotton.

I can continue to wax philosophical about how good this Cubs team is and whatnot. But, at this point, it should be obvious that the Cubs deserved to be where they are. I suggest you sit back, relax, and enjoy the series.

I won’t though. I’m a Cubs fan. I’m in a rollercoaster ride of emotions.