PITTSBURGH -- Like with the Mets, some are saying the Cubs "arrived" a year ahead of schedule as a playoff team.
But as the Cubs prepared to face the Pirates at PNC Park Wednesday night in the NL wild-card game, manager Joe Maddon said he meant it when he said he wanted to lead Cubs to the postseason now and not later when he was hired in the offseason.
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The Cubs won 97 games after finishing last in the NL Central in 2014 with a 73-89 record. Their development accelerated after they signed Jon Lester, watched many of their stable of young position players blossom and received an otherworldly season from Jake Arrieta, the 22-game winner who started Wednesday night against Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole.
"That's just typically how this thing plays out where there's all the prognostication where you're attempting to figure out in advance what something's going to look like," Maddon said. "So you look from last year, and it's legitimate. It's a legitimate thought based on where the Cubs had been, where we are right now. The fact that we're going to rely on so many young players to get us over the hump. I get it. I totally get it. It makes all the sense in the world.
"But when I took the job last fall, I was able to start looking at some of these guys in more earnest detail. Then you look at it, and man, this could be pretty good rather quickly. But getting Jon Lester really solidified it, and nobody knew that Jake was going to be this good this year. But I can understand why everybody would have thought it was going to take a little while longer just from the perspective of being a scout."
Maddon, the bespectacled former Tampa Bay Rays manager, was brought aboard by team president Theo Epstein to help revive the Cubbies. He helped blend Epstein's analytical approach with a bohemian sense of personal style that no manager today can match.
For example, Wednesday night Maddon said about the Cubs' approach: "I love numbers. God, I love numbers, though I was horrible in math. Algebra III. Second semester of Algebra II was my Waterloo, to be honest with you. Algebra III and Trig could have been Latin or Greek, it wouldn't matter to me. But I do love numbers.
"Beyond that I really like people and humans and, 'What makes this guy tick?' And I don't think that because you can't necessarily quantify it, it's not as popular of a way to acquire a player, but it really matters. It really matters right now in our clubhouse. But I guess my point is it's a combination of skillful young players that everybody saw coming along. But I don't believe we would be here without the appropriate seasoning among the veterans."
While the Mets are rich in young pitching studs, the Cubs are awash in position players. They had rookies Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber in the corner outfield spots Wednesday night (Bryant in left) and Addison Russell at shortstop.
That's why many analysts speculated the Cubs and Mets might be able to swing a hitting-for-pitching deal. But not making that sort of trade seems to have worked out just fine for both teams.
"We have a lot to prove," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "We haven't proven anything yet. We are young. We have a lot of talent, but we have to go out there and take it."Wednesday night's winner advanced to face the Cardinals in the NLDS beginning tomorrow nightFriday night. St. Louis won 100 games and Pittsburgh won 98 with the Cubs one game behind. But either Chicago or Pittsburgh went home last nightWednesday night.