Cubs to defend World Series title after clinching NL Central

The Chicago Cubs aren’t interested in starting another World Series drought. The team ensured it would be able to defend its crown in October, clinching the National League Central on Wednesday.

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Coming into the day, it was all but a certainty that the Cubs would be going to the postseason. The team needed either a win or a loss from the Milwaukee Brewers to punch their ticket. They handled business themselves, defeating the Cardinals 5-1 in St. Louis.

Chicago’s charge to repeating as World Series champs hasn’t gone as smoothly as expected. The club got off to a rocky start in the first half, and were chasing the Brewers at the All-Star break.

General manager Jed Hoyer was active at the trade deadline, adding Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila in late July. The team eventually figured it out, going 45-23 in the second half to overtake Milwaukee.

Cubs shortstop Addison Russell is congratulated by teammate Anthony Rizzo after hitting a three-run home run in the Cubs division-clinching win. (AP)

While their late-season surge has been impressive, the Cubs haven’t been as dominant as they were last season. In 2016, the team clinched on Sept. 10. It took until Sept. 27 this time around.

Still, it’s tough to argue with their talent. The addition of Quintana gives them four strong starters to utilize in the postseason. After sluggish starts, both Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have returned to form. The team’s bullpen remains deep.

After clinching the Central, Chicago can focus on getting their veterans some rest while they prepare for the Washington Nationals. That will be no easy task. Not only has Washington been strong all year, but the club just got Bryce Harper back from a knee injury Tuesday.

The road to a repeat won’t be easy. The Cubs don’t appear as strong on paper, and their competition in the National League is fierce. But the team will at least have the opportunity to do it. That’s all they can ask for after a shaky first half.

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Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!