By Joe Harris
ST. LOUIS — Addison Russell hit a three-run homer and John Lackey pitched six strong innings as the Chicago Cubs clinched their second consecutive National League Central title with a 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.
The Cubs reached the postseason for the third straight year for the first time since 1908. They are also the first defending World Series champion 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.
The Cubs became the second visiting team to celebrate a title at Busch Stadium III. The 2009 Los Angeles Dodgers won the NLDS at St. Louis.
Lackey (12-11) retired the final 10 batters he faced. The former Cardinal struck out three and gave up two hits and two walks.
Six Cubs relievers combined for three scoreless innings of relief.
Cardinals starter Michael Wacha needed just 60 pitches to cruise through the first six innings, striking out eight, before running into trouble in the seventh. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant started the inning with singles and Russell drove a 2-1 pitch over the left field wall to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead.
Wacha (12-9) was chased after allowing the first six Cubs to reach base in the seventh. Jason Heyward and Tommy La Stella had RBI doubles as the Cubs sent 10 batters to the plate against three St. Louis pitchers.
Rizzo was hit by a 99 mph fastball on the first pitch he saw from Wacha with two outs and nobody on in the first. Rizzo was visibly upset after getting hit, throwing his bat over-handed towards the Cubs’ dugout.
Earlier in the day, Cardinals OF Tommy Pham told media that he believed he was hit by a pitch on purpose by the Cubs in Tuesday night’s game.
Both batters were hit in the ribs.