CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs are back in the playoffs.
Three hundred and twenty-six days after manager Joe Maddon talked postseason baseball in his opening press conference, he was proven right late Friday night when the San Francisco Giants lost to the Oakland Athletics, helping the Cubs clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2008.
"I would say it any year anyway," Maddon joked Friday morning. "I really believed it."
The Cubs couldn't clinch on the field earlier, losing 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the Athletics took care of business, extending the Cubs' lead to 10 games in the wild-card race with nine to play. Bolstered by a 42-24 second-half run, Maddon's team came together months after making an offseason splash when they signed Maddon and free-agent pitcher Jon Lester.
"The eventual signing of Lester and ascension of [Jake] Arrieta this year made it possible," Maddon said. "But I did believe it when I said it ... His [Lester's] particular signing indicated to us and to the fan base this is definitely possible. You need that kind of presence."
Meanwhile, Arrieta is a Cy Young Award candidate and 23-year old Kris Bryant is a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year. He led a strong class of first-year Cubs players that included the slick-fielding Addison Russell and outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who arrived in the majors at the exact time the team took off. Maddon knew the talent his new organization possessed and brought out the best in them in a fantastic march to the postseason.
"There were so many wonderful items already in place here," Maddon declared.
While the manager and players get credit for an incredible season to this point, the front office saw its long-term plan come to fruition this year after five straight fifth-place finishes. Rebuilding works if the young players acquired and drafted are good. There's little doubt now that Theo Epstein and his people brought a huge haul of youthful talent into the organization, and those players have given the city a playoff team.
The Cubs haven't won a postseason contest since before Steve Bartman touched that ball in 2003. Under the current wild-card format, they'll have one game to prove they belong with the final eight teams vying for the World Series. In this improbable year which should end with more than 90 victories, the Cubs have as good a chance as anyone of moving on through the National League playoffs.
Could a Cubs fan have asked for anything more?
Meanwhile, Cubs players couldn't wait to share their excitement:
It's official. Playoffs. Now we go.— Jake Arrieta (@JArrieta34) September 26, 2015