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Cubs clinch NL Central title with Cardinals' loss; first since 2008

CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field was dark and empty when a loud cheer reverberated throughout the neighborhood surrounding the iconic ballpark.

While the Chicago Cubs decided to delay their party Thursday night, their long-downtrodden fans were ready to celebrate.

Chicago wasted its first chance to clinch the National League Central title but became the first major league team this season to clinch a division crown when St. Louislost 6-2 at San Francisco.

The Cubs lost 5-4 to the Milwaukee Brewers earlier Thursday night, but they captured their first NL Central crown since 2008 when the Giants finished off their victory over the Cardinals.

Wrigley was quiet when Matt Adams made the final out on the West Coast. However, it touched off a celebration in Chicago that included honking horns and chanting in the streets.

And late at night, the Cubs' famous marquee lit up with a message:

Led by a stellar pitching staff and MVP contenders Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Chicago got off to a sizzling 25-6 start. After stumbling into the All-Star break, the Cubs pulled away with a 22-6 August that turned the NL Central race into a mere formality.

"This is just the first step," manager Joe Maddon said after the Cubs' game but before the Cardinals' loss. "I mean, we have much larger baseball fish to fry in our skillet."

The Cubs likely will enter the 2016 postseason as heavy favorites. According to the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, they are 9-4 favorites to win the World Series.

Indeed, the NL Central crown is not how this group of Cubs will be judged, not this year.

After running roughshod over the rest of the majors for most of the season, Rizzo & Co. are trying to end the franchise's famous championship drought, going all the way back to when the Cubs beat the Tigers in the 1908 World Series.

"We've got a lot ahead of us. We really do," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said before the Cubs' loss. "It kind of all boils down to how you perform in October."

This is the 16th time since the first World Series in 1903 that the Cubs have finished in first place in their league or division, but they are 2-for-15 when it comes to winning the World Series in those seasons and are on a run of 12 straight first-place finishes that didn't result in a World Series title.

It's only the third time since 1903 that the Cubs have reached the postseason in consecutive seasons. They got in as a wild card last year and made it to the NL Championship Series before they were swept by the New York Mets.

The offseason additions of Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward only added to the anticipation for the Cubs' loyal fan base, and they have delivered up until this point. But many of those same fans also were around for the last division title, when the 2008 Cubs won 97 games and then were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the division series.

"There's no team I'd rather be going into October with," Epstein said. "But there are never favorites in October the same way there are in the regular season."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN Stats & Information was used in this report.

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