The Cubs watched the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their first National League Central title since 2009 last night, the third clinching performance against Chicago in a week.
But five years ago, it was a different story. On a late September game against the Cardinals, left-hander Ted Lilly put down a successful suicide squeeze to defeat the Cardinals at Wrigley Field 5-4 to win back-to-back division titles under then-manager Lou Piniella.
Many of the cornerstones were still on the team with the last division title: first basemen Derrek Lee, third basemen Aramis Rameriz, starter Carlos Zambrano, pitcher Ryan Dempster, and former starter turned closer Kerry Wood. It was the second year of Alfonso Soriano’s tenure as a Cub, catcher Geovany Soto’s rookie season, and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome’s first year in the MLB.
Lee was very productive at first base, hitting .291 with 20 home runs, 41 doubles, and 90 RBI. He would follow-up with his last great season in the majors in 2009 with Chicago, hitting .306 with 35 home runs, 36 doubles, and 111 RBI. He then was traded to Atlanta and then went on to Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Rameriz hit .289 with 27 home runs, 44 doubles, and 111 RBI. He is still productive in the majors with the Milwaukee Brewers after going there in free agency in December 2011.
Lilly led the staff with a career-high 17 wins along with nine losses, tied a career-high with 34 starts, and had his second-most career innings with 204.2 (his career-high was with the 2007 Cubs at 207 innings pitched). The lefty remained at Chicago until a package deal with infielder Ryan Theirot sent him to the Dodgers for Blake DeWitt and three others on July 31, 2010. The Dodgers released him last month and Lilly is currently a free agent.
The rest of the staff was filled by Dempster, who matched Lilly at 17 wins and six losses, Zambrano went 14-6, Jason Marquis was 11-9 on the campaign, and after being acquired mid-season, Rich Harden went 5-1.
Harden and fellow pitcher Chad Gaudin came from Oakland on July 8, 2008. The Cubs sent reliever Sean Gallagher, outfielder Matt Murton, infielder Eric Patterson, and catcher Josh Donaldson in return. Gaudin was used in 24 games, allowing an earned run average of 6.26 in 27.1 innings pitched.
Harden returned to the Cubs in 2009 where he went 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 141 innings. He then went on to pitch for the Texas Rangers, back to Oakland, and is now with the Minnesota Twins.
Zambrano had his meltdown in Chicago, had one year in Miami, was a minor league pitcher for the Phillies this season and is now currently a free agent. Dempster was traded at the 2012 deadline to the Texas Rangers and then he signed a free agent deal with the Boston Red Sox for two years this past winter.
Soriano was traded this season back to the New York Yankees, Wood went to Cleveland and then came back to Chicago to retire as a Cub. Carlos Marmol was a set-up man for Wood in 2008, eventually becoming the closer and then being traded to the Dodgers earlier this season.
One of the big in-season pick-ups for Chicago was former a Cardinal, center-fielder Jim Edmonds. He hit .256 with 19 home runs, 17 doubles, and 49 RBI’s. Edmonds sat out 2009, but went on to play with the Brewers and Reds before retiring.
2008 would give Piniella his last great season as a manager as the Cubs led the NL with wins, 97, and he won the league’s manager of the year award. He would later leave the Cubs mid-2010 to care for his mother. He was a consultant for the San Francisco Giants in 2011, but has since not returned to baseball.
The only player on the last team to win the division is pitcher Jeff Samardzija. He came on as a reliever and pitched in 26 games, allowing 24 hits with a 2.28 ERA and 25 strikeouts.
Players that have gone to other teams and now possess a winning World Series ring: infielder Ryan Theriot (Giants), pitcher Chad Gaudin (Yankees), pitcher Scott Eyre (Phillies), and infielder Mark DeRosa (Giants).