6 moments that mattered for Chicago Cubs this season

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws to the plate during the second inning of an opening day baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws to the plate during the second inning of an opening day baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. Associated Press

  • New closer Aroldis Chapman makes his delivery in his Cubs debut, which was a non-save situation, during Wednesday's 8-1 victory over the White Sox at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

    New closer Aroldis Chapman makes his delivery in his Cubs debut, which was a non-save situation, during Wednesday's 8-1 victory over the White Sox at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman gets a pat on the back from manager Joe Maddon following Wednesday's game against the White Sox at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

    Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman gets a pat on the back from manager Joe Maddon following Wednesday's game against the White Sox at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant, right, is greeted by Chris Coghlan after hitting a two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Steven Brault during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.

    Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant, right, is greeted by Chris Coghlan after hitting a two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Steven Brault during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks delivers during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks delivers during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/4/2016 6:21 AM

The other day in Cincinnati, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon couldn't come up with one defining moment for a 2016 club that won 103 games.

Instead, Maddon said the successful season was more of "an amalgam of work."

 

Maddon is probably right. From the get-go, the Cubs steamrollered over the National League Central, winning the division by 17 games over the St. Louis Cardinals, last year's division champs.

Although there may not have been one season-defining game or series, there were many moments that mattered.

Let's take a look at a few and what they meant in the grand scheme of this grand season:

Living in a tree:

Fans line up outside Angel Stadium of Anaheim for an opening day baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago Cubs, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Los Angeles.
Fans line up outside Angel Stadium of Anaheim for an opening day baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago Cubs, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Los Angeles. - Associated Press

The Cubs got off to a 25-6 start, prompting comparisons with the 1984 Detroit Tigers, who began 35-5 on the way to a world championship.

The tone was set Opening Night in Anaheim, with a convincing 9-0 victory over the Angels.

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"I sensed it after Opening Night in Anaheim where we played such a wonderful ballgame, an all-around game," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at the time the Cubs had their 25-6 record. "I was in the clubhouse after the game.

"I got a sense from the players there was this feeling of recognition of how well they can play when they're locked in. They were almost impressed by themselves."

At the same time, Epstein was prophetic, when he warned of tougher times ahead.

"We're thrilled with the start we've gotten off to, obviously, but we're not blinded by it,"he said. "We know we're in a stretch right now where winning seems far easier than it actually is. But we know there's going to be a stretch, probably a long stretch this year, where winning even one game seems virtually impossible. It's just the nature of baseball.

"We're not blinded by it. We've been saying in the office we're in a tree. We'll stay up there as long as we can. We're going to get down at some point."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Another no-no:

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta jumps in celebration after the final out of his second career no-hitter, against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday, April 21, 2016, in Cincinnati. The Cubs won 16-0.
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta jumps in celebration after the final out of his second career no-hitter, against the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday, April 21, 2016, in Cincinnati. The Cubs won 16-0. - Associated Press

Jake Arrieta didn't have his best command on the night of April 21 at Cincinnati, but that didn't stop him from pitching his second no-hitter, a 16-0 victory over the Reds.

At the time, Arrieta's record improved to 4-0 with an ERA of 0.87.

The command issue was a harbinger of things to come, as last year's Cy Young winner battled it all season, finishing 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA. That's not at all bad, but Arrieta constantly found himself being compared with last year's Arrieta, who went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and a no-hitter on Aug. 30, 2015, at Los Angeles.

Oh, Contreras:

Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning of a baseball game Sunday, June 19, 2016, in Chicago.
Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning of a baseball game Sunday, June 19, 2016, in Chicago. - Associated Press

With catcher-outfielder Kyle Schwarber having gone down with a season-ending knee injury in the first week of the season, the Cubs were looking for more offensive spark behind the plate.

They got a bonfire on the night of June 19, when Willson Contreras hit the first major-league pitch he saw for a home run to help the Cubs to a 10-5 victory over the Pirates.

Contreras has been a work-in-progress behind the plate, and Maddon relied more heavily on veterans David Ross and Miguel Montero down the stretch, something he's likely to do in the playoffs.

In Sunday's season finale at Cincinnati, Contreras started at catcher and moved to left field, a position he could play at times during the playoffs.

Contreras finished the season with a line of .282/.357/.488 with 12 homers and 33 RBI.

The Cubs are likely to carry three catchers in the postseason, and if they make it to the World Series, Contreras could become an attractive DH option in the American League park.

Falling out of the tree:

Chicago Cubs' Albert Almora Jr. (5) celebrates with teammates Javier Baez (9), and John Lackey (41) after hitting a two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jonathon Niese in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, July 10, 2016.
Chicago Cubs' Albert Almora Jr. (5) celebrates with teammates Javier Baez (9), and John Lackey (41) after hitting a two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jonathon Niese in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, July 10, 2016. - Associated Press

As Epstein warned, the Cubs hit a rough patch from late June and into July, finishing with a 6-15 stretch into the all-star break.

In their final 10 games leading into the break, the Cubs did not get a quality start.

A victory at Pittsburgh on July 10 snapped a five-game losing streak. But things were in the works or on the way that would help in the following weeks.

It was right before the break that Maddon inserted Adam Warren (since traded to the Yankees) as a sixth starting pitcher. That gave the rotation regulars a break, as did Maddon holding Jon Lester and Arrieta back until the fourth and fifth games, respectively, when play resumed after the All-Star Game.

Then on July 25, the Cubs traded for closer Aroldis Chapman, giving them a lockdown closer.

Maddon predicted the Cubs had another good run in them, and he was right. They came out of the break and went on a 36-14 run.

Seattle stew:

Chicago Cubs Jason Heyward celebrates with teammates after he scored on a sacrifice bunt hit by Jon Lester (34) in the twelfth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, July 31, 2016, in Chicago. The Chicago Cubs beat the Seattle Mariners 7-6.
Chicago Cubs Jason Heyward celebrates with teammates after he scored on a sacrifice bunt hit by Jon Lester (34) in the twelfth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, July 31, 2016, in Chicago. The Chicago Cubs beat the Seattle Mariners 7-6. - Associated Press

Maddon and Cubs showed a nationwide TV audience just about everything on Sunday night, July 31.

They beat the Seattle Mariners 7-6 in 12 innings, with the winning run scoring on a squeeze bunt by Lester, who came off the bench as a pinch hitter.

Also in that game, Travis Wood came in as a relief pitcher, moved to left field and came back in to pitch. He went back-first into the left-field wall to make a catch.

The clincher and 100:

Chicago Cubs' Miguel Montero, right, celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the 10th inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, in Chicago. The Cubs won 5-4.
Chicago Cubs' Miguel Montero, right, celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the 10th inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, in Chicago. The Cubs won 5-4. - Associated Press

On the night of Sept. 15, the Cubs lost 5-4 to the Brewers at Wrigley Field. They wound up clinching the division later that night with a Cardinals loss, so they simply moved the party to the next day.

Maddon's next goal was 100 victories, which happened Sept. 26 at Pittsburgh.

It was the franchise's first 100-plus winning season since the 1935 club won 100 and the sixth 100-plus-win season in team history.

With all of that, Maddon's challenge was -- and remains until the playoffs start -- to keep the team both rested and fresh.

Maddon and the Cubs have seemed up to that challenge so far. Since clinching, they went 10-5, with one rain-shortened tie game.

After a day of rest Monday, the Cubs will get back at it Tuesday with simulated-game action at Wrigley Field before Wednesday and Thursday workouts in advance of the division series opener Friday at home.

That's when the moments that really matter will begin.

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