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Chicago Cubs win National League Central

The Cubs will face the Washington Nationals in the NLDS.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs are ready to defend their title. With a 5-1 road win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, the Cubs have clinched the National League Central for a second consecutive season.

The Cubs are the first World Series winner to win their division the following season since the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009.

After snapping their 108-year championship drought in 2016, the Cubs looked like a juggernaut, as poised as any team in baseball to sustain a long run of excellence. They won 103 games last season, and won 200 over the previous two seasons, and were stocked with a cadre of young talent like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, and more.

But nothing came easy for the 2017 Cubs, who plodded through the first half of the season, taking a 43-45 record into the All-Star break, 5½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the division. Since then, however, Chicago turned things around with a 46-24 mark, the best record in the National League since the break.

Russell, who missed 41 games in August and September with a right foot sprain and plantar fasciitis, hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning on Wednesday night to give the Cubs the lead. He has driven in six runs in the first three games of this four-game series.

A July 13 trade for Jose Quintana has certainly helped, with the former Chicago White Sox southpaw going 7-3 with a 3.50 ERA in 13 starts with the northsiders, with 93 strikeouts and 21 walks in 79⅔ innings.

With their division win, the Cubs are in the postseason for three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1906-08. Chicago will face the Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series, which begins on Friday, Oct. 6 in Washington D.C.