Tuesday night, the Chicago Cubs did something even more impressive than defy their anguished history. They stared down the St. Louis Cardinals and wrested control of the mighty National League Central.

The Cubs won 97 games in the regular season, which rated them third in their own division. The Cardinals won 100, and the Pittsburgh Pirates 98. The Cubs beat the Pirates in a wild-card game and toppled the Cardinals in the Division Series. They advanced to the NLCS and also planted their flag as the survivor of the best division in baseball.

"This is one of the best divisions in the history of baseball," Cubs President Theo Epstein said. "I'm not saying that. The numbers say that. To go through the heart of it to get the NLCS makes it even more meaningful. It resonates even more for us."

The Cardinals were making their 12th playoff appearance in 16 years. They have won the division three consecutive seasons. They have been to the World Series 11 times since the Cubs' last trip in 1945 and have won it six times.

"These are like the older brothers who have kicking sand in our face for 100 years," Epstein said.

The Cubs put a stop to it Tuesday night, beating the Cardinals for the third consecutive game.

The Cubs were supposed to arrive next season, but their cadre of young sluggers coalesced earlier than even the Cubs' front office expected. They have assembled the best young group of position players in baseball. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant Starlin Castro, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler, all vital contributors in the NLDS, are 26 or younger.

"They're the team to beat," Cubs ace Jake Arrieta said. "They have been for however many years. To go through the Pirates in the wild-card game and now the Cardinals, we feel like we can beat anybody. We're a tough team to play, no matter who it is."

"You can judge us however you want," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We've got to look in the mirror. Once again, it doesn't always matter how it's perceived by everybody else."

HR ball put back

A Chicago Cubs source confirmed that the monstrous Kyle Schwarber home run ball from Tuesday's series-clinching win over the Cardinals landed on top of the right field video board.

A Cubs employee was sent to retrieve the ball Wednesday morning, and a source said the team verified it was the actual Schwarber ball through an MLB postseason watermark on it.

The Cubs have returned it to its original location on top of the board and will leave it there until their postseason run has concluded.

The TBS cameras didn't have any close-ups of the seventh-inning shot off Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist, which gave the Cubs a 6-4 lead.


• The Houston Astros have a soundtrack to their first playoff run in a decade. Texas rapper Bun B dropped a track titled "Crush City" as a nod to the home run hitting prowess of the Astros, who were second in the majors with 230 homers in the regular season.

• The Angels will not renew the contracts of pitching coach Mike Butcher and hitting coach Don Baylor. Butcher joined the Angels in 2006. Baylor, had been the team's hitting coach for two seasons.

• Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer will join Fox's studio show during the AL Championship Series.

• New Brewers General Manager David Stearns hired Matt Arnold as vice president and assistant GM.