As Cubs advance, will Kyle Hendricks’ game work in the playoffs?

As Cubs advance, will Kyle Hendricks’ game work in the playoffs?

CINCINNATI – Is this sustainable? Can Kyle Hendricks dominate hitters in October the way he controlled lineups during the regular season? The Cubs are about to find out. 

“I don’t see why not,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Everything’s there.”

The Cubs aren’t an invincible team, but they have the National League’s strongest, deepest roster. The transformation of Hendricks from a No. 5 starter into a Cy Young Award contender helps explain why the Cubs won 103 games and head into the postseason with a World Series-or-bust attitude. 

“This is the day we’ve been waiting for,” Hendricks said after Sunday’s 7-4 comeback victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park. “Now that we’re here, none of that means anything. The playoffs is what it’s all about. If you go out first round – that’s all that matters – you’re done.”

Hendricks killed hitters softly and earned that Game 2 slot in the rotation – against either the defending NL champion Mets or even-year Giants – with a breakthrough performance that saw him capture the ERA title (2.13), become a 16-game winner and reach the 190-inning mark.    

“Hendricks has had a very good season,” an NL Central scout said. “It’s just a little different in the playoffs with a command-and-control guy with limited margin for error.”

Precision is Hendricks’ trademark, but he didn’t have it in the first inning against this Cincinnati lineup, hitting Scott Schebler with a pitch to load the bases and then walking in the game’s first run after a five-pitch at-bat against Eugenio Suarez. That forced pitching coach Chris Bosio to hold a conference on the mound. Tucker Barnhart then knocked a two-out, two-run single into right field, pushing Hendricks’ major-league leading ERA over 2.00.

But Hendricks has been so remarkably consistent, always keeping his team in the game. This snapped a streak of 22 straight starts where the right-hander allowed three earned runs or fewer. Those four runs matched a season-high. He also lasted five innings, something he’s done 30 times through 30 starts.

“You can’t disregard the results,” an NL West scout said. “From a pure scouting standpoint, the changeup is obviously better than just like above-average. It’s probably more of an elite-type changeup. When you fill out all the boxes, it’s nothing (extraordinary). But when you look at the guy’s ability just to make pitches – and his feel to pitch – it’s in that elite category.

“When you got this one weapon, that changeup’s in the back of everybody’s mind. And it kind of makes everything else better.”

Hendricks doesn’t have the same arsenal, name recognition or bank account as San Francisco’s frontline guys. Hendricks certainly didn’t experience the same hype that followed New York’s young power pitchers (and some are now recovering from season-ending surgeries).

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But this is what happens when you combine a Dartmouth College education with an intricate game-planning system, an elite defense and a snowballing sense of confidence. The Cubs won’t hesitate to give Hendricks the ball on Oct. 8 at Wrigley Field.

“I will admit – I’ve always undervalued him,” the NL West scout said. “He’s obviously a Cy Young candidate this year. He’s probably not that front-of-the-rotation starter at the end of the day. But he’s way better than people give him credit for.

“The guy obviously has a lot inside that you can’t quantify. I think the true test for him (will be): Can he match up (in the playoffs)?”

Hendricks says “definitely,” even if he never expected to here at this point in his young career.

“They’re also going to have to go up against our lineup,” Hendricks said, “so that’s always a big plus in our column. I’m just going to go out there with the same thing I’ve been doing, focusing on my game, simple thoughts and attacking whatever lineup it is.”



Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey


Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”