Kyle Hendricks started Game 7 of the World Series 11 days after beating Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to give the Cubs their first National League pennant since the year World War II ended. What happened last October and November remains part of this group’s DNA, the same way Cubs teams used to feel that anxiety and weight of history.
So these Cubs won’t be panicking or playing tight after a lost weekend at Wrigley Field where the Milwaukee Brewers outscored them by a 20-3 aggregate during a three-game sweep, assuring the NL Central would remain a three-team race.
“We’ve been in so many different ballgames, so many different situations,” Hendricks said matter-of-factly in the interview room after Sunday’s 3-1 loss. “We know what we need to do. That’s definitely a given. But as far as attitude, team demeanor, no, it’s just grinding pitch to pitch, trying to do what we can.”
The Cubs earned championship rings last year with pitching, defense and clutch hitting. While the offense went missing against the Brewers – essentially giving Hendricks no margin for error – even a rotation missing Jake Arrieta should still give the Cubs a chance to win every night.
Both the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals are now two games out of first place, and the Cubs will play those two teams 11 more times this month, including eight in a row on the road between Sept. 21-28.
“We’re somewhat aware of where the teams are at,” Hendricks said, “but it’s not what we’re focused on. We’re focused on the field, what needs to be done, pitch to pitch. That’s really where our focus is and where it’s stayed. So two games, five games, whatever it is, it is. We have to win ballgames down the stretch. Period.”
Hendricks – who has put together six quality starts in a row and a 2.58 ERA in his 10 starts since coming off the disabled list – basically regretted one pitch. Milwaukee slugger Travis Shaw drove an elevated two-seam fastball that crashed off the video-board ribbon in the right-field corner for a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth inning.
There is no other way for the Cubs to spin it, of course, but last year gives them the benefit of the doubt. If they can survive and advance, the Cubs will have a playoff rotation that should match up with anyone else in the NL, and a resilient team strengthened through adversity.
“This is just more of it to test us and see what we’re made of,” Hendricks said. “We’ve come out on the good side of it in the past, so it’s a good track record to move forward with. But it doesn’t guarantee anything.”