Cubs

With mysterious injury behind him, Kyle Hendricks has returned to the Cubs and brought jokes

With mysterious injury behind him, Kyle Hendricks has returned to the Cubs and brought jokes

Kyle Hendricks has returned at the turn of the tide for the Cubs and he brought his sense of humor.

Hendricks hasn't pitched since June 4 and is slated to return to the Cubs rotation Monday against the White Sox after missing the last seven weeks with inflammation in his pitching hand.

Basically, his middle finger hurt every time he threw certain pitches.

"That's probably the problem — flipping the bird to people," he joked. "Maybe it's too much driving in Chicago, I don't know."

Joe Maddon cracked up when he found out his stoic pitcher delivered a joke.

"He didn't say that. He did? That's very tongue-in-cheek, Dartmouth-in-cheek, right?" Maddon said. "He's like the most mild-mannered, wonderful fellow. It's just such an awkward injury to get and come back from.

"Right now, he's feeling great. [Cubs trainer PJ Mainville] feels really good about it, also. I think his velocity was up a bit also in the minor leagues in a couple starts. All that are good indicators. An unusual injury, but we're happy to have him back."

Kris Bryant injured his finger diving into third base Wednesday, but only missed one full game, using his freakish healing powers to do what Hendricks struggled to do in a month.

"100 percent [wish I could heal like Bryant]," Hendricks said with a smile. "I wish it wasn't the middle finger. If it was another finger, maybe it would've been easier. But a lot of things you wish, I guess, at the outset.

"But you just have to look at it — it was what it was and I'm done with it now. Now just go play."

The finger/hand injury is still largely a mystery to both Hendricks and the Cubs. They don't know how it popped up, beyond just excessive throwing (including pitching into November last season). 

He said he felt the issue pop up right before he went to the disabled list and it affected him every time he threw his curveball or sinker, because he used his middle finger more on those pitches. But with his changeup and four-seamer, there was next to no pain.

Moving forward, Hendricks will still throw the curve and sinker just as much in bullpens, but he will cut back on how much he throws overall in between starts, etc. It's too early to address the offseason, but Hendricks — who likes to throw a lot during the winter — will likely have to fine-tune that as well.

Hendricks returns right as the Cubs have appeared to turn their season around. They won the first six games coming out of the All-Star Break and after a rough loss against the Cardinals Friday, pulled off an epic, 2016-esque comeback Saturday vs. St. Louis.

The Cubs trotted out Jose Quintana Sunday and will do the same with Hendricks Monday, making it back-to-back starts from guys who weren't a factor in the Cubs rotation for most of June and July.

"I understand the cliche, but it's actually true this time [that players coming off the DL gives a team a boost]," Maddon said. "To get these two guys coming on board at this time in the season. 

"Getting Kyle back with this particular group is really interesting to watch right now. I think that's also gonna be a shot in the arm with the group, just like Jose in Baltimore. You definitely could feel the difference in attitude and I think when Kyle takes the mound, you're gonna feel the same thing, too."

Immediately after hitting the DL, Hendricks had to endure weeks of doing nothing and waiting around until the inflammation subsided. Then he spent the next few weeks building his arm strength back up after going so long without throwing. 

"It's just an obstacle and you have to look at it as positive in a way," he said. "I used it to get my body in shape, get my cardio going, get my shoulder work and my arm strong. Just try to take every positive out of it that I could. 

"Take a little breather in a way, too. Get away from it. But now, I'm ready to go. Mentally, definitely need this, need to be back and need to have baseball back in my life."

Hendricks and the Cubs are also optimistic his time off could mean he's strong for the stretch run.

Maddon and Co. had been looking for ways to bring the starting pitchers along slowly this season after pitching so many innings so deep into last fall.

The starters were held back in spring training, have been held under 100 pitches in most outings this season and get an extra day off whenever possible.

"The guys are all grinding it out while I'm sitting here getting healthy," Hendricks said. "They're wearing down a little bit, so the guys that are healthy by the end of the year, they can provide a little extra for us."

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

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AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.