Why Cubs could bet on Kyle Hendricks in Game 1 vs. Max Scherzer and Nationals: 'Ice in his veins'

Why Cubs could bet on Kyle Hendricks in Game 1 vs. Max Scherzer and Nationals: 'Ice in his veins'

ST. LOUIS – The Deadspin headline this summer said it all: “Max Scherzer Is An Intense Weirdo.” The featured clips showed the Washington Nationals ace snarling at a hitter and barking out stream-of-consciousness curse words at the beginning of his violent delivery.

Kyle Hendricks has such a blank look on his face when he pitches that it’s hard to tell if it’s spring training or the playoffs. That’s exactly why the Cubs would have as much confidence in Hendricks starting a big game as Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta, the same way the Nationals expect to win when Scherzer grips the ball and unleashes the fury and the arsenal of pitches that got him a $210 million megadeal.

“Absolutely,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “He pitched Game 7 of the World Series with ice in his veins.”

Hendricks vs. Scherzer would be a fascinating clash of styles in a Cubs-Nationals playoff series already loaded with personalities, star power and pressure points. But whether it’s a game that means everything to generations of fans around the globe – or a Thursday at a dead Busch Stadium the night after the Cubs celebrated their National League Central title – it doesn’t matter to Hendricks.

“He might be pitching as well as anybody in the National League right now,” Maddon said before watching Hendricks throw five scoreless innings against a desperate St. Louis Cardinals team that got eliminated from the wild-card race when a Cactus League crew closed out a 2-1 win in the 11th inning.

Maddon insisted he hasn’t been floating trial balloons, even though it almost sounded like a Game 1 endorsement for a pitcher who has put up a 2.19 ERA in 13 starts since coming off the disabled list (right hand tendinitis) in late July.

“Everybody’s in play,” Maddon said. “We haven’t decided anything yet. I’ve been saying consistently that I think he’s throwing the ball as well as I’ve ever seen him pitch. Even though he went through a potential Cy Young year last year – which was outstanding – I have not seen this combination of velocity/location.

“Earlier in the year when his fastball was 83-84 (mph), I was concerned about deception off the fastball to the changeup. Now you see that wider spread, and you see these guys just taking strikes. When he’s really going good, that’s what you see, the take and there’s no argument. The hitter knows.

“Now we’re seeing 88s, 89s and that’s why the changeup and the curve have gotten so much better.”

At a time when Lester is going through inexplicable control issues and insisting he’s fine physically, and Arrieta is still recovering from the Grade 1 right hamstring strain he suffered on Labor Day, and Jose Quintana has never started a playoff game before, the Cubs have a clear idea of what they can expect from the Dartmouth College graduate with an economics degree.

“A hundred percent, I’m ready,” said Hendricks, who struck out nine of the 19 hitters he faced while walking only one. “When you’re locked in, you take every game just as another game. Even if it’s a Game 1, my focus is just make good pitches.

“Whenever I’m out there, read the situation, know what I have to do, know my game plan and rely on my preparation.

“I’m right where I need to be going into the playoffs. If they want to give me the ball Game 1, great, but whenever they give it to me, I’m going to be ready.”

Because Hendricks already started the biggest game of his life and has grown from the experience, resembling the pitcher who led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last year and beat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the night the Cubs won their first NL pennant in 71 years.    

“He’s steady,” Rizzo said. “He’s consistent. Good start, bad start, indifferent, he’s doing his homework before the games. He has a plan out there and he sticks to his plan. If he doesn’t have one of those pitches one night, he can make in-game adjustments. He spots up all the time.

“He’ll be ready for any atmosphere or any environment. Any situation that he’s put in, he’ll be ready.”    

The Cubs left St. Louis as a 90-win team, ending the flickering playoff hopes for the Cardinals with Taylor Davis getting the game-winning double, Jen-Ho Tseng earning his first big-league win and Leonys Martin making a spectacular, leaping, game-ending catch at the center-field wall to steal a home run from Paul DeJong.        

The Cubs will now have a week to decompress, break down the Nationals from every angle and then ramp it back up again on Oct. 6 at Nationals Park. Don’t be surprised if it’s Hendricks vs. Scherzer.    

“He assimilates his adrenaline in different methods as opposed to most other people,” Maddon said. “His manifestation is different. That was like effusively happy out there all night long. He’s just so able to control. He’s just that guy that channels his inner energy so well. His focus is so strong and his mental commitment to himself is so strong. He’s a different animal.”

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants