Why Kyle Hendricks is the new Mr. October in Cubs rotation

Why Kyle Hendricks is the new Mr. October in Cubs rotation

WASHINGTON – The Cubs know Kyle Hendricks approaches moments like this with the kind of outward enthusiasm you would see in someone doing laundry or taking out the garbage.

That personality – never left them see you sweat or smile – combined with killing-them-softly stuff made Hendricks such an ideal Game 1 starter against the Washington Nationals.

Hendricks always seems to be The Other Pitcher on this kind of stage. Even though he already beat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the night the Cubs won their first NL pennant in 71 years and outlasted Corey Kluber in last year’s unforgettable World Series Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

This time, it became all about Stephen Strasburg, the former No. 1 overall pick with the $175 million contract who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Friday night at Nationals Park. Yet once again, there was Hendricks calmly walking off the mound after pitching another game of his life, the Cubs feeling all the momentum in this best-of-five National League Division Series.

“He didn’t miss a spot,” catcher Willson Contreras said after a 3-0 win. “He didn’t miss a pitch. We did everything that we wanted to.”

Don’t act surprised: Hendricks has a World Series ring and a 1.98 ERA in eight career playoff starts. During those 41 innings against some of the world’s best hitters giving absolute focus, he has 36 strikeouts and a 1.000 WHIP. If this is a new normal, then it could be a very long October for the defending champs.

“He’s the same guy all the time, no matter what,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s not easy to do in this game. He just has this confidence about him. He doesn’t get rattled.”

[MORE CUBS-NATIONALS: Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo show Nationals why Cubs are the defending champs]

One scout tracking the Cubs for another playoff team thought Hendricks would be a particularly good Game 1 matchup against a fastball-happy Washington lineup. The thinking: The Nationals would have to wait five days for the playoffs to start after the regular season ended and his different looks would disrupt their timing even more.

Hendricks kept the Nationals completely off-balance, allowing only two singles and three walks and finishing with six strikeouts during those seven shutdown innings and using the rush from those 43,898 fans to hover around 90 mph when needed.

“I’m just a laid-back guy, but you’re definitely feeling it,” Hendricks said. “The energy there in the stadium and the crowd was pretty cool, but we’ve played some big games, even down the stretch in our division. We’ve had good atmospheres, so we were ready to take that adrenaline on and use it to our advantage.”

From there, Hendricks can precisely locate those fastballs wherever he wants and the extra velocity creates different dimensions for the changeups that he can cut or fade. The Dartmouth College graduate became the perfect match for the team’s elaborate game-planning system, understanding all the trouble spots within the strike zone for a powerful Washington lineup.

“He’s always locked in,” Contreras said. “From the moment that he gets to the ballpark, he’s always quiet. He’s focused on what he wants to do, and he knows the hitters. He has his plan.”

Hendricks still flies under the radar on a team loaded with players who have first-round/top-prospect pedigrees and high-profile free agents with big contracts. But with Jon Lester knowing he didn’t deserve this Game 1 start, Jose Quintana having zero postseason experience and Jake Arrieta recovering from a Grade 1 hamstring strain, the Cubs need Hendricks to be the new Mr. October in their rotation.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jed Hoyer breaks down Cubs renovated pitching staff


Cubs Talk Podcast: Jed Hoyer breaks down Cubs renovated pitching staff

Between more power in the rotation and more strike-throwing in the bullpen, the Cubs were decisive in how they wanted to remake their pitching staff entering the 2018 season.

GM Jed Hoyer sits down with David Kaplan to explain the thought process of the front office over the winter.

Take a listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Where does the Cubs lineup rank in MLB?


Where does the Cubs lineup rank in MLB?

It's that time of the year — a week out from Opening Day where all the predictions and rankings come through.

The latest coming through the baseball world is's Anthony Castrovince creating a list of the Top 10 lineups in baseball in 2018.

The Cubs come up lower than I expected — sitting sixth.

Here are Castrovince's rankings:

1. Houston Astros
2. New York Yankees
3. Washington Nationals
4. Boston Red Sox
5. Cleveland Indians
6. Chicago Cubs
7. Los Angeles Dodgers
8. Minnesota Twins
9. St. Louis Cardinals
10. Oakland A's

We broke down our own rankings of the Top 10 lineups in Major League Baseball:

Here's how I would rank the top lineups:

1. Houston Astros
2. Washington Nationals
3. Chicago Cubs
4. New York Yankees
5. Cleveland Indians
6. Boston Red Sox
7. Arizona Diamondbacks
8. Milwaukee Brewers
9. St. Louis Cardinals
10. Minnesota Twins

The Astros should be atop everybody's list.

The Nationals may actually be an underrated powerhouse offense, even with Daniel Murphy currently injured. Once he returns, you're looking at probably the best 1-6 of any lineup in baseball with Adam Eaton and Trea Turner (two premier leadoff-type hitters) setting the table for Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Murphy (three MVP candidates) and Ryan Zimmerman cleaning things up.

The Cubs may not have the sheer strength and power of the Yankees, but the Chicago lineup is deeper and more well-rounded. Regardless of who leads off and who plays on a given day, this Cubs team will batter opposing pitchers on a nightly basis and feature what very well could be three MVP candidates — Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras.

The Yankees would see a boost here if Brett Gardner shows no signs of aging at 34 and Greg Bird finally stays healthy.

The Indians are stacked, but don't quite boast as much depth 1-9 as the other lineups ahead of them with Tyler Naquin, Roberto Perez and Bradley Zimmer projected to make up the bottom-third of the order.

The Red Sox feature a dynamic young core despite a lineup that is coming off something of a down 2017 campaing. Adding J.D. Martinez to the mix is an incredible boost, as is a full season of phenom Rafael Devers.

The Diamondbacks have Paul Goldschmidt and a few question marks — including how the new humidor will affect the way the ball jumps in the dry Arizona heat. 

With new additions like Lorenzo Cain and former Marlins outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, the Cubs' main division rivals (Brewers, Cardinals) see a jump in lineup rankings.

The Dodgers are noticably absent given the injury to Justin Turner. Without him anchoring the order for the first month or so, this lineup absolutely needs Chris Taylor to turn in a repeat performance after a breakout 2017.