Cubs

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.”

 

 

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 49th homer of the season came with a runner on 1st and one out, when Oriel Hershiser served up a high fastball that Sammy belted 415 feet into the last few rows in left-center field. 

Sosa would later start the game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth, scoring the game-tying run on a Henry Rodriguez single through the right side of the infield. Jose Hernandez would step in the next at-bat and walk it off with a base hit that scored Mark Grace, as Sammy and the Cubs bested the Giants 6-5. 

Fun Fact: A 33-year-old Barry Bonds would hit home run No. 25, finishing the season with 37 homers. He would finish the next season with 34 dingers but would string five consecutive seasons with at least 45 home runs, of course hitting a record 73 home runs in 2001. 

Yu Darvish suffering another setback puts his 2018 season in jeopardy

Yu Darvish suffering another setback puts his 2018 season in jeopardy

Yu have to be kidding me (Sorry, couldn't resist). 

The Cubs were expecting Sunday's rehab start to be the beginning to an end of what has been an extremely disappointing 2018 season for their $126 million man Yu Darvish. Darvish was scheduled to start Sunday for the Cubs single-A affiliate in South Bend, IN, but after just one inning Darvish was checked on by the trainers and eventually pulled before the 2nd inning started. 

According to Steve Greenberg, Darvish asked for an MRI on Monday which likely closes the door on him returning to the Cubs in 2018.

The frustrating thing about Darvish's rehab is that in his two rehab starts, the 32-year-old pitcher has had excellent stuff, touching 95 mph in Sunday afternoon's game before being pulled. 

At this point in the season, it seems unlikely Darvish will be able to return to the Cubs rotation for the regular season. And it would be incredibly risky to roll with Darvish in the playoffs, who even when healthy hasn't shown he's deserving of a postseason roster spot. The Cubs do have options at starter in the minors like Duane Underwood or James Norwood, and despite his shortcomings, Tyler Chatwood is an option out of necessity now.  

Drew Smyly, who looked like a possibility as a late-season addition, is still not quite ready to come back and be an effective rotation piece at the moment. And with Mike Montgomery heading to the disabled list earlier this week, the Cubs were hopeful Darvish would be healthy by the time rosters expand in September. 

Luckily, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Kyle Hendricks have all looked stellar recently and hopefully can continue their success on the mound as the Cubs continue to fight past injuries to maintain their grasp on the NL Central. 

But Theo Epstein said himself last week that if Darvish didn't perform well during his rehab stint, that was essentially his 2018 season. Don't expect to see Darvish returning to the mound until 2019, Cubs fans.