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.”



Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

On Saturday, the Cubs announced that they are placing starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks on the 10-day I.L.with right shoulder inflammation. 

Following Hendricks' injury, the Cubs recalled right-handed pitcher Rowan Wick from Triple-A. Wick will be available on Saturday night and beyond, as the Cubs continue their four-game series against the Dodgers. 

This obviously a significant blow for the Cubs, as Hendricks is the team leader in innings pitched (88.1).

Prior to his loss on Friday night, Hendricks had won three straight outings, giving up less than 3 ER in each game. 

The Cubs have plenty of options to replace Hendricks for the time being. With an off day until Monday, they could keep their rotation intact. Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery are options, and the Cubs could push Hendricks next start back to by going with a spot starter. 

Stellar pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is another intriuging option, and he is coming off of a great outing with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. On Fridaym he racked up 9 strikeouts, giving up 8 hits and 2 ER. 

The 24-year old Alzolay is ranked as the Cubs' fourth-overall prospect and the Hendricks injury could open the door for Alzolay to get called up.

The more likely scenario is that Cubs manager Joe Maddon chooses to use Chatwood. 

Chatwood is the only pitcher outside of the everyday rotation to have made a start this year and is the most obvious stopgap solution until we get further updates on Hendricks' status.