Cubs

Cubs: Kyle Hendricks makes pitch for playoff rotation

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Cubs: Kyle Hendricks makes pitch for playoff rotation

The magic number around Wrigley Field used to be whether or not the Cubs could clinch the No. 1 overall draft pick. September meant auditions for next season and dreaming about the free agents to sign that winter.

The Cubs are out of that rebuilding phase now, scoreboard-watching and trying to figure out the shape of their postseason roster. Two is the magic number even after Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Joe Maddon said the Cubs haven’t made any final decisions about a playoff rotation, but the manager didn’t rule out the idea of a bullpen day at some point after Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester.

Kyle Hendricks made a good impression here, retiring the first 14 batters he faced before giving up an infield single to Jean Segura with two outs in the fifth inning.

“That felt so much better,” Hendricks said afterward. “It didn’t work out in the end for us. But overall, personally, I just got to take some good things from that one tonight and build on it.”

[MORE CUBS: Kris Bryant proves he's even better than the hype]

The Brewers already have 88 losses and a new general manager, with Ryan Braun out of the lineup and expecting to undergo back surgery this offseason. Hendricks pitched into the seventh inning before allowing back-to-back hits to Adam Lind and Khris Davis. Hendricks was ultimately charged with three runs and finished with eight strikeouts against zero walks.

Hendricks doesn’t have that much margin for error, and he’s been searching for the feel and the command he had during his breakthrough rookie season (7-2, 2.46 ERA).

This has been more of a grind for Hendricks (7-7, 4.23 ERA), who’s still more than doubled the number of innings he threw in the majors last year, getting up to 168 now.

The Cubs will have so much confidence if Arrieta, a 20-game winner, faces the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League’s wild-card game on Oct. 7. Lester won two World Series with the Boston Red Sox and has a 2.57 ERA in 84 career postseason innings.

After that, the Cubs will be looking at Hendricks and Jason Hammel, who almost performed at an All-Star level in the first half but has put up a 5.43 ERA since then.

[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon promises Cubs will party hard once playoff spot is clinched]

“We’ve seen how good they both can be,” Maddon said. “Neither one’s hurt. Neither one’s been overextended in innings or number of pitches thrown this year. So they should be in pretty good shape right now.

“It’s just about going out and executing pitches and the game plan, which they’re both really capable of doing. Believe me, I have a lot of faith. (There’s been) a little bump in the road, but it’s really crazy how stuff happens and then all of a sudden the guy finds something and takes off again.”

The Cubs acquired Hendricks from the Texas Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal minutes before the July 31 deadline in 2012. Hendricks stepped up after last year’s Jeff Samardzija/Addison Russell trade with the Oakland A’s wiped out 40 percent of the rotation again.

As a Dartmouth College graduate, Hendricks sees the big picture and understands how this business works. But he doesn’t want to think about how he might fit into a playoff rotation.

“The way things have been going for me, I really got to simplify and take things day-to-day,” Hendricks said. “I got to focus on coming in tomorrow, getting my throwing session (in) and hopefully getting this same sensation.”

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.