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.”
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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.
“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.”