Cubs

Cubs undecided on NLCS rotation beyond Jon Lester in Game 1

Cubs undecided on NLCS rotation beyond Jon Lester in Game 1

The Cubs don't have the rest of their rotation set for the National League Championship Series, but the choice for Game 1 is easy: Jon Lester.

Joe Maddon confirmed as much Thursday afternoon during the Cubs' workout, but the team still isn't sure of Kyle Hendricks' status after taking a line drive to the right forearm in Game 2 last Saturday.

"I know that Jon Lester is going to pitch the first game," Maddon said. "After that, we're waiting to find out about Kyle and then we'll go from there."

Hendricks declared himself "good to go" before Tuesday's Game 4 in San Francisco.

Maddon said Hendricks was "in good shape" after Tuesday's session and the Cy Young candidate also threw Thursday.

"[We'll] just find out where Kyle is," Maddon said. "Making sure that he is healthy. He threw today; you always wait a little bit to find out if there's any after-effects of that and then you make your determination. That's about it. Just health."

Maddon admitted the Cubs still like the idea of having Lester and Hendricks start the first two games at Wrigley Field, where both have performed at an elite level this season.

So if Hendricks doesn't have a setback, expect the Cubs to announce him as the Game 2 starter Sunday night at Wrigley Field, where he posted a 1.32 ERA and 0.86 WHIP during the regular season (compared to 2.95/1.099 on the road).

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Lester tossed eight shutout innings to beat the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS, lowering his career postseason ERA to 2.63 in 17 games (15 starts).

Before he was knocked out of Game 2, Hendricks had allowed two runs on four hits while getting 14 outs (seven groundballs, seven fly balls). 

If Hendricks is good to go, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey would then fill out the rest of the rotation, starting Games 3 and 4 on the road in either Los Angeles or Washington D.C.

Arrieta provided a huge lift with a three-run homer off Madison Bumgarner in his start against the Giants in Game 3, but also turned in a quality outing on the mound - two runs on six hits and a walk in six innings.

Lackey, meanwhile, struggled to the tune of three runs on seven hits and two walks in only four innings before the Cubs' miraculous comeback in Game 4.

Maddon sees more in there for the Cubs rotation, especially Lackey, who hadn't pitched in two full weeks before the NLDS start.

"Jon Lester pitched his game, Jake was really good, Kyle never got his opportunity and you could say [Lackey] was off, but I thought John's stuff was good," Maddon said. "I look at the [radar] gun al lthe time, see how the fastball and stuff match up, and the numbers were good.

"The breaking ball numbers were good. My point is he's healthy and he's well and he just didn't execute, probably because he hasn't pitched in a while. But I felt good that the numbers match up - velocity, fastball to breaking ball, all that was there. 

"I have a lot of faith in our guys. They've been doing it all year. They're absolutely rested going into this moment, so I feel very strongly about our starting pitching."

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair