Cubs

Kyle Hendricks cracks Cubs NLDS rotation vs. Cardinals

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Kyle Hendricks cracks Cubs NLDS rotation vs. Cardinals

ST. LOUIS - Kyle Hendricks was listed on the Cubs' 25-man roster for the one-game wild-card for a reason.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs are giving Hendricks the ball against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the National League Division Series Saturday.

Maddon also said veteran Jason Hammel - who was seen as the Cubs' "No. 3" starter to begin the season - could be in line to start Game 4 back at Wrigley Field (Jake Arrieta goes Game 3 Monday in Chicago).

Jon Lester is getting the start in Game 1 Friday, but if the Cubs are going to keep this magical season going, they're going to need somebody to step up in the rotation beyond the $155 million free agent and Arrieta. Is Hendricks up to the task?

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"You saw the last couple games, Kyle's been really sharp," Maddon said. "The fact that he could put the ball on the ground matters a lot, too. Keep the ball out of the air.

"He's just been very sharp, so we just chose to do that."

Hendricks has been sharp, rattling off three straight quality starts to end the season, striking out 25 batters in 18 innings.

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Of course, two of those starts came against the Milwaukee Brewers, who were well out of contention, but Hendricks also tossed six shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals in the regular season finale at Wrigley Field Sept. 28, striking out nine and allowing just four baserunners (two hits and two walks).

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Hammel, on the other hand, has just two quality starts in his last 14 tries since being forced to leave the game early in his July 8 start with a hamstring issue. In that span, Hammel has put up a 5.10 ERA and allowed an .856 OPS to opposing hitters.

Maddon reiterated Arrieta would be ready to roll for Game 3 Monday after throwing 113 pitches in a complete-game shutout Wednesday night.

But the Cubs skipper did say Hammel would be available out of the bullpen in the first three games.

"If we don't use Jason Hammel before that, you probably will see him in Game 4," Maddon said. "But if we need him sooner than that, you'll see him sooner than that and then we'll just have to make and adjustment for Game 4."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.