Cubs

Kyle Hendricks, Kris Bryant help transform Cubs into 100-win team

Kyle Hendricks, Kris Bryant help transform Cubs into 100-win team

PITTSBURGH – The Cubs have gone from the happy-to-be-here team that crashed last year’s playoff party to a 100-win machine that’s expected to win the World Series or else be remembered as underachievers.  

The evolution of Kyle Hendricks from a fifth starter to a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate helps explain why the Cubs have lived up to the preseason hype. Kris Bryant not resting on his Rookie of the Year campaign and following it up with an MVP-level performance also created these expectations for October.

“It’s not too often that you get this much talent in one room on one team,” Bryant said after Monday night’s 12-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “We need to realize what we have here and be grateful for it. I certainly am. I couldn’t have pictured a better first two years in the big leagues.”

The Cubs won’t be leaving their season up to the coin flip of a wild-card game, the way they did 355 days ago at PNC Park, where it almost looks like the Pirates (77-79) still haven’t recovered. What once appeared to be a circle-your-calendar showdown that could decide the National League Central is now glorified spring training for the Cubs in late September.

The Cubs reached 100 wins for the first time since 1935 with Hendricks throwing six scoreless innings to lower his major-league-leading-ERA to 1.99 ERA, and Bryant hitting his 39th homer to surpass the 100-RBI mark after finishing with 99 last year.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

This is the type of star-studded team where Javier Baez can break the game wide open with a grand slam in the fourth inning – and finish with six RBI – and reporters still don’t have enough time to interview him in the postgame clubhouse.

This is also the type of confident group where Bryant can tell Chris Coghlan pregame that he’d hand over all the money in his wallet if the leadoff guy scored on his 100th RBI. That’s why Coghlan interrupted Bryant at his locker and wanted to get paid, telling the media: “Don’t let him fool you, he’s rich."

Or where three-time Manager of the Year Joe Maddon can approach a confused Hendricks after the fourth inning – not to offer some profound insight into the art of pitching – but to instead settle a question among the coaching staff in the dugout: What’s the Dartmouth College mascot?

“After he did not go to third base on that groundball, I went up to him and said, ‘Now, if I were to go to Dartmouth and went to the bookstore…’” Maddon recalled. “And he says, ‘Yeah, I’d go…’

“I said, ‘No, it has nothing to do with going first to third. If I were to go to the bookstore and I picked up a T-shirt, what would the nickname say on the front of it?’ And he said: ‘The Big Green.’

“So I learned something.”

Hendricks didn’t have to block out the blackout atmosphere or silence an announced crowd of 20,519 surrounded by sections of empty seats. A quiet, polite Ivy League graduate would never troll Pittsburgh fans on Twitter the way Jake Arrieta did last year. But the Cubs are witnessing another historic run that could catapult them through October.

The Cubs are riding the wave that always begins with starting pitching – teammate Jon Lester ranks second in the majors with a 2.28 ERA and lines up as the Game 1 starter in front of Hendricks. Now Hendricks has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last 22 starts, putting up a 16-8 record, a 0.97 WHIP and 185 innings during this breakthrough season.

“Obviously, we did not anticipate all of this,” Maddon said. “He’s really exceeded, and good for him. This is something I think he can carry on for years. This is by no means a fluke. It’s not an anomaly. This is how good he’s capable of being. So it’s made a big difference that he’s been able to do what he’s done this year. No question.”

Both Hendricks, an A-ball pitcher at the time, and Bryant came out of the ashes of a 101-loss season in 2012, with Ryan Dempster approving a trade to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline and the Cubs using the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft on the University of San Diego slugger who would become a superstar.

Theo Epstein’s front office constructed the best team in baseball ahead of schedule with polished, unselfish, intelligent athletes like Bryant and Hendricks. One hundred wins is nice, but…

“You guys know what this team’s like and where we want to go,” Hendricks said. “It’s just another step on the way.”

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

A Cubs pitcher taking in a Blackhawks game in a suite is nothing special, but doing so with a World Cup winner is... different.

Kyle Hendricks was spotted by the cameras of Thursday's Blackhawks-Coyotes broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago. The guy he was standing next to was none other than Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup with Germany and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich.

Hendricks is known for being reserved on the mound and in his interviews with the media. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger was filmed yelling "Bear Down" in the hallway of Toyota Park after a Fire practice earlier in the day.

There's no telling what inspired Schweinsteiger to do this, but he has definitely embraced Chicago sports teams since joining the Fire in March of 2017.

Makes you wonder what Hendricks and Schweinsteiger were talking about. Best places to get brats in Chicago?

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

View this post on Instagram

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...