No gem from Hendricks, but Cubs have enough to come back on Braves


No gem from Hendricks, but Cubs have enough to come back on Braves

The Cubs haven’t been getting the same kind of dominant starting pitching they’ve received from their rotation at times this season. But the sign of a great team is one group of guys picking up another. And that’s what happened Friday.

Kyle Hendricks wasn’t bad by any stretch, but he lasted just five innings after going 3 1/3 innings and 5 1/3 innings in his previous two starts. The offense and the bullpen picked up their starting pitcher, though, with the offense erasing a 3-1 deficit and the bullpen tossing four scoreless frames in the Cubs’ 5-3 win over the Braves at Wrigley Field.

Hendricks was in trouble early, as the first three hitters reached base and the Braves had a run in a hurry in the first inning. But Hendricks retired the next three batters, keeping Atlanta to just one run. After Chris Coghlan tied the game with a first-inning solo shot, Hendricks was hit again, tagged for another pair of runs on a two-run double by Nick Markakis in the fourth.

Though his outing wasn’t very lengthy, Hendricks and his manager felt good about the way he pitched. They were particularly pleased with Friday’s performance in the wake of his last start, when he gave up five runs in just 3 1/3 innings.

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“I felt a big improvement, honestly. That’s why it’s still a little frustrating, giving up three runs,” Hendricks said. “But in the end, I am happy. It did feel 100 times better. My arm felt more free, more on line. I made a lot more good pitches. I wasn’t expecting it to be 100 percent first start after we’d been working on it. But hopefully we can turn it around pretty quickly.”

“First inning, little bit sketchy, but he did settle into that,” Joe Maddon said. “I saw better down angle, I saw him get the ball down better, you saw some called strikes that they didn’t like, which normally means that the ball is moving at the last moment back over the plate. I thought game in progress, leading into his next start, he’s got to feel good about it. He’s starting to feel where it had been, and it’s going to benefit us next time out.”

After Hendricks’ opposite, Braves starter Shelby Miller, dominated the Cubs over the first four innings, the Cubs put on their comeback shoes. A Pedro Ciriaco throwing error allowed Miguel Montero to score the Cubs’ second run in the fifth. And after Anthony Rizzo walked with one out in the sixth, he came around to score and tie the game at 3 on a Kris Bryant double. Bryant came home on the next pitch, which Montero blasted into the right-center field gap for the go-ahead RBI. Rizzo drove in Addison Russell in the seventh to make it 5-3.

Meanwhile, the Bullpen shut down the Braves, with four different pitchers throwing four scoreless innings and retiring 12 of the 14 hitters they faced.

It’s just another one of those come-from behind wins, something that the Cubs are making a habit in this winning season.

“It’s a good feeling. We’ve done it a lot this year,” Bryant said. “And I think that makes a great team, the ability to come from behind. We did that today. We had some really good at-bats that (sixth) inning, and our pitchers, our bullpen did a great job. Was definitely a really good win for us.”

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Back to the starting staff for a moment, which has been a bugaboo of late for the North Siders. Rocky outings from Hendricks, Jason Hammel, Dan Haren and even Jon Lester have worried some who think the unit that has carried the Cubs to this point might be their downfall as the playoff race heats up.

Friday wasn’t exactly an ugly start from Hendricks, but it wasn’t a gem, either, the kind of efforts this rotation was turning in on a regular basis earlier in the season.

Maddon, as he’s stated all along, isn’t worried. And he actually thinks that a brief outing for Hendricks on Friday could benefit him and the team in the long run.

“They’re healthy, and they’re not overworked,” Maddon said of his rotation. “They were on a nice roll, hit a bit of a speed bump, but we’re going to get back on a good roll because they’re healthy and they’re not overextended. That’s what I look at. … I’m always looking at that stuff. And people are like, ‘Why does it really matter, 10 or 15 pitches?’ Well, in a cumulative situation, it does. In September, when the games get hot — hot being that the games are big, regarding you have to get that particular win — and the guy’s going to be fresh or not fresh. I want the fresh guy.”

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The Cubs boast one of baseball’s best win-loss records, and a playoff spot is certainly within their grasp. So as a bunch of youngsters who have never experienced the playoff chase before embark on the final 42 games of the regular season, are they feeling the pressure?

“We’re going out there, we expect to win,” Hendricks said. “And when you have that kind of confidence, the moment doesn’t really get to you.”

Enough said.

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

The NLCS rematch will have to wait another day.

Mother Nature and the power at Wrigley Field care not for your excitement about a "big series" between the Cubs and Dodgers.

Thunderstorms rolled over the North Side of Chicago, where the Dodgers ended the Cubs' postseason run 8 months ago. 

On top of that, the power at Wrigley Field was not cooperating with the lights down the right field line going out for hours during the rain delay. 

The lights came back on at one point before again going out again roughly a half hour before Monday night's game was officially called. After a delay stretching almost three hours, word finally filtered out just before 10 p.m. the game would be postponed a day.

The Cubs and Dodgers will make the game up as part of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field with the first game starting at 12:05 p.m. and the second at the regularly scheduled time of 7:05 p.m. Tyler Chatwood will start the first game for the Cubs with Mike Montgomery slated to go Game 2.

As of 10 p.m. Monday night, the Cubs were unsure what caused the power issue at Wrigley Field but were working on fixing the problem ahead of Tuesday's scheduled doubleheader.

The evening started with the tarp being rolled onto the field by the Cubs grounds crew roughly an hour before scheduled first pitch with a forecast calling for a 100 percent chance of rain.

Only a light rain fell until a downpour began around 8:15 p.m.:

That lasted only about a half hour before the grounds crew came back out around 8:45 p.m. to partially remove the tarp and attempt to get the field ready to play.

The only issue at that point was the light and a sinister forecast.

"It takes 45 minutes to get the field ready to play," said Julian Green, Cubs director of communications. "So once you take that tarp off, you saw them putting the chalk lines down, getting ready.

"We wanted to be ready — even in the face of rain — if the lights came back on, we wanted to make sure we could play baseball, even if it was a limited window of opportunity."

As of 11 p.m., that second bout of rain had yet to materialize, but the lights issue also wasn't corrected and play on the field would've been impossible.

Fans lingered throughout the stadium for nearly three hours before an official conclusion came down. The Cubs kept the same announcement on the right field video board about the weather delay while the left field video board displayed the Brewers-Pirates and other MLB games.

This is the only trip to Chicago the Dodgers make throughout the 2018 season so the two teams and Major League Baseball did all they could to try to get a game in and avoid any issue where these two teams would have to play on a mutual off-day later in the year. 

The Cubs were in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days without a day off. They're still on that same schedule, though now with an unexpected day off Monday and a doubleheader Tuesday.

The Cubs are no stranger to postponements this season as wacky weather has continued to hamper this MLB season.

"Not only for the Chicago Cubs, but Chicago in general, this has been a really interesting spring and summer season," Green said. "We're taking our licks just like everybody else is.

"Our plan is to play baseball tomorrow and make sure we can accomodate fans as best as possible. So fans who have tickets to tonight's game will be able to use them for tomorrow."

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."