The Cubs rotation has finally emerged in 2018: 'We're all there'

The Cubs rotation has finally emerged in 2018: 'We're all there'

The Cubs 2018 starting rotation ahas played like an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

Cubs fans and pundits alike have been on the edge of their seats all season, waiting, suspension building, looking for the big twist we all know is coming.

That moment may actually be occurring right now, allowing everybody to sit back, sigh and say, "THERE it is."

With a stellar start from Kyle Hendricks Sunday — one of his best of the season, he admitted — the Cubs rotation has posted a 1.67 ERA and has not allowed a single homer over the last 10 games.

"I think we're all there," Hendricks said. "We're all getting there. We've been on a really good run the last week or two. Just been throwing the ball real well as a staff and the bullpen's still keeping up their end.

"It's nice to feel that roll one start after another — guys going out and performing and making pitches."

That sound you heard just now was every Cubs fan standing up and shouting, "Preach!" 

Cubs starters have been flashing signs in the past, going on a nice run for a few games or so. But this is the most extended run of success this season for the unit and it's no coincidence the Cubs are suddenly riding a five-game winning streak and looking like they've got their mojo back.

Remember, this was what many experts around the game thought was in the conversation as the best rotation in the National League in spring training.

Hendricks tossed 7 shutout innings in Sunday's 9-0 victory over the Reds. He permitted just a pair of singles and a walk, lowering his ERA to 3.86, his best mark since June 21. 

Hendricks has been happy with where he's at mechanically and stuff-wise for a few starts in a row now, but still had trouble getting the results to match. 

Not anymore.

"My mechanics feel good now," he said. "The ball's doing what I want it to now."

Sunday was his fourth straight start of at least 6 solid innings pitched and he could've gone even longer if the game wasn't a blowout and the heat index at Wrigley Field wasn't 101 degrees with insane humidity.

"The difference for me is the deception in the changeup is back," Joe Maddon said. "The arm speed on the changeup is there. It's not just a take pitch anymore. They're not reading it like they had earlier in the season, so that's a big part of his success."

Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett can attest to that. He was so far in front of a Hendricks changeup in the seventh inning, he fell to a knee during his swing and could do nothing but laugh in reaction:

Hendricks agrees that his changeup is a much bigger weapon right now, pointing to improved fastball command that now allows the off-speed to play better. 

With what Cole Hamels has done this month and adjustments Jon Lester has made to climb out of a tough stretch, it's huge for the Cubs to see Hendricks go out there and dominate.

Now Mike Montgomery's return is around the corner, as well. He should be in line to come off the disabled list Thursday and throw in Atlanta. 

Alec Mills is getting at least one more turn through the rotation Wednesday following a dominant performance against the Reds over the weekend. 

That permits the Cubs to roll with a six-man rotation for the time being, allowing every starter an extra day of rest for the stretch run of the pennant race.

The Cubs are in the midst of a long stretch of games — their next off-day isn't until Sept. 13 — and if they're gonna go on a nice run and try to create some distance in the NL Central, the rotation will be the determining factor.

"We love staying on that five-day routine, especially now that we're rolling and feeling good," Hendricks said. "That's what starters love. Six days is fine, even, but five is ideal. Stay on our side routine.

"We feel strong this time of the year, coming into September. Which is good for everybody. Hopefully we can just keep going deep into ballgames and giving us a chance to win."

Amid rough patch, Cubs shake up their bullpen

Amid rough patch, Cubs shake up their bullpen

The Cubs bullpen has been under the microscope recently as they've hit another rough patch.

With Pedro Strop on the injured list, Cubs relievers have combined for a 5.04 ERA and 1.72 WHIP over the last week, allowing 32 hits and 11 walks against only 15 strikeouts in 25 innings.

The Cubs are shaking things up, sending veteran left-hander Xavier Cedeno to the injured list with left wrist inflammation and promoting right-hander Rowan Wick from Triple-A Iowa.

"We had to get things straightened out out there," Joe Maddon said of the bullpen. "Cedeno's still not 100 percent right, so we made that move. Wick's up and he's been pitching really well. We liked him in spring training; he provides length if we need it also, so there were a lot of reasons to do it, but he was pitching well enough to be here, too."

The Cubs acquired Wick, 26, from the Padres back in November for minor leaguer Jason Vosler. Wick has pitched well in Triple-A Iowa this season — in 13 outings, he has a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while striking out 25 batters in 19 innings. 

Of his 13 appearances, 7 have been of a multi-inning variety and he hasn't allowed a run in his last 3 games (6.2 innings). He said a key to his success has been the ability to throw three different pitches for strikes and has been in a good flow lately of getting ahead in the count.

Wick made 10 appearances for the Padres in San Diego last year, sporting a 6.48 ERA in 8.1 innings.  The results weren't what he wanted in the big leagues, but that experience is something he can rely  on now.

"[I learned] that I can pitch here and that I belong," Wick said. "To be comofttable and hopefully pitch well."

Cedeno, 32, signed with the Cubs just before spring training started, but has been hampered by the same wrist issue all spring. He was first activated off the injured list less than two weeks ago and did not give up a run in 5 appearances, though he surrendered 4 hits and 3 walks in just 2 total innings of work.

With Wick in tow, the Cubs bullpen now looks like this:

Steve Cishek
Brad Brach
Brandon Kintzler
Kyle Ryan
Mike Montgomery
Tyler Chatwood
Carl Edwards Jr.
Rowan Wick

Strop is working his way back from a hamstring injury and threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, so his return may not be far off. 

Brandon Morrow resumed his throwing program Monday, as well, but is still weeks away from returning even in a best-case scenario.

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USA Today

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