Kyle Hendricks continues his torrid stretch, pulls out all the stops in win over Reds

Kyle Hendricks continues his torrid stretch, pulls out all the stops in win over Reds

Following the Cubs’ 3-1 win over the Reds on Tuesday, NBC Sports Chicago’s David DeJesus posed the following question.

“What isn’t Kyle Hendricks good at?” DeJesus said on Cubs Postgame Live.

DeJesus’ question may have come off as a joke to some, but it should carry some serious weight following Hendricks latest outing. Not only did the 29-year-old pitch another gem, but he delivered one of the best offensive nights by a Cubs pitcher in recent memory.

Hendricks pitched into the ninth inning, getting pulled after allowing a leadoff walk to Reds outfielder Nick Senzel. He allowed just one run (a Joey Votto solo home run) on three hits, walking one batter compared to seven strikeouts.

Tuesday’s outing shouldn’t come as much of a surprise for anyone, as Hendricks has been on fire over the last month or so. The right-hander has pitched at least eight innings in three-straight starts, all while allowing a run or less along with one or zero walks. Before tonight, no Cubs pitcher had done that since Mike Krukow, who accomplished it in September 1981.

Hendricks’ dominance on the mound stretches further back than that, however. On April 19 against the Diamondbacks, he pitched seven shutout innings, racking up 11 strikeouts. There is one bad start sandwiched in between that game and his current stretch — April 26: five innings, seven earned runs — but outside from that, Hendricks has been downright dominant.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Hendricks was a force at the plate on Tuesday as well. He drove in two of the Cubs’ three runs with a second inning double, finishing the night 3-for-4.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised by Hendricks’ prowess at the plate, though. He now has the most multi-hit games by a Cubs pitcher since 2012 and became the first Cubs pitcher with a three-hit game since Carlos Zambrano in 2011.

When you’re hot, you’re hot. And if one thing is certain, it's that Hendricks is on fire right now. 

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Despite winning stretch, Cubs defense is in a slump: 'We're better than that'

Despite winning stretch, Cubs defense is in a slump: 'We're better than that'

Over the last month, the Cubs have the best record and the best pitching staff in baseball. 

They entered play Thursday leading the National League in runs per game and run differential on the season.

Yet their defense is in a slump. 

Baseball is strange, man.

The Cubs committed errors in four straight games from Sunday through Wednesday, totaling 8 defensive miscues in that span. It hasn't changed the overall outcome much — the Cubs are still 3-1 in those games — but it's definitely an ominous trend.

"We started out, we were on a good run," Joe Maddon said, sighing. "Just little things. It's not like difficult plays, either."

Maddon pointed to Kyle Hendricks — who is normally a very good defensive pitcher — making a throwing error to start off the game Wednesday night (that runner came around to score) or David Bote dropping a throw from Javy Baez at second base earlier in the week. 

"These are, like, easy plays," Maddon continued. "These aren't things that require all kinds of new methods or, 'let's work a little bit harder.' I don't know if it's a product of being very cold out recently — it could be. I do believe we're gonna get back to that standard."

Maddon also pointed out plays that haven't been ruled as errors recently, like Javy Baez waiting back too long on a ground ball hit by Starlin Castro in the sixth inning Tuesday night, which officially went into the scorebooks as a hit.

"That's not an error, but it's an error," Maddon said. "Stuff like that. We're better than that and we know that. [Cubs infield coach Brian Butterfield] is like ready to commit harikari sometimes; I gotta talk him down. We're much better than this on defense and I really expect it to happen."

The lapses this week have been weird to see from a team that boasts players who have won multiple Gold Glove Awards (Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo) and features several young players who seem destined to win a Gold Glove in their future (Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., maybe even David Bote).

It's even weirder that the miscues have happened when the team has been playing so well. But it's also not like the team has been sloppy every inning for a week. They've made some incredible defensive plays recently, from Ben Zobrist's diving plays in the outfield against the Cardinals to Almora's run-saving throw Tuesday night to Rizzo's aggressiveness and heads-up plays Wednesday night.

But that's also been paired with some defense behind Jon Lester that the veteran pitcher wound up having a good laugh about:

"Everything comes in bunches. I don't know why," Maddon said. "Home runs do, walks do, errors do — it's just a weird part of our game. I don't even know if it happens and everybody's noticing that and all of a sudden they fall in line in a bad way and then in a good way. I mean, hitting's contagious. I don't know. 

"It's a long year and you just gotta work your way through it. You know your guys are good and you just gotta walk 'em through it, support them, remind them of the little thing they had done wrong to maybe avoid it the next time. We have good defenders and it's going to play."

 

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Cubs pitching coming through with Jon Lester injured

Cubs pitching coming through with Jon Lester injured

After starting the season 2-7 on the road, two weeks without Jon Lester looked like a possible death sentence for the Cubs. Instead, it now looks like a turning point.

Somebody needed to step up. Anybody. Bullpen or rotation, but preferably both. Well, that is exactly what happened and the Cubs are quickly back to the .500 mark at 10-10.

Jose Quintana was the first to accept the challenge, dominating the surprising Pirates with the eleven strikeouts and then seven shutout innings against the lowly Marlins in his next outing. He pitched "like a Porcshe" while attacking batters in both games with precision handling and it was contagious. Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood followed his lead while the bullpen turned around their production, too.

Our stats guru, Chris Kamka, offered up these facts to show the startling improvements.

In the first nine games, the Cubs' team ERA, starter ERA and reliever ERA all ranked 29th or worse in MLB. It's a team game, but it was obvious which part of the team was struggling. Over the last 11 games, everything has changed. Since that opening road trip from Hell, the Cubs have led the majors in all three categories. The relievers have posted a 1.85 ERA and the starters are at a blistering 1.66 ERA with six quality starts since Lester went on the injured list. 

Yes, it's a small sample size in a 162 game season. However, if we're going to overreact to a disastrous start, it's only fair to also hyperbolize this spectacular stretch. We asked for somebody to step-up. The Cubs' pitching staff did just that.    

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