If you had to give one Cubs pitcher the ball in a must-win game in October, who would you choose: Kyle Hendricks or Yu Darvish?
But Hendricks has been no slouch, posting a 2.63 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in eight second-half starts. He gets the ball Wednesday night in New York opposite Noah Syndergaard as the Cubs look to win their second straight road series (and first "true" road series since late-May).
Part of Hendricks' success lately can be attributed to his increased curveball usage, a pitch Joe Maddon and the Cubs have wanted him to utilize more often in recent seasons.
On the whole, the 29-year-old right-hander is throwing his curve 8.9 percent of the time in 2019 and the off-speed pitch is coming in the slowest it ever has (71.6 mph). Both the velocity and the different movement adds one more thing for opposing hitters to think about and look at beyond his fastball and elite changeup.
"It's been huge for me just not being a two-pitch guy," Hendricks said after his last start in which he spun 7 shutout innings against the Giants. "When you fall into that pattern, there are a lot more foul balls, your pitch count gets up. So just to present another look and the command I've had with it this year has probably been the best so far.
"I'm still trying to work on it and get better, but it's helped a lot."
Hendricks believes another key for him this season has been taking a page out of Jon Lester's book. Cubs fans have seen it often over Lester's tenure in Chicago: Even after a rough start to a game, the veteran southpaw is able to adjust on the fly and completely change the tune of the outing.
Hendricks lauded Lester's lack of stubbornness and ability to throw a gameplan out the window quickly if it's not working.
Hendricks feels like he can be too stubborn sometimes, trying to stay with the pregame plan of attack even if it's not working or he's not feeling great with a certain pitch. But he's trying to improve in that area and it's something he's always talking about with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello.
"I think it's just experience and knowing yourself," Hendricks said. "I know that I do it and now these guys know it, too — Borzy and Tommy. I come in after the first or second inning and we look at each other, it's like we already know I'm doing it again or I'm trying to stick with the 2-seam fastball. It's like, 'OK, maybe let's try this,' incorporate the curveball or whatever needs to be done just to get through the start.
"It's not always going to go according to plan. [The hitters] make adjustments just as quick as we do, if not quicker. Being able to realize that and just know what you need to do quicker, that's what I try to learn from [Lester]. He does that better than anybody I've ever seen."
One thing that certainly hasn't gone according to plan this season: Hendricks is a totally different pitcher on the road than he is at home.
Class is clearly in session for "The Professor" at Wrigley Field, but time away from the Friendly Confines has not been kind to Hendricks:
.189 opponent AVG
.288 opponent AVG
The good news for Hendricks and the Cubs is things have started to trend in the right direction away from home.
In his four second-half starts on the road, Hendricks has a 3.32 ERA and 1.25 WHIP and almost all of that damage was done in one really rough start in Cincinnati on Aug. 10 (7 runs, 12 hits, 3 homers in 2.2 innings).
Still, it's confounding Hendricks would have such drastic splits. This is the guy who started Game 7 of the 2016 World Series in Cleveland and Game 1 of the 2017 NLDS in Washington D.C.
So what's been the issue this season?
"On the road, it's just depth perception, what does it look like?" Maddon said. "It's probably very comfortable [at Wrigley] when he looks into the catcher. When you pitch on the road, it's variable ballparks. He's pitched in some pretty high-leverage moments [on the road]. I don't know the answer.
"Listen, there's so many things about this year that it's really hard to evaluate or explain, whether it's the road record, what we do [at home], our day record vs. night, blah blah blah. And guys like him are outstanding and looks exactly the same from the side on the road or at home. It's just one of those years, man."
It's almost September and the Cubs still can't explain their head-scratching struggles on the road over the last few months. Why would Hendricks' big home/road splits be any different?