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Hendricks beats Bucs for Cubs’ 100th win, eyes ERA crown

PITTSBURGH – Don’t try to tell Kyle Hendricks and the rest of the Cubs that this final week of regular season games doesn’t mean anything.

In the opener of a four-game series at PNC Park on Monday night, they looked as relentless as the Pirates looked feckless in a 12-2 Cubs victory that gave the Cubs 100 wins in a season for the first time in 81 years – and put Hendricks on the brink of his own place in franchise history.

With Javy Baez leading the way on the big scoring night with six RBIs – including a grand slam – Hendricks did the rest with six scoreless innings to lower his major-league-leading ERA to 1.99 with one start left.

The poster boy for one-start-at-a-time focus this season, even Hendricks admits he can allow for a thought or two about becoming the first Cub to win an ERA title since Ray Prim in 1945.

“It’s really only me or Jon,” he said of teammate Jon Lester, whose 2.28 ERA ranks second in the majors to Hendricks’. “That’s the cool part about it. It’s going to go to one of us, and that’s awesome. If it’s him or me, either way, I’m just going into my last start with the same mindset, not thinking about that, just trying to make good pitches.”

Hendricks, who said he started to lose command of his sinker as his start progressed Monday, nonetheless didn’t issue a walk and pitched out of jams in the third and sixth.

He has been as big a reason for the Cubs’ sixth 100-win season in franchise history as anybody on the roster.

“Kyle doing what he’s doing, obviously, we did not anticipate all of this,” manager Joe Maddon said of the right-hander, who opened the season as the Cubs’ fifth starter and will finish as their Game 2 playoff starter.

“It’s been a big difference for us that he’s been able to do what he’s done this year, no question,” Maddon said.

Hendricks’ 1.99 ERA would rank second only to teammate Jake Arrieta’s 1.77 last year among Cubs pitchers since 1950.

And to put his lead over Lester in perspective: If Lester’s ERA stays the same, Hendricks could give up five runs, fail to record an out, then get pulled from his final start – and still win the ERA title.

“He’s been unbelievable,” said veteran Travis Wood, an all-star starter three years ago and key member of the Cubs’ bullpen. “He knows how to manipulate the balls in ways a lot of pitchers don’t, keeps people off balance.”

“He just finds a way to get them to make weak contact,” said MVP candidate Kris Bryant, who hit his 39th homer and passed the 100-RBI mark (101) Monday. “It’s unbelievable what he can do.”

Hendricks’ run dates back to a pair of scoreless performances in his final two starts of last season and accelerated this year when he added an improved curve ball and more liberal use of a four-seam fastball to the best changeup on the staff.

“By no means is this a fluke,” Maddon said. “This is something that can carry on for years. It’s not an anomaly. This is how good he’s capable of being”

Anomaly? Hendricks, 26, improved his to 31-17 with a 2.87 ERA in 74 career starts (plus a scoreless two-inning relief outing this year).

“One of my goals coming into the year was just to kind of establish who I was, that I could get guys out on a consistent basis,” he said, “and gain the feel for all these different kinds of hitters. So when I got through the end of the year here with some of the success I saw, it definitely helped a lot looking toward the future and what I can do.

“It’s been a big year for me just learning, and to see those results.”

Making History

With one start remaining, Kyle Hendricks is in position to win the Cubs’ first National League ERA title in 71 years. Hendricks listed with the franchise’s ERA champions (*-denotes led/leads both AL and NL):

  • 2016 Kyle Hendricks 1.99*
  • 1945 Ray Prim 2.40
  • 1938 Bill Lee 2.66*
  • 1932 Lon Warneke 2.37*
  • 1920 Grover Alexander 1.91*
  • 1919 Grover Alexander 1.72
  • 1918 Hippo Vaughn 1.74
  • 1910 King Cole 1.80
  • 1907 Jack Pfiester 1.15*
  • 1906 Three Finger Brown 1.04*
  • 1902 Jack Taylor 1.29*
  • 1898 Clark Griffith 1.88
  • 1882 Larry Corcoran 1.95

Note: Brown’s mark in 1906 is the franchise record.

Chicago Fire

If the season ended today, Kyle Hendricks’ and Jon Lester’s 2016 ERAs would rank among the Cubs’ top five since 1950:

  • Jake Arrieta, 2015 1.77
  • Kyle Hendricks, 2016 1.99
  • Dick Ellsworth, 1963 2.11
  • Greg Maddux, 1992 2.18
  • Jon Lester, 2016 2.28
  • Mark Prior, 2003 2.43
  • Bill Hands, 1969 2.49
  • Mike Morgan, 1992 2.55
  • Larry Jackson, 1963 2.55
  • Warren Hacker, 1952 2.58
  • Fergie Jenkins, 1968 2.63

Note: Arrieta’s 2.85 this season would rank 19th on this list.