MILWAUKEE – As the Cubs try to amuse themselves against the likes of the Brewers, Reds and Astros these next few weeks on their scenic drive toward October, some of the few story lines of note – and of possible intrigue – played out again Monday in the form of pitcher Kyle Hendricks.
For the fourth time in barely two months, the Cubs’ so-called fifth starter made a start the day after a bullpen-ravaging marathon, and for the fourth time got that game to the seventh inning and earned the victory, this time a 7-2 decision over the Brewers at Miller Park.
It may not sound like the stuff of tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound. But add it to the already impressive – and growing – resume, and Hendricks’ case gets just that much stronger in a National League Cy Young Award race that’s starting to look like it could be his to lose.
That is, if he can keep defending winner Jake Arrieta at bay, and if their teammate, Jon Lester, doesn’t overtake both to win it.
“The way he’s been pitching, I don’t see anyone pitching as good as he’s been,” said catcher Miguel Montero, whose two-hit day included a two-out double in the seventh that started the go-ahead rally.
“He probably doesn’t have as many innings as the other guys, but that’s not his fault, put it that way,” added Montero, comparing the soft-contact, location-dependent Hendricks to former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, last year’s NL runnerup. “He’s a pitcher, a complete pitcher.”
Hendricks limited the moribund Brewers to a Chris Carter solo home run in six innings despite admittedly not having his sharpest stuff or command – improving to 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA (averaging more than seven innings) in those four post-marathon starts.
“After really awkward games, he has really picked us up,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s just who he is. He normally gets you deeply into the game. You pretty much have an idea what you’re going to get when he goes out there: strike throwing; they’ve got to put the ball in play; they’ve got to move it; he normally does not get himself into trouble.”
Other than falling an inning short of his benchmark for a bullpen-saver, Hendricks mostly stayed out of trouble, struck out Cubs killer Kirk Nieuwenhuis in a 1-1 game with runners at second and third to end the sixth, and along the way lowered his major-league-leading ERA to 2.07.
His 14th win puts him two short of Arrieta for the league lead, and he should have four more starts to make his Cy Young case – even with lefty Mike Montgomery scheduled for at least two more starts as a sixth starter.
Maddon said his Cy Young candidates are assured of getting their full complement of starts the rest of the season despite the extra starter.
Not that Hendricks or anyone else in the clubhouse is salivating over the final 25 regular-season games, with a 16 ½-game lead in the National League Central and a magic number for clinching that could be in single digits by midweek.
“Almost opposite,” Hendricks said. “It’s at the point where we’re ready to go, for the next level. These ballgames are still big for us. Everybody’s playing well, so it’s a lot of fun coming to the ballpark every day. We know where we’re trying to go. It’s just getting through this last month will be good.”
A lot remains at stake no matter how quickly they clinch. Hendricks got an up-close look at the Cy Young race with the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto pitching well against the Cubs Saturday and Sunday.
“That was a fun series, just having that playoff atmosphere almost,” Hendricks said. “But seeing Bumgarner and Cueto – obviously they’re two of the best in the game, and they really pitched well against us. It’s going to be a fun series if we get them in October. But we’re thinking more us vs. them than Bumgarner, Cueto, me, Jake, Lester or any of that.”
Cy Young race goes through Chicago?
National League Cy Young contenders:
- Kyle Hendricks, Cubs (14-7, 2.07), 165 IP, 0.99 WHIP, 145 SO
- Max Scherzer, Nationals (16-7, 2.88), 197, 0.92, 243
- Madison Bumgarner, Giants (14-8, 2.51), 193.2, 1.04, 217
- Jon Lester, Cubs, (15-4, 2.61), 169, 1.04, 164
- Jake Arrieta, Cubs (16-6, 2.84), 174, 1.05, 168
- Johnny Cueto, Giants (14-5, 2.92), 191.1, 1.09, 168
- Noah Syndergaard, Mets (12-8, 2.56), 162, 1.11, 188