Just 12 games remain on the Cubs’ regular-season schedule, and with the offense still trying to find its way, the starting pitchers — who carried the team during its hot stretch to open the season — have needed to step up again with October in sight.
They’re doing exactly that.
Following another quality start by Yu Darvish and two masterful performances from Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills topped them all Sunday when he pitched the franchise’s 16th no-hitter in a 12-0 win over the Brewers.
It was the shining moment for this rotation and put a cap on a great week for Cubs starters as they work their way into postseason form.
“I think you can definitely carry [that over],” manager David Ross said. “A win like that can boost you forward. I think that carries a lot of weight now. You know the old saying [that] you’re only as good as your next day’s starter? I think that plays into it, as well.”
Darvish (7-2, 1.77 ERA) has been the Cubs’ best starter since July 2019, but for them to go deep into the postseason, they’ll need to get the best not just from him but also Hendricks (5-4, 3.29).
Hendricks has been “Mr. Consistent” for years. After some midseason struggles, plus two losses this season against the Reds, who have had his number his entire career, he has rediscovered who he is just in time.
“I feel like I’m in a really good spot right now,” he said. “Like I said the last few starts, it started with fastball command. . . . [Catcher Willson Contreras] has really been keeping me there, so I’ll try to keep on working on the things that I’ve been working on.”
The next seven days will be big for the pitching staff as right-hander Tyler Chatwood (forearm) and lefties Jose Quintana (lat) and Andrew Chafin (finger) make final preparations before their possible returns. Chatwood and Quintana will throw their first bullpen sessions in their rehab programs this week, while Chafin has been throwing bullpens for the last week and should be the closest to returning, barring any setbacks.
Getting the two starters back would be huge for the Cubs as they look to lock up a playoff spot.
The last two weeks of the season also could have a big impact in determining who pitches the third game of a postseason series. With Darvish and Hendricks penciled in for Games 1 and 2, the Game 3 spot could come down to Mills and Lester. Considering Mills is having the best two-start stretch of his career and Lester is finding his groove entering crunch time, this seems like a good problem for the Cubs to have.
“The biggest thing for us is to continue playing good baseball — have good at-bats and have good starts,” Lester said. “When the starting pitchers start there, that’s a big thing for us. You try to give Rossy a chance to have matchups in the later innings. I think that’s really it, and we can’t beat ourselves and [have to] continue to work towards that.”