Despite that, the Cubs were able to break through for five runs, including two home runs in a 5-1 defeat of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hendricks, the Cubs starter for the 8:40 p.m. start at Chase Field, entered play with an elevated 3.71 ERA. While still a solid mark, that number is up more than one and a half runs compared to the 2.13 mark the right-hander posted in 2016 when he led the league in that statistic. Hendricks’ ERA has not been the only thing trending in the wrong direction since the Cubs World Series run two years ago. That season, Hendricks posted a strike out rate of 22.8 percent, a number that sat at 20.3 percent prior to Monday night’s action against the Diamondbacks.
The good news for the Cubs right-hander; those numbers have looked much better of late. Since the All-Star break, the right-hander has logged a more reliable 3.36 ERA and raised his strikeout rate from 18.3 percent prior to the break to 23.6 percent since the break.
Additionally, Hendricks has taken steps to halt an issue that has popped up over the last two seasons. Prior to the 2017 season, the right-hander had not posted a HR/9 rate higher than 0.85, a number that rose to 1.10 one year ago. For the first half of 2018, it seemed Hendricks would yet again set a career-high in that area as he sported a 1.39 HR/9. Since the break, however, Hendricks as yielded just four home runs in 64.1 innings after allowing 17 across 110.1 frames prior to the All-Star break. That has lowered Hendricks’ HR/9 rate to 1.08 for the year and has helped the youngster get back on track after a lackluster first portion of the 2018 campaign.
On Monday night, in the middle of a 104 degree evening in the desert, Hendricks looked as locked in as anyone has seen him this season. Thanks to the invention of indoor heating and cooling, Chase Field was a comfortable 80 degrees at first pitch. That number, however, no doubt felt higher for the Cubs as they continue to battle with the Milwaukee Brewers for the National League Central division title.
Midway through the Cubs, Diamondbacks affair, the Brewers defeated the Cincinnati Reds 8-0 to draw a half game closer in the division to make it a two-game Cubs advantage. Perhaps knowing the gravity of the situation, the Cubs were finally able to push across some offense in the top half of the sixth inning.
Up until that point, Corbin — Arizona’s starter and defacto ace — had silenced a Chicago offense that has not needed much help in tossing up zero after zero on the score board. Since the beginning of September, the Cubs own the third lowest wRC+ (72) in the majors while at the same time recording the fourth lowest ISO (.125) during that same stretch of play.
After five complete frames in Arizona on Monday, it seemed the Cubs would only continue to add to those lackluster numbers as the Brewers continued to creep closer in the division. A first inning rally was quickly put to rest. Following a Kris Bryant walk and Anthony Rizzo single, Javier Baez struck out swinging with runners on first and second. Ben Zobrist, traditionally one of the better clutch hitters on the roster, then bounced into a 4-3 putout that ended the earlier threat.
In that first inning, the Cubs sent five batters to the plate, a feat that would prove rare on this evening. That’s because over the following three innings, Corbin continued to make his case for National League Cy Young. In the second and third, the Cubs were sent down in order, with Corbin retiring two of those six batters via the strikeout.
Despite being sent down in order, the Cubs made noticeably better contact off the southpaw in the third inning. Two line-outs, one to second base and one to center field preceded a Bryant strikeout. However, that inning set the stage for what the Cubs would do just three innings later.
An inning after being sent down in order via the strikeout, the Cubs came out swinging in the top half of the sixth. Back-to-back singles off the bat of Albert Almora and Bryant gave the Cubs their best scoring chance since the first inning. With runners on first and third with no outs, Rizzo chopped into a fielder’s choice to the second baseman, a ball hit softly enough so Almora could score, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
Rizzo’s hustle down the first base line resulted in a safe call at the bag after a brief review at the bequest of Joe Maddon. That safe call proved to be huge just one batter later.
Batting fourth in Maddon’s lineup on Monday night, Baez stepped to the plate looking to rectify his 0-for-2 night up until that point. On a 0-1 count, the middle infielder did just that, sending Corbin’s pitch into the left-center field seats and pushing the Cubs lead to 3-0.
Baez’s 32nd home run of the season only continues to solidify the youngster’s MVP-caliber season. Currently worth almost six wins above his replacement, Baez entered play with an .891 OPS, blowing away any previous career highs. With number 104 and 105, Baez now has 30 more RBI than the 75 he had last season and puts him comfortably ahead of the NL RBI race.
Staked to a three-run lead, Hendricks had no intentions of letting the Diamondbacks ruin his terrific outing. The Cubs right-hander started the night by no-hitting the home team through 3.1 innings before a fourth inning double halted his shot at history. That double proved to be Arizona’s best chance to score all evening. A David Peralta fly out to right field moved the runner to third base with two outs before a ground out put an end to the rally.
Through three innings, the right-hander had already logged four strikeouts, a number that was pushed to eight by the end of the seventh. That number pushed Hendricks’ K/9 to 7.63 for the season. While still a lower mark than he has posted in previous years, it continues to inch closer and closer to eight per nine innings with each passing start, a number more in-line with Hendricks’ career norms.
The Cubs lead continued to grow in the eighth inning. As stated prior, the Cubs had not been producing any sort of power since the beginning of September. However, already up 3-0, Bryant unloaded, sending a ball into the right field stands, giving the visiting Cubs a five-run advantage. Bryant’s home run, his 12th of the year and predicted by JD in the booth, was the slugger’s first long ball since July 20 as he has battled shoulder injuries for much of this season.
Five runs would prove to be more than enough for Hendricks who pitched deep into the evening. Utilizing a nasty change-up for much of his outing, Hendricks batted for himself in the top half of the ninth, a welcomed sight for a Cubs team that desperately needs to rest its bullpen. Rest is exactly what the pen received on Monday night as Hendricks left just one out for them to get in a four-run game.
That fourth inning double proved to be one of only three hits allowed by the right-hander on the evening. His final line looked like this: 8.2 innings, three hits, one earned run, one walk and eight strikeouts on 109 pitches.
With the win, the Cubs improve to 88-62 while the Diamondbacks fall to 78-73.
Next Up For The Cubs
The Cubs will continue their three-game set with the Diamondbacks on Tuesday, September 18 at 8:40 p.m. at Chase Field. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be Mike Montgomery (4-5, 3.87 ERA). Montgomery has made three starts since coming off the DL on August 30. In those outings spanning 12.1 innings, the southpaw has allowed eight earned runs on 14 hits. That less-than-stellar performance has come on the heels of Montgomery posting a 5.57 ERA across 21 innings during the month of July.
Opposing Montgomery on the mound Tuesday will be Matt Andriese (3-5, 4.76 ERA). Andriese will be making his fifth start of the season and first as a member of the Diamondbacks. In his last outing, the right-hander yielded seven earned runs on eight hits over 1.1 innings of work.
Follow Daniel Shepard on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: CBS Chicago
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