Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks is hitting his stride at the perfect time and although it has yet to be confirmed by manager Joe Maddon, seems to have locked down a spot in the postseason rotation should the Cubs win next week’s wild-card game.
It’s looking more likely like that winner-take-all game will be taking place in Pittsburgh.
Hendricks looks to build on a solid performance and help Chicago to a seventh straight win Saturday night against the Milwaukee Brewers in front of what is expected to be another large Cubs crowd at Miller Park.
Jake Arrieta made his final case for the NL Cy Young Award on Friday by striking out seven in six scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.77 as Chicago (95-65) won 6-1. However, the Pirates moved to the cusp of securing the league’s top wild card by rallying for a 12-inning win over slumping Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh’s magic number to host Wednesday’s wild-card game is one.
Hendricks (7-7, 4.09 ERA) has had an up-and-down season – his ERA was at 5.15 in mid-May – but in five September starts, he had a 3.71 ERA with 31 strikeouts over 26 2-3 innings. The right-hander was sharp early against the Brewers (68-92) on Sept. 23, allowing one run and two hits while striking out eight through six innings. He gave up two runs and two hits without recording an out in the seventh, though, and took a 4-1 loss.
Five days later, he shut down AL Central-champion Kansas City, permitting two hits and walking two while striking out nine over six innings in a 1-0, 11-inning win. It was his major league-leading 17th start without a decision.
"I’m just trying to focus on going out there every time (Maddon) gives me the ball and make good pitches," he told MLB’s official website said. "Come playoff time, you have to be ready to do whatever Skip asks you to do, whether it’s a start or come out of the ‘pen. I just hope I get some innings. Whatever the team needs me for, that’s the bottom line."
Hendricks has a 7.58 ERA in his last four road starts but has been stellar at Miller Park this season, posting a 0.73 ERA in two outings there.
Anthony Rizzo has also excelled in Milwaukee, batting .424 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in eight games this year. He hit his 31st homer and drove in three runs to move into a tie with Kris Bryant for the team lead with 99 RBIs.
The last time the Cubs had two players with at least 100 RBIs in a single season was in 2004, when Moises Alou had 106 and Aramis Ramirez had 103.
Chicago has plated 21 runs in its last three games and looks to stay hot against Tyler Wagner (0-1, 11.74), who had a Southern League-best 2.25 ERA in 25 starts for Double-A Biloxi but has struggled mightily in two big-league starts.
The 24-year-old right-hander made his major league debut May 31 against Arizona, yielding five runs in 3 2-3 innings. He was sent back to the minors before being recalled last week and permitted five runs, six hits and four walks in four innings of last Saturday’s 5-1 loss at St. Louis.
"You fall behind big league hitters and you limit yourself in your pitch choices, it’s trouble for anybody,” manager Craig Counsell said.
He is limiting left-handed hitters to a .154 average in 13 at-bats but righties are 13 for 21 (.619) with six extra-base hits.
Scooter Gennett had one of Milwaukee’s two hits off Arrieta on Friday and is 7 for 16 in his last four games, but 3 for 15 lifetime against Hendricks.