ST. LOUIS -- After nine wins in a row, including a magnificent wild-card victory by starter Jake Arrieta on Wednesday, the Chicago Cubs will feel a little heat under their collar as they prepare for Game 2 of their division series with the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday after dropping Game 1, 4-0, on Friday.
And they’ll turn to second-year Dartmouth grad Kyle Hendricks to keep them from a major 2-0 series hole.
“I mean, they're the best team in baseball, right?” Hendricks said Friday afternoon. “They have the most wins, really good lineup, experienced lineup. They put together an unbelievable plan.”
Hendricks is as soft spoken as they come. His press conference in advance of the biggest start of his life lasted only a few minutes. He said his piece and went back to preparing. That’s what he does. Without having electric stuff on the mound, he studies his opposition and then studies them some more.
“I mean, he was better in better counts, just more strike throwing with that sinker/fastball and that set-up, his change-up and the use of his breaking ball also,” manager Joe Maddon said of Hendricks' late-season performance. “That's it. I mean, again, I like to go simple.”
Simple is what Hendricks does in lieu of power. It’s sinker, change-up, fastball. When his pitches are moving, he has success; when he leaves pitches up in the zone, it can be a long night. He was 8-7 with a 3.95 ERA in the regular season, which included a 22-inning scoreless streak but also several games where he was hit hard. It was no sure thing he would get the start in Game 2 or in the series at all, but his finish to the season convinced the Cubs. He won back-to-back 1-0 games in his final two starts.
“It is a postseason game, but I'm still going out to the mound, 60 feet 6 inches away, doing my same game,” Hendricks said. “I've faced these guys a few times, so just have to get my game plan together and do my same routine going into [Saturday].”
Hendricks is 0-1 with a 3.97 ERA in four career starts against the Cardinals, but this outing will be unlike any other. The good news for the Cubs is Hendricks is as even-keeled as they come. A hostile environment is not that different from a day at the park for him. But he’ll need some help. Outside of the Cubs’ top two hitters in Wednesday’s wild-card game, their entire lineup has been quiet this week.
“We could not get anything generated,” Maddon said after Friday’s game. “We had maybe like one opportunity. ... That's a big reason why they won 100 games is that they've pitched so well.”
Now the Cubs will face lefty Jaime Garcia, whom they have little experience against. That could be an advantage for the Cardinals while the Cubs struggled some in the second half against left-handers.
“I haven't even seen him pitch in person either,” Maddon said. “I've watched him from a distance, I know how good he is. It can somewhat work in his favor, I would think. If I had to project upon it, I would think that it should. We will do our homework on him, but yeah, I think when a pitcher faces a group of hitters for the first time, he should have an advantage with that.”
With all that is at stake, Hendricks will have to do his part. Don’t look past him. He’s quiet and unemotional, but he knows how to pitch. And he says he’s ready.
“We have been thinking about what would happen during the series for a while, and I've been preparing myself for any possibilities, so I wasn't caught off guard, but I was definitely excited,” Hendricks said of being the Game 2 starter. “I'm glad they gave me this opportunity, and hopefully I can just give my team a chance to win.”