Young arms, revived bats provide Cubs hope

September 27th, 2021

CHICAGO -- agrees with Cubs fans on one very important topic right now: He does not want next season to feel like a repeat of what the team experienced this year.

Standing inside the Cubs' dugout on Sunday morning ahead of the final home game of 2021, Hendricks reiterated that he does not want to go through a lengthy rebuild. He also feels there is a foundation in place to expedite that process.

"I love Chicago. I love this organization. It's the only place I want to be," Hendricks said. "I just want to win."

In a 4-2 loss to the rival Cardinals -- a defeat that extended St. Louis' club-record winning streak to 16 games -- there were some sources of Hendricks' optimism on display. Young arms and , for example, combined to pitch into the seventh, putting Chicago in position to fly the "W" flag atop Wrigley Field's old scoreboard prior to St. Louis' comeback.

A late comeback by the red-hot Cardinals took that prospect off the table. And with the loss, the Cubs finished their home slate with a 39-42 record, marking the first losing ledger at the Friendly Confines since 2013.

Next up for the Cubs is a season-ending six-game swing through Pittsburgh and St. Louis. And then, a long offseason.

"It's always tough, the end of the season, at home when you're not [going to the playoffs]," Cubs manager David Ross said. "To have a last game here at home and not being able to come back here for a long time, yeah, it sucks."

Following his rookie season in 2014, when Hendricks was one of Chicago's up-and-coming arms, the Cubs reached the postseason in five of six seasons. They won three division titles, reached the National League Championship Series three times and famously won it all in '16.

"Clearly," Hendricks said, "we've established that winning mindset and winning ways around here over the last few years. And that's what we want to keep going forward. And we have the same discussions amongst ourselves. That's our focus."

Thompson and Alzolay, who are both working around limited pitch counts as their first full big league seasons wind down, struck out a combined 10 and yielded just one run over 6 2/3 total innings. Thompson worked the first three frames, with Alzolay following.

That duo, along with lefty Justin Steele, will be rotation candidates in 2022. Hendricks raved about their development, and he pointed to the second-half emergence of hitters like Frank Schwindel, Patrick Wisdom and Rafael Ortega -- along with the recent offensive surge by Ian Happ -- as a solid base for the Cubs' decision-makers to work with this offseason.

"Looking forward to next year, I think it's a huge bright spot for the front office," Hendricks said, "being able to put the team together for next year and what they're looking at. That's what we're focused on overall."

There are clear needs -- rotation help and some impact offense top that list -- but the Cubs will have more financial flexibility than in previous years. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said earlier this week that the team will be "really active" in free agency, but he emphasized that it would be "intelligent" spending.

Count Hendricks amongst those looking forward to seeing how Hoyer and his group goes about building a competitive club for 2022. Just like the team's fans, the longtime rotation leader went on an emotional roller coaster in the aftermath of this season's Deadline deals, which shipped out the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez.

Hendricks is signed through 2023 with an option for '24, and he does not want those upcoming seasons to be more about the reverse standings than division standings.

"When the Trade Deadline happened," Hendricks said, "of course, it's a little emotional. You grow so close to these guys and you're used to seeing them every single day. They're your family.

"But then, we were able to move on past that, and I think what helped me move on was when guys started going off out here. Frank -- and when Happ came back and started raking. Some of the arms were dominating."

And Hendricks has been encouraged by games like Sunday's, when the Cubs at least pushed the Cardinals -- a team on the cusp of punching their ticket to the playoffs -- until the final inning.

"I think it shows a lot of these young guys that we can hang with these guys," Hendricks said. "So take an offseason reset, notice what we have in the clubhouse still, add a few pieces here and there and, yeah, I don't think we're far away at all.

"Noticing what other teams are doing across the league, yeah, it gives us a lot of hope."