Hendricks' gem puts Cubs back in tie for first

Chicago 11-0 in right-hander's last 11 starts vs. St. Louis

August 1st, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- There is something about facing the Cardinals that just works for Whatever the reason -- the makeup of their hitters, the pitcher's arsenal or maybe a classic case of random variation -- the Cubs starter enjoys seeing red.

Perhaps Hendricks can shed some light on the matter.

"I don't know," the pitcher said with a shrug. "Nothing in particular."

On Wednesday night, Hendricks was at it again with seven shutout innings in a 2-0 victory over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. That victory snapped the rivalry’s run of 10 straight games this season won by the home team. The win also put the North Siders and Cardinals back into a first-place tie atop the National League Central.

For Hendricks, this marked his 11th consecutive start against St. Louis that ended with a win for Chicago. That represents the longest team winning streak for the Cubs in one pitcher's starts against the Cardinals dating back to at least 1908. Three of those wins have come this year, during which the precision-based righty has fashioned a 0.39 ERA against St. Louis.

And, while Hendricks was surely being coy, there is an explanation for all of this.

"If you break them down," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "he does, he plays well against this group of hitters. That's really what it comes down to. And then it's about him executing."

Specifically, it has been about executing his changeup.

According to Statcast, the Cardinals entered Wednesday ranked 26th in the Majors in average (.202), 29th in wOBA (.240) and 30th in slugging percentage (.395) against right-handed changeups this season. St. Louis' marks against changeups overall is near or at the bottom of the MLB ranks, too.

On the season, Hendricks has averaged 27.3 percent changeups overall, but that rate climbs to 34.6 percent against the Cardinals. In Wednesday's win, the righty featured a season-high 41 changeups out of 104 pitches (39.4 percent), and he generated a season-high 10 swinging strikes with the pitch. Hendricks' second-most changeups in one start this year was 37, also against St. Louis on June 9.

This time around, Hendricks leaned heavily on the pitch to help dodge the potential damage of seven hits allowed, including four doubles (three to leadoff an inning). He held St. Louis to a 2-for-13 showing with runners in scoring position, ended with seven strikeouts and issued no walks.

The changeup was the key.

"That was way better. Probably the best I've had it all year," Hendricks said. "It just started coming out of the right slot -- just like my fastball -- and had better movement on it. A lot more swings and misses. So I didn't really throw too many curveballs tonight, just because of that."

In three starts against St. Louis this year, Hendricks has scattered 19 hits and has racked up 13 strikeouts against zero free passes. That includes an 81-pitch shutout on May 3 at Wrigley Field.

Given that background, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt viewed Wednesday's results as a step forward against the Cubs starter.

"[We] had him on the ropes," Shildt said. "It was just soft contact in the infield, strikeouts, popups [in the] infield. He makes pitches, and we've got to figure out a way to be more consistent. I feel like we're getting that Rubik's Cube solved now. We've just got to start plating some guys on him."