CHICAGO -- Of Major League Baseball's four best starting pitchers since midseason, two of them -- Stephen Strasburg and Corey Kluber -- are home for the winter. The third, Justin Verlander, gave the Astros one of the best games of his life Saturday, putting Houston on a potential collision course
CHICAGO -- Of Major League Baseball's four best starting pitchers since midseason, two of them -- Stephen Strasburg and Corey Kluber -- are home for the winter. The third, Justin Verlander, gave the Astros one of the best games of his life Saturday, putting Houston on a potential collision course with the American League pennant.
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Then there is Kyle Hendricks. From the day he returned from a right finger injury in mid-July until the end of the regular season, Hendricks posted a 2.19 ERA, better than all but the three aforementioned starters. He almost single-handedly won the Cubs' first postseason game in October, before faltering slightly in their National League Division Series-clinching win against the Nationals.
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Now, Hendricks will make another critical start tonight in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series presented by Camping World, looking to start the process of bringing the Cubs back from a 2-0 series deficit. The series shifts to Wrigley Field in Chicago for Game 3.
"I know we'll be fine," manager Joe Maddon said. "We'll come out and play our game. On Tuesday, we've got Kyle going, which is good for us. They have a good pitcher also."
That is Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish, although the opponent won't necessarily matter if Hendricks is at his peak. In addition to ranking fourth in the Majors in ERA since the All-Star break, Hendricks is second in that category since the start of last season, trailing only Clayton Kershaw.
And he is quickly becoming one of the game's most accomplished postseason arms. Since the Cubs began making October an annual Chicago tradition in 2015, Hendricks leads baseball with nine games started, ranks fourth with 45 innings and fifth with 43 strikeouts and a 2.60 ERA.
"Now having a few playoff games under your belt and in that atmosphere, I think that helps with the adrenaline," Hendricks said. "Usually the adrenaline early in the game gets you a little up in the strike zone maybe. So now just being in this atmosphere for the last two starts, I think, is going to help that. … When I go out there [Tuesday], definitely from the start, [I'll] just have that focus."
Trailing 2-0 in a series may not be ideal for Hendricks or the Cubs, but he's used to this sort of pressure. Hendricks won the clinching Game 6 of last year's NLCS vs. the Dodgers, taking a shutout into the eighth. He did not allow a run in Game 3 of the World Series against the Indians, a game the Cubs ultimately lost. Five days later, Hendricks started Game 7, departing with a lead.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts hinted at some potential minor tweaks to his Game 3 lineup, with the Cubs using a right-handed starter for the first time this series. Perhaps Curtis Granderson, who is 1-for-9 lifetime off Hendricks, will make an appearance.
It shouldn't matter too much for Hendricks, who has not seen the Dodgers since last year's NLCS clincher.
"They're a pretty different team," Hendricks said. "Their lineup, top to bottom … you just have different names in there. So it's going to be a lot different for me. At the end of the day, [I have to] focus on making good pitches."
Anthony DiComo has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.