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Cubs sweep Giants behind Hendricks' gem

@MLBastian
August 22, 2019

CHICAGO -- After Scooter Gennett swung through an elevated fastball for a strikeout to end the fifth inning on Thursday afternoon, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks turned right and walked to the dugout without reacting. No fist pump. No celebratory shout. Just a workmanlike stroll back to the bench. That was,

CHICAGO -- After Scooter Gennett swung through an elevated fastball for a strikeout to end the fifth inning on Thursday afternoon, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks turned right and walked to the dugout without reacting. No fist pump. No celebratory shout. Just a workmanlike stroll back to the bench.

That was, in a way, the perfect snapshot of Chicago's rotation this season. The group has been referred to as the backbone of the Cubs' roster. While the lineup has experienced feast and famine, and the bullpen has endured peaks and valleys, the starting staff has hummed along this season despite its own hurdles.

Box score

"It's been consistent, very consistent," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after Thursday's 1-0 victory over the Giants.

Hendricks turned in seven shutout innings for the National League Central-leading Cubs, finishing with seven strikeouts and -- as has been a theme of late for the group -- zero walks. There have been injuries and there has been the occasional meltdown, but the quintet of Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, José Quintana and Hendricks have offered reliability in a season lacking that attribute in other areas.

The Cubs are the only team in the NL to have five starters with at least 115 innings apiece in 2019. Only the Cardinals have used fewer starters than Chicago (seven) this season. This outing by Hendricks marked the 15th time this year that the Cubs had a starter compile at least seven strikeouts and no walks in an outing. Only the Dodgers (19) and Astros (18) can claim more such starts.

As things stand, it is hard to know how the Cubs would order the group in a postseason setting. Any one of the five starters could be a Game 1 option based on overall results this season, recent performance or specific matchups.

"I think this group matches up with any group," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "They're all good. You can't say anyone's a fifth starter. You can't even say anyone's a fourth starter. They're all threes or better, I think. And that's unusual to have that kind of performance within a group."

Following Hendricks' performance, the Cubs' rotation ranks third in the NL in walk percentage (6.9) and fifth in ERA (4.04), Fielding Independent Pitching (4.18), strikeout percentage (23.1), strikeout-minus-walk rate (16.2 percent) and home runs allowed per nine innings (1.33).

"We all push each other," Hendricks said. "As a staff, we really try and set the tone, be aggressive, come right at guys and, like I said, just not give away anything free. We've all been doing a really good job at it."

Those overall numbers have come with Chicago dealing with injuries and other issues, too.

Lester was shelved with a hamstring injury in April and has had extreme highs and lows this season. Hamels was on a roll (1.22 ERA in six June starts) before an oblique problem sent him to the injured list, too. The lefty is active again but sorting through mechanical issues. Hendricks had a 3.00 ERA in 13 starts to start the season before a right shoulder injury flared against the Dodgers on June 14 and cost him a few weeks on the IL.

Darvish, who missed most of last season with right elbow troubles, has been healthy with his command improving as the season wears on. The righty is riding an unprecedented streak of five consecutive starts with at least eight strikeouts and no walks (an MLB record). Quintana has also been injury-free to date, and he has gone 7-0 with a 2.96 ERA in his past nine turns.

"All of our guys are really high-end Major League starters," Maddon said. "Some have been held back through injury this year a little bit, but overall, when they're on their game, man, it's good. It's really good."

That was certainly the case on Thursday, when Hendricks out-dueled Giants righty Jeff Samardzija. The San Francisco starter limited the Cubs to two hits. One was a fourth-inning single by Jason Heyward that center fielder Kevin Pillar lost in the sun, and the other was a hard-hit single by Rizzo to bring Heyward across the plate.

"We got one great swing by Rizzo, and you win the game," Maddon said. "That's it."

Hendricks made that possible.

"Our guys work," Rizzo said. "[Pitching coach] Tommy Hottovy's been doing a great job with everyone. We don't take it for granted. It starts with Jon and Cole and Yu and Kyle, what he always does, and Q. It's a good, good group of guys that we feel comfortable playing behind."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.