A Sign of Future Things to Come for the Chicago Cubs?


Chicago Cubs’ Cy Young contenders Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks hope their last regular season starts are merely just a minor blimp in what hopes to be: A long, smooth postseason run ahead of them.

Both Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks had plenty of pressure riding on their latest starts, even if they neglected to admit it.  Both Cub pitchers ranked one and two respectively in the chase for major league baseball’s ERA title leading into their final regular season starts this past weekend, and while the results of both Saturday’s and Sunday’s game didn’t go particularly as planned for either starter, they still ended the regular season front-and center in this year’s Cy Young Award voting.  Not that they really care about individual accolades anyway.

Sharing the same “team-first” attitude like the rest of their Cub teammates are known to display on a regular basis, both Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks seemed to brush off their latest, and might I say…rare, pitching struggles.  Speaking to reporters following his Saturday loss in which he allowed 5 earned runs in just five innings pitched against the Cincinnati Reds, Lester appeared unfazed about any “potential” ramifications that his last regular season pitching performance might have done to “make-or-break” his Cy Young chances, saying that he is “more or less bummed about (Throwing 111 pitches) more than the other stuff.”  The “other stuff” being the personal achievements such as winning his 20th game, which certainly would have enhanced his Cy Young chances in the minds of voters.  In other words, Jon Lester could care less about personal stats.  All he cares about right now is his team winning this year’s World Series.  Can you blame him?  It’s only been 108 years since the last time the Chicago Cubs won it.

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Kyle Hendricks also had a rocky final regular season start for the Cubs on Sunday, one that saw him uncharacteristically give up 4 earned runs in five innings pitched.  Even with the uneven performance that caused his ERA to rise from 1.99 to 2.13, Hendricks couldn’t help but marvel at how far he’s come along as a pitcher this season for the Cubs.  Speaking with reporters after his start on Sunday, Kyle put his breakout season into perspective, saying that he “never thought” he’d “be in this situation”.  “This situation”, being one of the best young pitchers in the game, in addition to receiving the honor in starting Game 2 of this year’s postseason for the Chicago Cubs at home on Saturday night.  Still, all that matters to Hendricks at this point is not winning a Cy Young Award.  He’d rather have that award go to Lester if you ask him.  All Hendricks and the rest of his teammates care about is winning the ultimate postseason price.

This is the reason why the Chicago Cubs signed Jon Lester for big money during the 2014 off-season.  Lester is known for being a clutch performer when the games matter most: in the postseason.  Just take a look at his sparkling 1.56 ERA in five 2013 postseason starts for the Boston Red Sox.  There is no way the Red Sox win the World Series that season without Lester leading the way on the mound.  Sure enough, the Cubs will be leaning heavily on Lester to replicate similar success come this postseason.  And you can bet he will certainly be up to that challenge.

The same goes for Kyle Hendricks: the Chicago Cubs’ 5th starter to begin the season.  Hendricks has rebounded tremendously from an uneven 2015 season, becoming perhaps the most reliable starter for the best team in baseball.  Regardless of the situation he’s faced with on the mound, Hendricks carries with him the same calm, cool, and collected demeanor that has allowed him to stay sharply focused on the batters who come to the plate, rather than become immensely rattled.   The Cubs have placed a ton of confidence and faith in Kyle this season, and thus far, Hendricks has exceeded all expectations.  Hopefully the same holds true for Kyle during the playoffs.

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Sure, winning individual accolades are nice, and no doubt are both Hendricks and Lester deserving of whatever individual awards potentially come their way.  But Lester and Hendricks know first-hand that there are much higher stakes ahead of them.  All eyes will be focused squarely on both pitchers, as their pitching performances on Friday and Saturday night will likely dictate how the rest of the first round playoff series for the Chicago Cubs ultimately turns out.  The Cubs would like nothing more than to capture all the in-game momentum of their first-round playoff series with two convincing victories at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, especially since the opening round is a best-of-five series.

Is the pressure for this Cubs’ team to win this year higher than ever before?  You bet.  But so what?!  Joe Maddon has told his players from Day One: Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.  So far, the Cubs have followed Maddon’s saying to a “T”.  Following that “carried-with belief” into the grueling days and nights of postseason play is another story though, one that has yet been written.  But sure enough, if the story begins with both Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks carrying over that same mindset that has allowed them to produce “Cy Young type” seasons, than this Cubs’ team may be just fine with how this year’s story, ultimately plays out.