The Cubs are flipping the script this week
From March 30 through May 28, the Cubs had 2 wins in 1-run games (a 2-10 record).
They have 2 wins in 1-run games this week…against the best team in baseball.
Led by another stellar pitching performance — though this time, it was a group effort — the Cubs took down the Tampa Bay Rays for the second straight day with a 2-1 victory at Wrigley Field Tuesday evening.
And for the second straight day, Mike Tauchman came through with the game-winning RBI.
It was also the first time in nearly 20 years that the Cubs beat a pitcher (Shane McClanahan) that was 8-0 or better:
Before tonight, it had been nearly 20 years since the Cubs beat a pitcher that was 8-0 (or better). pic.twitter.com/MLNMcKkZ6S— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) May 31, 2023
Kyle Hendricks got the start, his 2nd outing after nearly a year off due to a shoulder injury. He worked around traffic all day (6 hits, 3 walks) but limited the league’s best offense to just 1 run over 5 innings.
Kyle Hendricks, Nasty 81mph Changeup. 👌 pic.twitter.com/hkqdj1Rq07— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 31, 2023
“I felt much more like myself from the start,” Hendricks said. “Had a much better gameplan going in. Felt just much more comfortable out there in general.”
Hendricks felt like things got better as his start moved along, working down in the strike zone more often.
He believes an outing like Tuesday’s is proof that he can still have success after a pair of up-and-down seasons (4.78 ERA from 2021-22).
“It tells me that I can just do what I do,” Hendricks said. “Still get back to being myself again. That’s kinda really what I felt tonight. Was much more myself. Changeup felt really good. So now it’s just trusting that. I really didn’t have to worry about anything else.
“Go out there and be who I am. Trust Yan [Gomes] — we’re always in it together. He really kept me on a good page today. I really don’t have to try to be anything different is what it tells me.”
Hendricks is still only 33 but he has experienced a lot over his 10 years in the big leagues.
He saw the rise of the Cubs in 2014-15, clinched the first World Series berth for the team in the 2016 NLCS and then started Game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland.
Hendricks was a steadying force in the pandemic-shortened season, earning Cy Young votes and posting a 2.88 ERA.
He has also seen the fall of the Cubs, as the championship core was traded at the 2021 deadline and other longtime teammates have left in free agency or been cut loose by the team. He is the last player standing from the 2016 squad.
Wins like Monday and Tuesday are the type of games that give Hendricks and his Cubs teammates hope of making a playoff run late this summer, even after a tough stretch (10-17 record in May).
“There’s definitely a sense of urgency to it but it’s still having that focus of urgency,” Hendricks said. “Having a better focus pitch to pitch, being accountable for what you do. That’s it.
“We’ve all talked about that a lot and it just simplifies the whole game. When you have that sense of urgency in a panic state, things kinda go the wrong way. We want that sense of urgency but still just keeping it simple and locking in pitch to pitch.”
While Hendricks’ outing was an encouraging sign for this team, it was just as important to see the bullpen and defense step up.
Adbert Alzolay threw 2 perfect innings to pick up a save, trailing behind shutout innings from Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr.
And the Cubs defense is finding its groove again, with highlight-reel plays from Seiya Suzuki, Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner.
“We’re gonna have to do that,” Ross said. “To win games, we’re gonna have to pitch, play defense, get some clutch hitting — which we haven’t had. I think that’s indicative of our record.
“If we pitch and play defense on a nightly basis, run the bases well, I think these are the kinds of wins we should be able to start piling on hopefully.”