Chicago Cubs: Kyle Hendricks turns back the clock in shutout victory

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs rolled to a series-opening win over the rival St. Louis Cardinals behind a Greg Maddux-esque outing from starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks.

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks hasn’t gotten off to the start he or the Chicago Cubs had hoped for. After signing a four-year contract extension this spring, the former National League Cy Young finalist had turned in just one truly dominant outing heading into Friday’s matchup at Wrigley Field.

He had really struggled in the early innings, but taking on the first-place St. Louis Cardinals, it was an entirely different story. Hendricks turned in one of the most efficient outings I’ve ever seen, needing just 81 pitches to complete a nine-inning shutout in front of the home faithful. That marked the fewest pitches thrown in a Chicago Cubs complete game since Jon Lieber back in 2001.

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Getting Hendricks on track is a big focus for Chicago as we head into the first full week of May. In the month of April, the 29-year-old struggled to a 5.33 earned run average and 1.776 WHIP in five starts. Opponents tagged him to the tune of a .339 average. Simply put, that won’t do for a team with postseason aspirations.

Jon Lester has been, well, Jon Lester. The veteran ace returned from his hamstring injury without missing a beat and carries a team-leading 1.73 ERA and a 1.5 WAR (Baseball Reference) that trails only Javier Baez on the team.

Alongside Lester, Jose Quintana has been a pleasant surprise in the rotation, twirling several outstanding starts in a row to open the season. Yu Darvish continues to look for solid footing, but he’s shown signs of taking a step in the right direction. As expected, Cole Hamels has been a consistent presence in the staff, as well.

With Hendricks turning in just the fifth nine-inning complete game shutout needing as few as 81 pitches in the last two decades, the rest of the lineup held their own against Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty.

The big blow came from none another than Anthony Rizzo, who has been nothing short of scorching hot in the last week. The Cubs’ slugging first baseman crushed a three-run home run down the right-field line in the third, eighth of the year. That blast was part of a 3-for-3 afternoon for Rizzo, who is slugging .897 in his last seven contests.

Everyone was worried about his slow start, although I’m not really sure why. Rizzo has done this like clockwork year-in and year-out and always rebounds in a big way. He paced the offense in Friday’s win, which pulled Chicago within 1 1/2 games of first in the NL Central.

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Last year’s National League MVP runner-up Javier Baez came through in the seventh with a run-scoring single to add some insurance, but it wasn’t necessary. Hendricks cruised from start to finish, really stealing the show at Wrigley Field and extending the team’s winning streak to a season-best five games.