Chicago Cubs: After this year, you can’t call Kyle Hendricks an ace any longer

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Kyle Hendricks has started some of the biggest games in Chicago Cubs history. The pennant-clinching contest in the NLCS at Wrigley Field in 2016. Game 7 of that fateful Fall Classic. The list goes on and on.

Just because he lacks the swing-and-miss stuff and overpowering velocity of the game’s biggest names, Hendricks has managed to fly under the radar for years now. Entering the 2021 season, the right-hander had made 174 starts and worked to a 3.12 ERA – to go along with an identical 3.12 mark in the postseason, as well.

But this year, it’s all gone off the rails for Hendricks – especially of late, when he’s seen his ERA balloon to a previously unthinkable 4.81 on the year. He got rocked in his most recent start, when the Cubs coughed up an early 7-0 lead in a loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

"“What he’s shown the last couple starts is uncharacteristic of him,” Cubs manager David Ross told “We talked about that. He agreed. He wants to get back to establishing what he does well.”"

That start made it five times this season (or, in other words 15 percent of his starts) that Hendricks has allowed seven-plus runs. This is, for obvious reasons, a major problem. No, it doesn’t matter all that much in the standings because the Cubs weren’t going anywhere regardless. But given the awful results Chicago has gotten from its rotation this year, Hendricks’ falling off is a huge red flag.

Chicago Cubs need to find a new ace to head the rotation moving forward

To say the Cubs’ rotation is in shambles is spot-on. With Hendricks struggling and Adbert Alzolay failing to build on his 2020 breakout, Chicago is left hoping guys like Justin Steele (4.20 ERA/5.60 FIP in seven starts and 11 relief outings) and Alec Mills can hold the fort down.

Zach Davies will be a free agent at year’s end and Brailyn Marquez, the team’s top pitching prospect, lost pretty much the entire 2021 season – which will only slow him down on his ascent to the big leagues. What it comes down to is that Jed Hoyer needs to flex his team’s financial muscle this winter – and completely overhaul this starting staff.

Hendricks, under control through 2023 with a vesting option for ’24, will continue to be a key part of the rotation. But by the time Chicago returns to the postseason, I can’t say I’d feel all that confident slotting him into a must-win matchup given how poorly he’s pitched this season, especially in the second half.

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The Chicago Cubs need a bona fide ace. And right now, as tough as it may be to admit, Hendricks isn’t that.