Kyle Hendricks didn't make history Monday night at Busch Stadium. But he did make his National League Cy Young Award case loud and clear.
Hendricks came within three outs of becoming just the second Chicago Cubs pitcher to throw a no-hitter against the hated-rival St. Louis Cardinals. He carried a no-no through eight innings before Jeremy Hazelbaker ended it with a solo home run to lead off the ninth.
After a sideshow dust-up between umpire Joe West and Cubs skipper Joe Maddon that led to Maddon's ejection, closer Aroldis Chapman jogged in to nail down the 4-1 victory.
The Cubs (92-51) kept rolling toward an inevitable NL Central crown. Hendricks, meanwhile, logged eight frames of one-hit, one-run ball with two walks and seven strikeouts, and nudged his ERA to an NL-leading 2.03.
He's the Senior Circuit's ERA leader on baseball's best team. That doesn't guarantee Cy Young honors, but it shouts audibly.
"My pregame bullpen today was pretty bad, so coming in after that, I tried to simplify even more," Hendricks said in typically humble postgame remarks on CSN Chicago.
That approach has been serving him all season. A 26-year-old 2011 eighth-round pick by the Texas Rangers, Hendricks is no one's idea of a power arm. His fastball sits in the high-80s and tops out in the low-90s. He depends on finesse and location.
This season, they've been there for him.
That's thanks in large part to Hendricks' changeup, as ESPN.com's Bradford Doolittle pointed out prior to Monday's start:
...while Hendricks has a "slow" fastball, the pitch is really quite effective. And any fixation with that pitch ignores the fact that the most important thing about Hendricks' fastball is that it sets up his changeup, which has become one of the best weapons of any pitcher around. Only three pitchers have thrown more changeups than Hendricks. And his success on that pitch has yielded a haughty strikeout rate (29.1 percent) and a .338 OPS allowed that ranks 14th out of 203 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 changeups.
It's easy to get lost on this Cubs roster, which features MVP candidate Kris Bryant and a cast of burgeoning bashers as well as reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, veteran lefty Jon Lester and a bullpen fronted by fireballing Chapman.
You could argue Hendricks, a pitch-to-contact guy, has benefitted from the best team defense in baseball. And you wouldn't be wrong.
But let's stack his numbers up against the NL's other Cy Young hopefuls and see what you think:
|Cream of the NL Pitching Crop...|
|Kyle Hendricks (CHC)||2.03||173.0||152||.200|
|Max Scherzer (WAS)||2.78||203.2||251||.189|
|Madison Bumgarner (SFG)||2.61||199.2||226||.214|
|Noah Syndergaard (NYM)||2.48||167.0||195||.242|
|Jose Fernandez (MIA)||2.90||167.1||238||.228|
|Stats courtesy of MLB.com|
Scherzer is the strikeout leader, and Bumgarner is doing his thing for the even-year San Francisco Giants. Really, with the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw derailed by a balky back, this is a fairly wide-open race.
A no-hitter against the Cards would have been an impressive line on Hendricks' resume. Even without it, though, he's at the forefront of the conversation.
He's been especially dominant at Wrigley Field, but he's fared well everywhere, particularly lately, as CSN Chicago's Christopher Kamka elucidated:
We're witnessing a big league breakout, plain and simple. Power pitchers like Scherzer and guys with glittering postseason pedigrees like Bumgarner draw attention.
But fans, the media and awards voters love a good Cinderella story. Hendricks, whose 3.95 ERA in 2015 suggested serviceable starter more than ace, fits the glass slipper.
"I don't see anyone pitching as well as he's been," catcher Miguel Montero said, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune.
He's not the flashiest mound-straddler around. He didn't quite etch his name in the books Monday.
But if he can string together a few more quality starts, Hendricks will want to clear some room in his trophy case.
For a humble guy, his stats are speaking loud and clear.