The Cubs have clawed their way back to the .500 mark for the first time since the second game of the season.
It’s pretty simple how they got there: dominant starting pitching.
Kyle Hendricks finally joined the party Friday, with his best start of the season.
Hendricks tossed seven shutout innings of three-hit ball as the Cubs won their fourth straight, 5-1, over the Arizona Diamondbacks at cold and windy Wrigley Field. The Cubs are now 9-9.
Hendricks turned in the Cubs’ third-straight game of seven innings without giving up a run, joining Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana.
It was Hendricks’ first quality start of the season. The Cubs have eight quality starts; their record in those games is 7-1, and the starters’ ERA is a cool 1.17.
Cubs starting pitchers have recorded three straight scoreless outings of seven-plus innings for the first time since Aug. 3 to 5, 1971.
“It starts with pitching and defense, and we know that,” said Hendricks, who is 1-3 with a 3.54 ERA. “It starts with us, starting off the game. [Quintana] and Cole have been doing an unbelievable job just attacking guys, and that’s been filtering down to the rest of us now.
“I’ve just been trying to stay right in stride with them, establish the heater (fastball) early, attack guys, don’t give in. I did have a couple walks that weren’t great, but at least I made good pitches even in [those situations].”
The Cubs are at .500 for the first time since they were 1-1 in Texas. They were five games under .500 three times, so this is a reset – if they can take advantage and build on it.
“It’s always better when you get there and above,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We’ve been playing pretty decently for a bit now, but I know just when you report – report to work – and it feels that way, it’s always better.”
The conditions made it a pitchers’ day all the way, with a game-time temperature of 44 degrees and a north wind howling in from left field at 26 mph.
“That makes Candlestick look tame,” Maddon said, referring to the old ballpark in San Francisco, an infamous wind tunnel.
The breeze turned friendly for the Cubs in the bottom of the second. They began the inning with three straight singles off Merrill Kelly to load the bases. After Hendricks bunted into a forceout at the plate and Daniel Descalso struck out, Kris Bryant lofted a fly ball into short center field. The ball wound up falling for a two-run double.
“Everybody knows the wind’s blowing,” Maddon said. “But it still catches you by surprise because [the ball] drifted that far. So once that occurred, everybody was kind of on alert a little bit more, but that thing moved a lot.”
Anthony Rizzo had an RBI triple, the Cubs’ first of the season, to left in the fourth, and they added two more runs in the sixth. The Diamondbacks got their only run in the ninth.
The Cubs and Hendricks got a minor scare in the seventh when Christian Walker’s comebacker hit Hendricks on the left foot. He was able to finish the inning.
“It’s OK, actually,” he said. “Top of the foot, kind of, but surprisingly it doesn’t really hurt. It got a little ice on it, and [it’s] moving fine. It should be good.”