Tuesday Trends: Resurgent Jon Lester, Surging Kyle Hendricks, Division Crown in Reach
Time sure flies, huh?
It’s been an interesting year for a column focused exclusively on individual performances. While the club finds itself on the cusp of its first division crown since 2017, almost every Cubs hitter is having the worst year of their respective careers. If you had told me the kind of stat lines that Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, and others were putting up at season’s end, I’d bet the house on the Cubs making their way towards the end of the disastrous season.
Amazingly, that’s not where we find ourselves. So, for one last time this season, let’s check out how some of the Cubs are performing individually this year while keeping in mind that in a week or so, it won’t matter at all.
Jon Lester‘s bounce-back: Throw out the clunker in September’s first start against the Cardinals and you’re looking at a surprisingly strong season for the veteran lefty. In 17 innings over his last three starts, Lester has given up only a pair of runs. The strikeouts have mostly not been there, but he’s been able to make things work anyway, surrendering only four walks and 11 hits during that time.
Kyle Hendricks‘ place in Cubs history: The fact that Hendricks is not in the Cy Young race says far more about his National League competition, including his teammate Yu Darvish, than it does about anything he has done. He’s having one of his very best seasons by rate stats and it somehow feels…unremarkable? That might just be a symptom of who he is and how much we take his consistent excellence for granted.
Friday’s outing against the Twins was one of the team’s best starts of the year, as he struck out 10 over eight strong innings. The Cubs needed every bit of it to hold onto their 1-0 win.
Of the right-hander’s many impressive statistics this year, I’m not sure there are any more impressive than this: He’s currently at a career low and NL-leading walk rate of just 0.86 BB/9. That’s nearly half of his previous career best of 1.63 from last year and would be his third straight season of decline in that category.
The Cubs’ centerfield defense: Did you see that Billy Hamilton play on Monday? Holy moly, he makes it look easy.
Cubs manager David Ross, unsolicited:
"I definitely want to mention Billy Hamilton and how fun that was to watch there in the eighth. That guy can go get it. That was impressive."
Catch probability on this one was 25 percent, per @statcast pic.twitter.com/x8fMcsbciP
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 22, 2020
Jason Heyward‘s bat: With Ian Happ in a bit of a slump of late, Heyward is basically the only Cub hitting consistently well as of late. Coming into Monday’s game, Heyward had been hitting .333/.481/.381 over his last seven. You’d certainly love more power, but it’s hard to complain about anything regarding the right fielder at this point.
Heyward’s wRC+ remains at a robust 146.
Jeremy Jeffress‘ ability to perfectly walk the tightrope: There has always been a bit to worry about under the hood with what has otherwise been an excellent season for the former Brewer. Jeffress has struck out only 6.33 per nine innings pitched while walking 5.06, normally not a sustainable combination for elite results out of the bullpen.
He finally got bit in terms of results in blowing his first save of the season last week against the Indians, but has otherwise been able to keep the tightrope act going. Friday’s effort against Minnesota was a good example of a typical outing lately, as he danced around a pair of walks to hold onto a 1-0 win.
Is that sustainable over a long sample? No, it is inarguably not. Can he keep it going for the rest of this short season and into the playoffs? Let’s strap in and find out.
Kris Bryant‘s 2020: After exiting Monday night’s game against Pittsburgh with an oblique injury, there is a very good chance that Bryant’s 2020 season is over. It certainly won’t be one to remember for the former MVP. Assuming that his regular season is over, he’ll finish with a slash line of .197/.285/.303 and a (by far) career low 63 wRC+.
It is reasonable to be concerned at this point about Bryant’s ability to both stay healthy and play through the kinds of nagging injuries that he has made a habit of accumulating. To be clear, this is not some kind of character deficit on KB’s part and it certainly does not make him soft. However, with the organization likely to be in its most significant financial crunch yet in the coming offseason, I expect that we’ll hear quite a lot of chatter about his future with the team.
For now, though, we can live in a happier world, free of talk of trading former MVPs. We live in a world where the Cubs could clinch their first division title in three years within the next few days. For all the problems of this season, that’s a world I’m happy to live in.