The man who took the ball to start the Chicago Cubs’ World Series clincher gets it again Friday. The Cubs send Kyle Hendricks to the mound opposite fellow right-hander Stephen Strasburg when visiting Chicago begins its quest for another crown in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals.
The Cubs are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the New York Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000, and only one team since then - the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies - have returned to the World Series the year after winning. “There was maybe a little more pressure last year because you feel the weight of 108 years on your shoulders,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant told reporters. “This year, it’s not like it’s different, we’re here for one reason - we want to win the whole thing. Regardless if we won it last year or 108 years ago, it doesn’t matter to us.” Now it’s the Nationals who are trying to get over the hump after being knocked out in the NLDS three times in the past five seasons. The franchise has not won a postseason series since it was in Montreal in 1981.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, TBS
PITCHING MATCHUP: Cubs RH Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.03 ERA) vs. Nationals RH Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 2.52)
Hendricks struggled early in the season, but he has posted an NL-best 2.19 ERA since returning from a hand injury July 24. The 27-year-old has allowed two or fewer runs in 10 of his 13 starts over that stretch, but he gave up three runs over seven innings in a loss to Washington on Aug. 4. Hendricks is 1-1 with a 2.38 ERA in seven postseason starts.
Strasburg was dominant in 10 starts after the All-Star break, going 6-1 with a 0.86 ERA and 76 strikeouts over 62 2/3 innings. The 29-year-old allowed more than one run only twice over that span, and he hasn’t lost since Aug. 19. Strasburg has made only one postseason start - in the 2014 NLDS against San Francisco - and allowed two runs (one earned) over five innings in a tough-luck loss.
1. The Nationals won four of seven meetings with the Cubs this season.
2. Cubs OF Jason Heyward is 15-for-37 with four doubles and a homer against Strasburg, which could help him earn a Game 1 start in Chicago’s crowded outfield.
3. Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy was 9-for-25 with two doubles and three homers against the Cubs this season and went 9-for-17 with four homers against Chicago in the 2015 NLCS with the New York Mets.
PREDICTION: Nationals 3, Cubs 2