Cubs to start Kyle Hendricks in Game 1 vs. Nationals

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The Chicago Cubs "sleepwalked" through the first part of the season in the words of one Cub. Lester started the opener in each of Chicago's three playoff series previous year, but he missed part of August with tightness in his left lat and general shoulder fatigue and struggled down the stretch before finishing strong. A loose Cubs team could be extremely unsafe.

This is not the same Cubs team that came to Nationals Park in late June for a four-game series.

Heck, don't rule it out.

In a game that lived up to expectations, the Cubs waited for a chance to pounce, then jumped on Strasburg with eyes wide open. They're a patient team and a powerful team, coming in second in the NL in walks and finishing one dinger off the league lead in homers. The Dodgers had that great first half, the Indians that wonderful final six weeks. To repeat that, they'll have to begin by beating our beloved Nats in a best of five series.

But, for a change, the Cubs may be overlooked.

He set a franchise record for strikeouts in a single game in the postseason (the previous was eight), and they still lost. We also know that the guys who pitch in the first two games can pitch in the fifth game. "They really get into it, the hometown crowd".

While Strasburg was no-hitting the Cubs into the sixth, Hendricks was holding the Nats at bay.

"Last year, it was just like, 'You have to win the whole thing or you're a failure, '" Bryant said.

The Cubs were shut out in consecutive games in the NLCS past year before they eliminated the Dodgers with three straight wins.

These Cubs know how to get it done. Jose Quintana goes in Game 3 while Jake Arrieta, who is dealing with his own hamstring injury, would get the start if there is a Game 4.

Turns out, it was Hendricks' night to play hero. And it was he who had the support - not much, but for him plenty.

He did well all season pitching with runners in scoring position.

That extra base by Bryant proved vital as he scored on a line single to right by Rizzo that just eluded the diving Harper for a 2-0 advantage in the sixth. It was dumb little shit like this-highlighted with cathartic bitterness by the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell-that had me wanting to kick a hole in the wall by the time reliever Ryan Madson gave up a pair of eighth-inning doubles to plate Chicago's third run. They are the 11th team all-time with four (or more) such players, and first since the 2011 Red Sox.

Looking to keep the Cubs within striking distance will be Kyle Hendricks. They kept Rene Rivera off the roster even though he came up big down the stretch, going 15 for 44 after Chicago selected him off waivers from the New York Mets in August.

While they are no longer America's favorite team - not after months of national TV appearances, magazine covers and cereal boxes - the Cubs return to the playoffs with something more valuable. The series is far from over, but losing after such a dominant outing by Strasburg had to be tough to swallow, especially for a team that has been reminded of its poor postseason history all week.