Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks: Return to contention could ‘happen a lot quicker’ than expected

The Cubs made history Wednesday when they completed a three-game sweep against the Mets, who have the second-best record in the National League.

They became the first team in MLB history to enter a series of at least three games with 30-plus fewer wins than their opponent and sweep the series on the road, winning each game by at least three runs, according to Stats Perform.

The next question becomes, when will they get to the point where sweeping a top team isn’t shocking? The answer to that question hinges on two factors: the health of the farm system and the club’s approach to the offseason.

When asked late last month about parallels to 2014, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said he’d considered the comparison.

“I’d love to finish strong that way,” he said. “… It definitely gave us confidence that what we were building on top of was starting to be real.”

In 2014, the Cubs went 28-27 in the last two months of the season. Anthony Rizzo recalled earlier this season, when the Cubs played him the Yankees in New York, a feeling that the club wouldn’t be selling at the deadline again.

Kyle Hendricks, who debuted a few weeks before the 2014 trade deadline, is the only current Cubs who was on the roster that season.

“Rizz, he had had some years, and he had seen he knew where the team was going,” Hendricks told the Sun-Times last month. “He was kind of a part of all these conversations. … Signing [Jon Lester,] when that happened in the offseason, now you knew. I hadn’t maybe thought about it, but I knew, OK, this is a team now that is all in. We’re going somewhere. We’re winning.”

That’s where this offseason comes in as a potential turning point.

In other ways, the 2014 comparison doesn’t quite line up. Even entering the season, MLB.comranked Javy B?ez (No. 7) and Kris Bryant (No. 9) among MLB’s Top 10 prospects. Now, the Cubs’ highest-ranked prospect is outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, who comes in at No. 31 in MLB Pipeline’s rankings.

“I remember it was pretty apparent in 2014, given where those prospects were, that we would have kind of a whole team of prospects on the field in 2015,” Hoyer said. “And I think that is less so [right now,] but that’s what we’re building towards. And that’s what we want to create.

“My vision is always sort of the same in the sense of, we knew that second half of ’14 what our team would look like on the field for a long time. And I certainly want to get to that point where we’re young and athletic and talented at every position.”

Pitching depth is a strength in the upper levels of the farm system – something the last rebuild infamously lacked. Whereas the lower levels are full of young hitting talent.

Three of the Cubs’ top four position-player prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, are in Single-A or lower, with Kevin Alc?ntara and Cristian Hern?ndez joining Crow-Armstrong. All three are 20 or younger.

The Cubs do, however, have more hitters coming soon. Outfielder Brennen Davis, the Cubs’ No. 2 prospect, first baseman Matt Mervis and catcher Miguel Amaya headline the group of players the Cubs plan to send to the Arizona Fall League – along with pitchers Riley Martin, Bailey Horn, Zac Leigh and Sheldon Reed.

Davis and Amaya will get extra at-bats to supplement their injury-shortened seasons. Mervis gets the chance to carry the approach and swing that have sent him shooting up the farm system ranks this season into the fall. Hehit his 33rd home run of the season on Wednesday, putting him one behind minor-league leader Hunter Goodman, a Rockies prospect.

“I barely played my first two years in college, and my senior year got cut short,” Mervis said in a conversation with the Sun-Times in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday. “So, that’s almost three full years of at-bats that I haven’t gotten compared to a lot of other guys who go into college or get drafted out of high school and play right away. So, just building the workload of playing a full season, extending into November where playoff baseball is played.”

The sheer number of Rule 5-eligible prospects who the Cubs need to protect by putting them on the 40-man roster make it unlikely that Mervis will debut this year.

With so many team-building factors still unknown, it’s hard to pinpoint a date for the next time the Cubs will sincerely compete for a championship.

So, how does the feeling in the second half of this season compare to 2014?

“I feel very close to that,” Hendricks said. “… The maturation and the development of all these young guys, especially the young pitchers, that’s what’s really going to set us up for this next wave and this next core. And I think it could happen a lot quicker than what they were initially expecting, possibly.”

ROCKIES AT CUBS

Friday: Germ?n M?rquez (8-10, 5.25) vs. Marcus Stroman (3-7, 3.91 ERA), 1:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM/1200-AM

Saturday: .Jos? Ure?a (3-6, 5.81) vs. Wade Miley (1-0, 2.89), 1:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM/1200-AM

Sunday: Ryan Feltner (2-8, 6.12) vs. Javier Assad (1-1, 2.53), 1:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM/1200-AM

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