It's hard to find much fault in a team that lost 1-0 on a solo home run, especially considering how brilliant Johnny Cueto pitched last night. That said, there are some little tweaks that could be made that could help propel the Giants to victory in Game Two.
In his one start against the Giants this season, Hendricks pitched like the NL Cy Young candidate that he is, allowing just one earned on three hits over 5 1/3 innings. That start was on May 22, when the Giants were at their peak this season, and they still just managed a win, oddly enough, by the score of 1-0. In that matchup, Madison Bumgarner was the opposition. Tonight it will be Jeff Samardzija facing his former club.
With Hendricks, a right-hander, on the mound, we can expect Joe Panik back in the lineup, as the Giants second baseman has gone 2-for-3 with a double in his limited at-bats. While Denard Span was held out of last night's game due to his poor performance against lefties (59 wRC+ in 2016), the outfield defense that Gorkys Hernandez showed last night may be enough to keep him in the lineup. Span is 2-for-9 against Hendricks in his career, and according to FanGraphs, hit .295 in low leverage situations, .250 in medium leverage, and .208 in high leverage situations. There are no low leverage situations in the playoffs, and with his DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) score of -7, he may be more of a liability to the Giants both offensively and defensively the rest of the way.
Hernandez went 2-for-4 in high leverage situations this season in limited opportunities, but graded as a plus defender in center. Pitching and defense wins championships in October, along with more than scoring zero runs. It's no guarantee that Span would help the offense, but keeping Hernandez in center would certainly help the defense.
Whether or not you believe that Gorkys went around on that check swing call (he didn't), there were a few base running gaffes that may have cost the Giants in the opener. While the book on Jon Lester has been that you can run on him, and Hernandez attempted to at the onset, his jump was terrible and he was out by plenty. Conor Gillaspie was also thrown out at first after wandering too far off the bag. In a game of this magnitude, the Giants can't afford to be giving up base runners.
Step One: Play smarter.
No, I'm not going to include end of the season Buster Posey not scoring on the ball that fell in front of, then trickled behind, Ben Zobrist. Posey said he wasn't going to go to third if it fell in front of Zobrist, which is the right call.
To that point however, if another runner is caught in a similar situation (read: speedier), the Giants may have to be a tad more aggressive for the remainder of the series. The Cubs have shown that they can hang with the Giants biggest strength (their starting pitching), so cheating a bit to scratch out a run or two over the course of the series may be what's necessary.
Step Two: Be aggressive in certain situations.
The Giants got one hell of a pitching performance from Cueto, along with some stellar defense from Gorkys Hernandez and Kelby Tomlinson, but the Cubs ranked better in both facets during the regular season. It's not time to panic by any means, but with the Giants struggles to muster hits--let alone runs--against Chicago this season, a slightly more aggressive approach may be necessary now with more on the line.
On Saturday, look for Brandon Belt to put up some good at-bats against Hendricks. In his career Belt is 3-for-7 (.429) with a triple and a home run in his career. Hunter Pence could be due to break out as well, as he is 2-for-2 with a pair of singles.
In last year's postseason, Hendricks totaled 8 2/3 innings pitched in two starts, allowing five runs for an ERA of 5.19. Hendricks certainly was not as good last year as he has been this season (3.95 ERA in '15, 2.13 in '16), so those numbers may not carry much weight. But we can all hope that there will be enough of an opening for the Giants to find themselves victorious tonight as they look to even the series before heading home with Bumgarner set to take the mound in Game Three.