The Chicago Cubs quest to defend their title begins Friday night in Washington D.C. against the Nationals in the National League Division Series. While normally the game one start would go to postseason master Jon Lester, Joe Maddon and the Cubs are going a different route with Kyle Hendricks. This decision was made in part by the fact that Lester has had a down year and Hendricks comes into the postseason as arguably the hottest pitcher on the staff.

Hendricks (27) has worked very hard to earn the respect of his manager the past three seasons, and he is getting it going into the 2017 postseason.

Hendricks' hard work

When Hendricks came up with the Cubs in 2014, he was seen as a bottom of the rotation kind of pitcher.

He does not throw hard and relies on locating off-speed pitches for success. He immediately showed effectiveness in his first season posting a 2.46 ERA in 80.1 innings and was dubbed "Maddux 2.0" because of his similar approach to Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux.

Kyle was a Cy Young finalist last season with a 2.13 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 4.5 fWAR in 31 games. However, he really started getting national attention for his 2016 postseason efforts, posting a 1.43 ERA in five starts, including a masterful performance to clinch the pennant going 7.1 and allowing no runs on two hits.

After another good season this year, especially in the second half coming back from an injury that sidelined him for over a month. In the second half, Hendricks posted a 2.19 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 3.38 FIP, and 49.3 percent ground ball rate in 78.0 innings.

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His success on the mound played a significant part in the Cubs playoff push from late-July through September, and there cannot be any doubts in his trusting his abilities in big spots.

Praise from management

Joe Maddon made the decision to make Kyle Hendricks the number one starter Wednesday with the support of team management and the other players. Maddon was quoted by Chicago Cubs beat writer Carrie Muskat of MLB.com saying, "He's [Hendricks] is a technician. Coming from Dartmouth to here, what he's done for himself and his career, almost winning Cy Young last year, is really impressive." He also added, "I talked to a lot of different pitching coaches, a lot of different managers and some general managers, and he's [Hendricks] is their favorite."

Maddon's decision got support from President Theo Epstein, as he told the "Spiegel & Parkins Show" on WSCR 670 the Score that he trusts Hendricks can go deep into playoff games without a short hook. He mentioned how his ability to get stronger as he pitches further into games is a key to his success, and the main reason to trust him.

Not only did management give him his due respect, but he also got it from Jon Lester. The guy who is used to being a number one starter in a playoff series has no ill feelings towards Hendricks taking that spot and was quoted by Carrie Muskat saying, "I remember back in the day when to torch was passed to me to do that, it's cool for Hendricks. I'm excited for him."

Full rotation outlook

Following Kyle Hendricks' game one start, Lester will start Game 2 in D.C. While he has had some struggles this year, Lester's postseason resume is too good not to have him go in one of the first two games. Game 3 at Wrigley Field will see the postseason debut of Jose Quintana, who came over from the White Sox in mid-July. Quintana has a 3.74 ERA and 1.103 WHIP in 14 starts in a Chicago Cubs uniform.

Jake Arrieta is slated for a possible Game 4 start. Despite his very good play during the second half of the season, the 2015 Cy Young winner has been battling a hamstring issue the past month and was deemed not ready to start in any of the opening Chicago Cubs playoff games. Arrieta was in conversation by many to be a possible No. 1 starter in the postseason before his hamstring injury in early September.