Yu Darv ish can’t carry the Cubs to October on his own, no matter how good he is.
If the Cubs reach the postseason (which seems overwhelmingly likely given Fangraphs’ 96.2 percent odds) – we know right now who gets the ball in Game 1, regardless of opponent. NL Cy Young frontrunner Yu Darvish has cemented himself as the team’s ace, putting together a historic run dating back to last July.
Here’s what he’s done since July 1 of last year: 2.41 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 12.19 K/9, 187 strikeouts to just 15 walks, .201 opponent batting average and 0.85 WHIP. He’s erased the memories of his injury-shortened, ineffective inaugural campaign with the Cubs back in 2018 and has helped mask the shortcomings of the rest of the rotation.
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Darvish has slowed the game down and adopted a ‘next pitch’ mentality, focusing just on the task at hand – winning and competing with every pitch he throws. That’s allowed him to take his game to the next level, as well.
"“You know, I think the thing that stood out to me were first-pitch strikes,” Cubs skipper David Ross said after Friday’s start against St. Louis. “You just see a poise about him out there. He’s in total control with so many different pitches. That’s what is hard for me to grasp as an ex-catcher, is the command of so many different pitches and speeds at which he throws them. That’s pretty remarkable to me.”"
But as great – and make no mistake, great is what Darvish has been – the Cubs aren’t getting any type of consistency from most of their other starters. The team is without Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana and, on Saturday, turned to Albert Alzolay to take the ball. The results were less than stellar and did little to assuage fears about the team’s pitching staff.
After a historic start to the 2020 season, the rotation has settled into the middle of the pack in the National League with a 4.10 ERA. Kyle Hendricks is the only other arm who’s come as advertised, but has never really gotten back to the level he performed at back in 2016 when he anchored the staff and won the MLB earned run average crown.
Jon Lester is showing his age more than ever. Granted, he can grind through a start with the best of them, but you definitely don’t know what you’re going to get from him at this point. He enters Sunday night’s contest against the Cardinals at or below the bottom 10 percent of pitchers when it comes to strikeout rate, barrel percentage, whiff rate and fastball velocity.
All of that has culminated in a 5.11 ERA – including a disastrous trio of starts at Wrigley Field in which he’s allowed 14 earned runs and 22 hits in 15 2/3 innings of work.
Alec Mills continues to struggle after making a strong first impression early in the season. It seems like now that hitters have more video and data on the right-hander, they’ve been able to put together and execute a plan to limit his effectiveness. Again, with a lack of quality options waiting in the wings, Ross has little choice but to keep trotting him out every five days.
If the Cubs want to have a real chance at A) winning a very lackluster division or B) playing deep into October, it can’t just be the Darvish show. If other arms don’t start pulling their weight, this could quickly devolve into an unnecessarily close race that comes right down to the wire.