The Chicago Cubs will face an old friend on Wednesday afternoon, one sure to make fans feel a real source of regret and longing.
Yu Darvish takes the mound for the San Diego Padres in the series finale with the Cubs in what will mark his first outing against the North Siders since Chicago traded him this past winter.
Darvish has essentially picked up right where he left off in the 2020 campaign. He is 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 12 starts. The whiff rate is down from the past few seasons, but he’s inducing softer contact and even has a better expected ERA (2.80) than in 2020 (3.02), per Baseball Savant.
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In other words: Darvish is a legitimate ace for a Padres team hoping to realize World Series dreams later this fall. There’s likely another staunch realization in the minds of Cubs fans.
There is a certain irony to Chicago trading Darvish given they have a definite need for an ace-type arm
Now, it’s worth pointing out the Chicago Cubs rotation has rallied over the course of the last month, at least to a degree.
Kyle Hendricks had a 2.67 ERA in May and has gone six innings in each of his first two starts in June. Zach Davies had a 1.72 ERA in May and is fresh off a tremendous performance against the Friars on Tuesday evening. Adbert Alzolay was displaying terrific stuff before Monday’s forgettable outing.
However, that’s about the extent of the pitching quality. Jake Arrieta has an 8.28 ERA in his last six starts and has really struggled pretty much against every opponent outside of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers. Trevor Williams had been scuffling a bit before going on the injured list, and Kohl Stewart struggled in his second start over the weekend after a solid debut.
All told, the Cubs rank dead last in the majors in rotation fWAR, per FanGraphs. Yet, here they are on June 6, sitting at 34-27 and just a half-game back of the Brewers in the National League Central.
Chicago Cubs: Where would this team be with Yu Darvish in the rotation?
The truth is the front office did not have a clear idea of how the roster would perform heading into 2021. It made at least some sense to reshuffle the deck and bolster the farm with more assets.
Yet, some things are hard to avoid. For all the preaching about the talent still there, the Cubs – from Opening Day – always lacked rotation quality. Jed Hoyer and Co. weren’t punting, per se, but it’s unlikely this team sustain momentum despite the struggles of the starting group.
Chicago’s offense has come alive since mid-April. The bullpen might be due for some regression, but even still has found legitimate arms in the middle and late innings, with Craig Kimbrel holding down the ninth.
The Chicago Cubs seem to have all the pieces to win the division, except for the clear absence of an ace. Darvish is likely to provide the reminder on Wednesday afternoon in San Diego.