Yu and improved Cubs? Darvish resurrection is the deadline acquisition Cubs need most
If the $126 million starter’s consecutive scoreless starts to open the second half are indications of what’s to come down the stretch, then October just started in July.
The 98 mph fastball sizzled over the inside part of the plate as Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig unleashed a big swing and miss for the final out in the sixth inning Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
Yu Darvish turned to pump his fist and screamed, then pumped his fist again and screamed one more time as the crowd of 37,000 strong let out torrents of “Yuuuuuuu” as loud as anyone in the place had ever heard.
And just like that, the Cubs had their impact pitching acquisition before the trade deadline.
But this looks nothing like the Darvish whom Cubs fans have spent 17 months alternately loving and hating during a tumultuous relationship.
“He’s more of an animal on the mound,” teammate Anthony Rizzo said. “Grunting there in the sixth, reaching back when he needs it. Being smart. He’s got confidence in his fastball. He’s fun to play behind.”
With the strikeout of Puig, Darvish had back-to-back scoreless starts to open the second half and eventually a 5-2 victory over the Reds. It was his first win in 14 home starts and first victory overall since April.
“It’s amazing,” Darvish said. “I was always looking for that first win.”
After showing glimpses this year of the kind of stuff and confidence that led to four All-Star selections with the Rangers, Darvish finally is starting to back up his exceptional talent after consecutive solid performances.
“He went through a lot last year,” manager Joe Maddon said of Darvish, who underperformed and was limited to eight starts after suffering an elbow injury.
“How this year began and where he is right now, there’s no reason to believe that he’s not going to be able to continue along this path with good health. He’s pretty confident right now.”
What does it mean for a team looking for separation in a tight division if the pitcher on the staff with the most dominant stuff and the best fastball finally has command of it all and the “120 percent” confidence he exudes these days?
“What do they say?” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “Offense wins games; defense wins championships.”
And pitching wins World Series?
“Obviously, I’m a pitching guy. I’m partial to it,” Hottovy said. “We have a great offense. But there’s something to be said for when you see those guys take the ball turn after turn and they start getting on a roll and good things happen. That’s just the way it works.”
The Cubs’ six consecutive quality starts out of the break mark their longest streak since a six-game run in April 2018.
They have a 2.70 ERA during the streak,skewed heavily by Darvish’s scoreless starts.
“I feel we’re lucky to have the rotation we do,” Hottovy said, “and when all those guys are healthy and clicking, it sets the tone for our whole team.”
Kyle Hendricks is finally back to full speed since suffering a shoulder injury. Hamels might be only two weeks from returning from an oblique injury.
“It’s going to be nice to get the band back together,” Maddon said.
But even with the band toiling together in good health, Darvish specifically is poised to have an outsized impact on the team’s fortunes down the stretch.
“Especially me,” he said. “[Jose] Quintana, [Jon] Lester, the other starts, they don’t throw 96-97 [mph]. They are good command guys. So if we have one hard [throwing] guy in the rotation, that’s good for our team, too. Then the next day, Kyle can go two-seam, and another day Quintana can show the changeup or curveball.”
Echoes of Jake Arrieta?
Not so fast. For now, it’s just two starts in a row.
But it’s the biggest reason the Cubs are off to a 5-1 start in the second half. They also finally won a series against the Reds in four tries this season.
“I told you guys before, I’m almost like 120 percent right now,” Darvish said. “So I don’t need anything right now. It’s perfect, everything.”