SAN DIEGO — It wasn’t long ago Yu Darvish was the ace of the Cubs’ rotation, but after being dealt in the offseason, he took on his former team for the first time since the trade.
On the mound for the Cubs was Jake Arrieta, who seemingly replaced Darvish in the rotation after signing a one-year contract in February.
As the past and present collided in a battle of former Cubs aces, both starters brought their A-game, but it was the Cubs who topped Darvish in Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the Padres.
“Just wanted to go out there and pitch well and help our team win the series,” Arrieta said after the win. “Obviously, Darvish is really good. He’s tough to beat every time he’s out there.”
The starting rotation has been one of the Cubs’ major flaws in the first half. After trading their best starter in the winter, it’s not hard to see why many wonder where they would be if last year’s National League Cy Young runner-up was still at the top of the rotation.
But the Cubs haven’t been able to dream about what ifs as they’ve fought to get near the top of the NL Central, despite some of their deficiencies in the rotation.
His start was an important one for Arrieta, not only because of who was on the other side, but because he had been trending in the wrong direction for well over a month.
Arrieta came into the game with an 8.28 ERA in his last five starts but looked like the pitcher who helped carry the Cubs in April.
Unlike his previous starts that were filled with runners on base, Arrieta was able to get into a rhythm and got stronger as the game went along.
“Runs were going to be at a premium today,” Arrieta said. “Limiting baserunners, I think I had one walk today. You have to limit the free bases, make good pitches and try to keep guys off the basepaths.”
Arrieta’s best moment came in his final inning of the game. After ex-Cubs catcher Victor Caratini led off the fifth inning with a single, Arrieta struck out the side. He allowed one run, four hits, struck out six and walked one in five innings.
“[He] had a good feel for pretty much everything other than the curveball for most of the game,” manager David Ross said. “Really needed all of it to pitch well against that offense.”
“I thought Jake was really good today,” Ross said. “I thought he attacked the strike zone. It looked like the ball had real bite to it. . . . Big performance. . . . I thought he really had a game that was under control there and gave us a nice start to the game so we could wrap it up with the off day and go to that bullpen a little bit earlier than we probably needed to.”
Arrieta’s performance allowed the offense to come back with two runs late in the game to finish their season series against the Padres with an impressive 5-1 record.
The Cubs finished their West Coast trip strong with back-to-back wins entering their weekend series against the Cardinals.
“Just winning the series on the road against these guys after we swept them at home, that was really big,” Arrieta said. “That says a lot about our team. Having had a lot of guys banged up and guys coming and going and being able to pick up for the guys that are out of the lineup for an extended period of time. We’ve had a lot of guys do some really, really great things for us and this series was no different.”