Morning Cubs Roundup: Yu Darvish has become both an ace and a stopper

Yu Darvish (Photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Yu Darvish (Photo by Stephanie Lynn)

Last Game: Cubs 4, Cardinals 1

Up Next: Cardinals (14-15) @ Cubs (23-15), Doubleheader, Game 1 at 4:15 CST, MARQ

Game Recap

This is by far the best Yu Darvish has ever pitched since coming to the Majors, and we are talking about a four-time All Star and former runner up in Cy Young voting. He's been the class of the NL so far. Only Shane Bieber has been better in the AL.

We are talking about prime Jake Arrieta territory right now, although in a smaller sample size, but we saw this trajectory beginning in the second half of last season. Now that he has locked in several pitches, and seemingly solved his issue with surrendering the long ball, he has ascended back to the upper echelon of MLB starting pitchers. He's taking no-hitters and perfect games into the middle innings, and it seems like it may only be a matter of time before he finishes one off. That is the type of roll he is on at the moment.

I doubt Tommy Hottovy and the Cubs will be given any credit for refining Darvish into what he is right now, because it isn't allowed to praise the Cubs when it comes to pitching. But they do deserve some credit here. They are letting him work at his own pace. They aren't forcing him to limit his repertoire.

As rough as the pitching development pipeline has been, the track record of the pitching infrastructure the Majors has been better than people like to admit. They developed Jake Arrieta into one of the most dominant pitchers in history. Kyle Hendricks developed into a Cy Young contender. Up recently the Cubs have maintained solid bullpens throughout their window of contention, while turning around the careers of guys like Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler, Kyle Ryan, Trevor Cahill and a host of other reclamation projects.

Has the team done well enough in this regard? No. But have they done better than a lot of teams? Sure.

Top Performers

I always love to see Willson Contreras thinking middle of the field when he is at the plate. At his best he is a gap-to-gap hitter. His issues usually arise when he starts getting pull happy.

His two RBI base hits went to right center, the alley he frequented when he was winning a AA batting title. He drove his home run out to left center. Contreras is strong enough to hit the ball out to any part of any park, but I wish all of the Cubs top hitters would remember that the power alleys in Wrigley are unusually short, and they should aim to take advantage of it. It's not just Willson... Javy, Kyle and Tony all seem to be at their best when they are thinking the opposite field gap. KB used to utilize it too, when he first came up, but he's become more of a pull hitter over the years, although the power alley in left center is still his best target.

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

  • Speaking of Pedro Strop... he's back. The Cubs signed the popular righty to a Minor League deal and sent him to South Bend. Strop's fastball velocity dipped last season, and so did his effectiveness. Age, heavy usage and injury have taken a toll on him the last couple of years. He signed with the Reds in the offseason, but further injury and ineffectiveness led them to releasing him a couple weeks back. I'm not expecting anything in terms of production out of Strop at this point, but his energy and leadership were a big part of leading several Cubs bullpens to the top of the NL over the years. He can be a positive influence on the kids in South Bend. Despite my gripes about all the right-handed relievers the Cubs have rostered, this move doesn't really bother me.
  • Ian Miller, Hernan Perez and Josh Phegley all cleared waivers after the Cubs designated them for assignment to make room for their trade deadline acquisitions.

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  • Seventeen years ago in another Labor Holiday weekend five-game series with the mighty StL Cardinals, the Cubs were 2.5 games to the Red Dirty Birds. Cubs won 4 of 5 games. The first game Cubs mashed the singing birdies, then won in a walk off in game two in a dramatic 15-inning affair when Sosa ended it with a 2-run HR. Sosa herioics. Game three the Cubs lost 2-0 even though Kerry Wood pitched 7 giving up but 2 runs and striking out 9. Cubs were down 1 1/2 games, Game four, Cubs won 8-7 in a come from behind affair, down 6 in the 6th, they scored 3 runs; followed by 3 more in the 7th to be down 1 run going into the 8th they scored two to take the game and pulling 1/2 game back of the Redbirds. The final game of the series again the Cubs won in dramatic tense fashion, 7-6 this time matching one better each time the Cardinals scored until the 7th inning when both bull pens shut down the offenses. Cubs took a 1/1/2 game lead which powered them to the division crown later in the month.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Great flashback! I was thinking about this yesterday coming into the series, how we flipped the script on the Cardinals in the 5-game/4-day series. You have a great memory! I couldn't remember any specifics though, and was actually thinking this was in 2007.

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    Great article Michael. Obviously when Theo signed Yu they thought they were getting an AS pitcher, but I can’t imagine he’d be this good for so long a period—basically from the last half of the season until now. He looks confident and determined now. There were a few pitches he threw last night that were FB but then swerved an inch or two back over the plate. Almost like a screw ball with the velocity of his FB, which was 97-98 at times.
    If Hendricks can be himself then we can win this division and once we’re in the playoffs the two of them can dominate.
    These are all big games but to win the first game today would be huge.
    I miss your comments BP.
    Go Cubs!!

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