The Cubs had a name for the games in which Yu Darvish took the mound this season.
“It became Win Day when he was pitching,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said earlier this week.
Now, Chicago is counting on Win Day to delay an early-arriving offseason.
Following the Marlins’ stunning 5-1 victory over the October-tested Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series, the North Siders will be handing the ball to Darvish in a win-or-stay-home Game 2 on Friday at Wrigley Field. The game is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET/1 CT on ABC.
Darvish will be opposed by hard-throwing right-hander Sixto Sánchez, who grabbed the national spotlight with his sizzling stuff in September.
“Sixto's stuff is as good as anybody's,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after Wednesday’s win. “He will be aggressive tomorrow. We're going to push him to be aggressive tomorrow, with all of his stuff. He throws strikes with everything. We can mix and still throw strikes. We're going to try to get him on the hunt, and keep him on the hunt, and see where we go with him.”
That was similar to the approach that Miami’s Sandy Alcantara took in Game 1, when he worked into the seventh and kept the Cubs’ heavy hitters at bay with heaters that reached 98 mph. The Cubs, who have been searching for offensive consistency all year, know they are in for a similar challenge in Game 2.
“Real similar,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Young. Throws hard. Can run up there to triple digits at times. Same thing. They've got good, young arms.”
What do the starting lineups look like?
Marlins: With Darvish going for the Cubs, the Marlins are expected to have a lineup similar to the one Mattingly rolled out in Game 1. Corey Dickerson has been leading off vs. right-handers. The decision to DH Jesús Aguilar, and go with Garrett Cooper at first base is based on Cooper having a little more range. The club has liked the way Chad Wallach has handled the staff, which is why he’s been going ahead of Jorge Alfaro. Starling Marte, struck on his left hand with a pitch in Game 1, has a small fracture to his pinkie. Magneuris Sierra was scheduled to start Thursday prior to the postponement.
1) Corey Dickerson, LF
2) Jon Berti, 2B
3) Jesús Aguilar, DH
4) Brian Anderson, 3B
5) Garrett Cooper, 1B
6) Matt Joyce, RF
7) Miguel Rojas, SS
8) Magneuris Sierra, CF
9) Chad Wallach, C
Cubs: One expected change for Game 2 was having Victor Caratini catching, following a stint as the designated hitter in the Wild Card Series opener. Caratini is Darvish's personal catcher, given that the pair have formed a strong rapport going back to last season. That sets up Willson Contreras (.883 OPS in September) to be the DH. David Bote (.801 OPS vs. righties this year) will be in the lineup against the right-handed Sánchez, who has reverse splits against lefties (.531 OPS) and righties (.745 OPS) this season.
1) Ian Happ, CF
2) Anthony Rizzo, 1B
3) Willson Contreras, DH
4) Kyle Schwarber LF
5) Kris Bryant, 3B
6) Jason Heyward, RF
7) Javier Báez, SS
8) David Bote, 2B
9) Victor Caratini, C
Who are the starting pitchers?
Marlins: Sánchez made seven starts in his rookie season. Mattingly has made it clear that they want the 22-year-old to be on the attack. His four-seam fastball averages 98.6 mph, and they want him to use it. In his last two starts, he was more passive, mixing in more offspeed. He allowed nine runs in seven innings (11.57 ERA) in those starts, with six walks and four strikeouts. In his first five starts, the right-hander had a 1.69 ERA, with 29 strikeouts and five walks in 32 innings. Worth noting, opponents have swung at either of Sánchez’s first two pitches 44.3 percent of the time, which according to Statcast is the highest against any starter in 2020 (min. 100 such pitches).
Cubs: Darvish, one of the leading candidates for the NL Cy Young Award this season, led NL pitchers in WAR (3.0 per FanGraphs) and finished the season with a 2.01 ERA to go along with 93 strikeouts and 14 walks in 76 innings. Darvish last pitched on Friday, when he worked seven shutout innings against the White Sox. Due to the postponement Thursday, he will be working on six days’ rest against the Marlins. In 37 career starts on at least six days of rest, Darvish went 15-9 with a 3.36 ERA. He had only two such starts in 2020 (1-1, 3.27 ERA).
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Marlins: In a best-of-three format, Mattingly said he will go to his bullpen more quickly than a longer series. If Sánchez can make it at least through five or six innings, that allows Mattingly to line up his ‘pen with James Hoyt and left-hander Richard Bleier for the sixth, based on matches, Yimi García for the seventh inning and Brad Boxberger in the eighth to set up closer Brandon Kintzler. The Cubs have several impactful lefty hitters, so Bleier and Stephen Tarpley, the second lefty, are possibilities. If Sánchez labors early, Trevor Rogers, another lefty, is the long-relief option. Rogers moved from the rotation to the bullpen for the Wild Card Series round.
Cubs: Not much will change from Game 1, when Jeremy Jeffress was the high-leverage arm that followed starter Kyle Hendricks. Jeffress and Craig Kimbrel are the Cubs’ primary weapons to close things out, though neither has officially been labeled a “closer” for the team. Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam and Dan Winkler are trusted righties, while Andrew Chafin and Kyle Ryan are two main lefty options. One intriguing arm in the bullpen is rookie right-hander Adbert Alzolay, who flashed swing-and-miss stuff and strong velo down the stretch as a multi-inning reliever and spot starter. If the Cubs need length, veteran lefty José Quintana is also available.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Marlins: With Alcantara going 6 2/3 innings in Game 1, the Marlins bullpen wasn't overworked. Bleier faced one batter in the seventh. García handled the eighth and Kintzler the ninth.
Cubs: With the unexpected day off on Thursday, and the must-win dynamic of Game 2, it will be all hands on deck for Chicago.
Any injuries of note?
Marlins: José Ureña's fractured right forearm is the biggest blow to the roster. A starter who was expected to be moved to the ‘pen, Ureña was to fill a long-relief role and provide veteran experience. Marte was struck on the left hand by a 92.2 mph Winkler sinker in the ninth inning in Game 1. Marte has a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal. He saw a hand specialist on Thursday and is being fitted with a protective guard. He might be available. This came after Marte was hit on the brim of his helmet by a pitch on Sunday against the Yankees. He bruised his left ear because of that incident, but had no concussion-related symptoms. It could be a significant blow. If he's out for an extended period, Brinson and Monte Harrison are candidates to play center.
Cubs: Tyler Chatwood (10-day injured list, right forearm) and Rowan Wick (10-day IL, left oblique) were excluded from the Wild Card Series roster, as expected. Utility man Ildemaro Vargas, however, was activated and added to the roster, following a late-season bout with a right hamstring issue. Infielder David Bote has been dealing with an undisclosed minor injury issue for the past couple of weeks, but has been able to play through it. Bryant tweaked his right oblique late in the season, but has looked fine since returning shortly before the playoffs.
Who is hot and who is not?
Marlins: After going 0-for-9 in three games on Sept. 10-11 against the Phillies, Aguilar finished the season with an .877 OPS in his final 17 games. The Marlins’ first baseman/DH then opened the postseason with a double and homer in the Game 1 victory. Anderson ended the regular season in a 4-for-31 funk and went 0-for-5 in the Wild Card Series opener.
Cubs: A two-hit showing (single and homer) in Game 1 for Happ was a good sign for the Cubs. The center fielder was batting .304 with a 1.079 OPS on Sept. 7, but then hit .159 (10-for-63) down the stretch to see his season OPS drop to .866. The Cubs’ core group of Báez, Bryant, Rizzo and Schwarber went a combined 1-for-13 in the Game 1 loss.
Anything else fans want to know?
Marlins: Wednesday’s win improved the Marlins’ record to 23-11 all-time in the postseason. The team is 6-0 all-time in playoff series and is one win away from making it seven postseason series wins in a row.
Cubs: The Cubs are seeking their first postseason win since Game 4 of the 2017 NL Championship Series against the Dodgers. In that same series, Darvish started for L.A. against Kyle Hendricks in Game 3. This will be Darvish’s first postseason start since Game 7 of the ‘17 World Series.
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.