Confident Cubs find way to beat former ace

Pederson, Arrieta come up big in first matchup against Darvish

June 10th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- flashed a mischievous grin as he walked to the batter's box in the third inning on Wednesday afternoon. The music that was blaring through the Petco Park sound system was Anthony Rizzo's walk-up song.

"You just miss his smile," Cubs manager David Ross said this week. "And definitely when he takes the mound, it's a nice comforting feeling from a manager standpoint."

It was reunion day with Darvish, who was sent by the Cubs to the Padres in a stunning trade in December. He flashed that smile and had his fun. He put his wide array of pitches on display and piled up eight strikeouts. And the Cubs walked away with a 3-1 victory.

The Darvish trade -- one that netted Zach Davies and four prospects, and also sent catcher Victor Caratini to San Diego -- made it clear that the Cubs' front office had an eye on the budget and the future. Right now, though, Chicago's players are trying to force the focus to the present.

The win on Wednesday sealed a series victory on the road against a tough San Diego squad. It seemed fitting, too, that it was (five solid innings) and (solo homer with a stutter step inspired by Fernando Tatis Jr.) who helped lead the charge. They came to the Cubs on one-year pacts after the Darvish deal sent shockwaves through the fan base.

"We're just excited about where we are in the standings and the way we're winning and playing," Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks said prior to Wednesday's game. "We can get the job done with what we have in the clubhouse. We're really confident in that group that we have."

The Cubs, who have climbed back to the upper tier of the National League Central after an abysmal April, have had their depth tested. Wednesday's lineup was missing Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras (scheduled days off) and Javier Báez (sore right hand). That is not even counting the long list of players on the injured list.

Backup catcher P.J. Higgins helped Arrieta navigate through an impressive five frames, following the pitcher posting an 8.28 ERA in his previous six turns. Third baseman Patrick Wisdom had a key single in the seventh to set up a run-scoring grounder by Rizzo. Sergio Alcántara -- making a cameo start at shortstop -- homered in the eighth.

"We're showing this could be a real team that can last the journey," Ross said.

And that is something the front office has to consider in the coming weeks, leading up to the July 30 Trade Deadline.

"I think the question is," Ross said, "when you start to get to the moments where they have to make good decisions, you need to be playing good baseball and need to be in a position to maybe win a division or make a playoff spot."

After dropping the first three games of this road trip to NL West-leading San Francisco, the Cubs have rebounded with three wins in four games. They are now 5-1 on the year against the Padres, and they also have sweeps on the books against the Dodgers and Mets, plus a road series win in St. Louis.

Darvish also presented a familiar and daunting foe in the finale of this important trip. Going into the game, the former Cubs ace had a 2.25 ERA in 12 starts. It was only a slight drop-off from last year, when he turned in a tidy 2.01 ERA in 12 outings for Chicago and ended as the NL Cy Young Award runner-up.

"It's not like they were some cupcake matchups," Pederson said. "We saw some really good pitchers. The Giants, they're winning a lot of games. It just shows a lot about us, how we bounced back from that and then come play another playoff team."

The Darvish-less rotation picked up wins in the last two games behind Davies and Arrieta, who allowed one run over 11 innings combined. Hendricks has been trending up since his rough April as well, but seeing Darvish again showed the kind of overpowering arm the October-aspiring Cubs lack.

When the trade went down over the winter, it was easy to wonder which direction the Cubs were heading. That continued in the spring after Bryant, Báez and Rizzo headed into the season without contract extensions.

"Expectations or perceptions can be one thing," Ross said. "But actually, you've got to give guys a chance to go out there and prove themselves. Yu Darvish was a big part of our success last year. I think there's no secret about that. He's a really good pitcher.

"But also, there's a business side to this game, too, that players don't have any control over."

And, who knows? If the Cubs keep winning, maybe there will be another stunning trade coming that helps the team's push for the postseason.

"I think it could go either way, to be honest. It's a tough situation," Hendricks said. "If we end up adding, we're going to invite that guy in like he's family and he'll fit right in the group. But if we don't, like I've said, we have so much trust.

"Every guy that's come up, the way he's contributed and produced, it's been so unexpected. That's been a huge bright spot to this year."