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Yu boosts Cy credentials with another gem

Perfect through 5, Cubs ace allows 1 hit on HR, K's 11 in 7 IP
@MLBastian
September 5, 2020

CHICAGO -- All those bold preseason predictions about Yu Darvish capturing the National League Cy Young Award in this abbreviated campaign no longer seem so bold. All the confused looks and feeble swings in the batter's box make Darvish's dominance clear. Friday night was another chance for Darvish to assert

CHICAGO -- All those bold preseason predictions about Yu Darvish capturing the National League Cy Young Award in this abbreviated campaign no longer seem so bold. All the confused looks and feeble swings in the batter's box make Darvish's dominance clear.

Friday night was another chance for Darvish to assert himself in the growing Cy Young discussion, and the Cubs righty did not disappoint in a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Opposite St. Louis' ace Jack Flaherty, Darvish carried a perfect game through five innings, finished with 11 strikeouts and paved the way for Chicago's 23rd win of the season.

Box score

Darvish has wanted no part of the Cy Young talk, though.

"I'm just focusing on next pitch," Darvish said. "So, next pitch is next game. First pitch in next game."

That comment was actually from after Darvish's last start against the Reds on Saturday. His first pitch against the Cardinals on Friday night was an 83 mph cutter to Kolten Wong, who fouled it off. Two pitches later, the St. Louis second baseman was walking back to the dugout following a strikeout.

Backed by a three-hit, four-RBI night from Willson Contreras, Darvish quickly shifted into cruise control for an overpowering seven-inning show during which he lowered his National League-leading ERA to 1.44 and raised his NL-leading WAR to 2.1 (per Fangraphs). He issued zero walks, allowed just one hit and picked up his seventh win in as many decisions.

The lone blemish was a home run in the sixth inning by Cardinals veteran Matt Carpenter, who ended a nine-pitch battle by launching a pitch from Darvish into the Wrigley Field basket in right-center field. That eliminated the perfect game, no-hitter and shutout with one swing.

Darvish said the homer actually helped him relax.

"When he hit the home run," Darvish said, "then I could focus more on the next guy."

Cubs manager David Ross laughed when asked if he is running out of ways to describe Darvish's incredible run out of the gates this season.

"It's funny. That popped in my head after he came out," Ross said. "I was just like, 'I don't know what else to say about this guy.'"

The manager did his best.

"You know, I think the thing that stood out to me were first-pitch strikes," Ross said. "You just see a poise about him out there. He's in total control with so many different pitches. That's what is hard for me to grasp as an ex-catcher, is the command of so many different pitches and speeds at which he throws them. That's pretty remarkable to me.”

Along those lines, Darvish threw 17 of 22 first-pitch strikes, and the right-hander ended with a season-high 25 called strikes. He has only had at least that many called strikes in 14 outings in his Major League career. Darvish said a key was examining how St. Louis attacked him in their last meeting on Aug. 18.

"Last outing, I struggled against the Cardinals," Darvish said. "Their guys fouled off a lot, and then I couldn't get outs easy. So, today I had a plan. Not throwing a chase pitch after two strikes against lefties. I threw a lot of changeups. If I can throw a strike or not -- I don't care. Just throw a changeup. That made it confusing for them."

In that last game against the Cubs' main rivals, Darvish held the Cardinals to one run over six innings, striking out seven and walking one. He did allow eight hits, so perhaps that is where one could argue he "struggled," given his overall performance this season.

Over his past seven outings, Darvish has spun a 0.98 ERA with 58 strikeouts against eight walks in 46 innings. Across his last 21 turns, dating back to the start of the second half last year, all he has done is post a 2.26 ERA with 181 strikeouts, 15 walks and a .199/.234/.346 opponents' slash line in 131 2/3 innings.

"You’re seeing a guy that’s been as good as anybody in this league all year," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "And you're seeing why. A lot of different pitches, a lot of pitches on the plate, under the zone, everything looks pretty much the same, and he’s got that differential in speed."

So, is this the best Darvish has ever pitched?

"Yeah, for sure," Darvish said without hesitation.

Even better than the four years he made an All-Star team?

"Three times better," he quipped.

If he keeps up that pace, even Darvish will have to give some thoughts on his place in the NL Cy Young discussion. But even after Friday's gem, he still would not allow himself to go down that road just yet.

"I told you last time, too," Darvish said. "I don't want to think about that. If I start thinking that, I will fail. That's why I want to focus on next pitch. So, next game's first pitch."

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.