Yu (10 K's) puts Cubs back in win column

August 24th, 2020

CHICAGO -- After firing a high-octane fastball past the bat of Yoán Moncada in the fifth inning on Sunday afternoon, spun around on the mound, pumped his fist and let out a shout. He barked again as he strode off the mound, making an emotional and emphatic exit.

That was one among 10 strikeouts in another dominant performance for Darvish, who neutralized the scorching White Sox lineup in a 2-1 victory at Wrigley Field. The Cubs needed the kind of seven-inning effort they received from their emerging ace, and they will need more like it as the club keeps October in mind.

"The teams that are going to have success," Cubs manager David Ross said, "you need those guys that you feel like it's Win Day."

Darvish Day has turned into Win Day in each of his last five turns.

The challenge on Sunday was the fact that the Cubs were taking on a White Sox club that had outscored the North Siders, 17-5, and outhomered them, 11-0, on Friday and Saturday combined. José Abreu alone had launched five of those home runs, including three on Saturday night.

And then, Abreu kept his otherworldly pace going with a solo shot off Darvish in the second inning that soared to the back of the left-field bleachers. That gave him homers in four straight at-bats and six in the series, trying St. Louis' Matt Carpenter (six in a five-game set in 2018) for the most shots in one series against the Cubs.

"When he hits it, who cares?" Darvish said. "It's just a solo homer."

That was all the White Sox got on Win Day.

Over the past two nights, Darvish was able to watch how the South Siders went about ambushing Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs' relievers. That gave Darvish a chance to plot his own plan of attack for a lineup that had launched 29 home runs in the previous six games.

What did Darvish come up with?

"Breaking balls and mix it with the cutter," he said. "Slider, knuckle-curveball at the right time, especially to the righty. Throw a chase slider, cutter."

In the previous two games, the White Sox posted an .882 slugging percentage against four-seamers and an .842 SLG off sinkers, per Statcast. Cutters produced a .563 SLG. Darvish, whose cutter is his bread-and-butter pitch in an arsenal that is at least 10 offerings deep, fired 41 cutters.

Over the past two games, the White Sox did not see any sliders from the Cubs' staff. That is not a main weapon for Darvish, but he used it as such on Sunday. The righty averaged 9.9 percent sliders this season going into the outing, and then spun 25 (24 percent) against the South Siders.

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"The secondary stuff is just so, so good," Ross said. "And the way he commands it, it's fun to watch. I tell him that all the time. It's a credit to him and knowing himself and continuing to work the lineup, work his strengths off that."

When Darvish's day was over, he had amassed 26 swinging strikes, which is his third-most on record in one start and a season high. Within that, he generated 13 whiffs (seven for strikeouts) with the slider. That tied a career high for whiffs with that pitch (also done on April 24, 2013).

"Everybody knows he’s a good pitcher," Abreu said via White Sox interpreter Billy Russo. "He has a lot of experience with very good pitches. He came to us as we were expecting, just executing and doing the things that he does. He had a very good game plan, and he executed."

It was the kind of showing that helped the Cubs' struggling lineup do just enough to find the win column. In the sixth, Javier Báez doubled off White Sox starter Dylan Cease, and followed with a two-run shot to the bleachers in center. That was all Darvish needed.

"Let's just say I'm happy that he's on our team," Schwarber said. "When he's got an 11-pitch arsenal or whatever it is, and he's in the zone, it's just filthy. It's nasty. … No one's looking forward to facing Yu Darvish whenever he's on the mound.

"I think that he's got all the confidence in the world right now."

Darvish is now 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA on this season, but he has done this dating back to last year.

Since the start of the second half in '19, Darvish has turned in a 2.43 ERA with a 0.84 WHIP over 19 outings. The right-hander has racked up 162 strikeouts against 13 walks in 118 2/3 innings in that stretch, posting a remarkable 12.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

"This guy, every time out," Ross said, "it's a lengthy outing, it's executed. It doesn't matter the lineup. He pitches his game. Electric stuff."