What You Need to Know: On a cool, windy afternoon, Yu Darvish found his Cubs swagger. In six innings, Darvish allowed only an unearned run in the first—and that was the product of a miscue by the preternaturally sure-handed Jason Heyward. The righthander struck out eight and was backed by two first-inning runs of the Cubs’ own, coming by a tough no-decision due to a Christian Yelich sac fly in the seventh. The Cubs offense scratched across one more run in the bottom half of that inning on an error to seal a 3-2 victory, guarantee a series split with the Brewers, and being the Cubs to three games above .500 for the first time this year.
Next Level: This was, by far, Darvish’s best start with the Cubs. Before today, he had started four games and allowed 15 runs in 19 ⅔ innings, striking out a healthy 21 but walking 11. Today, he tossed six innings of three-hit, two-walk baseball, punching out eight Brewers hitters.
The two walks come with a bit of an asterisk, as the home plate umpire was significantly more generous with the vertical range of the zone than the horizontal range. Darvish didn’t have impeccable command, but he located his pitches in the biggest spots; his breaking ball, especially, was a key pitch on the afternoon.
Of particular note are two buried breaking balls to Christian Yelich, who, despite missing the beginning of the season due to injury, has hit very well. Yelich swung through back-foot sliders in the first and again in the third, two of the best pitches Darvish threw on the afternoon. A slow curve to catch Manny Piña looking also stood out, as Darvish has failed to incorporate pitches beyond his fastball and slider this season. Darvish threw some cutters, some curves, and generally kept Milwaukee hitters off balance.
Darvish’s velocity and movement were among the best they have been this season. His fastball, of the two- and four-seam varieties, ranged from 92 to 96, showing life up in the zone and finding the corners often. One couldn’t ask for a much more encouraging outing from the new Cubs starter. Maybe he could pitch to Milwaukee hitters all year.
Top Play (WPA): The pivotal frame in this one proved to be the seventh. After home plate umpire Stu Scheurwater (say it three times, fast) squeezed Steve Cishek, the righty surrendered a walk, a single, and a walk, recording only one out before Joe Maddon summoned Brian Duensing.
Duensing got Yelich to fly deep to right—what might have been a grand slam under different weather conditions—that scored Eric Sogard, and Pedro Strop finished the inning promptly.
In the bottom half, the Cubs put runners on first and third following an Addison Russell single, a Jason Heyward sac bunt, and a Victor Caratini pinch-hit single. With two outs, Javier Báez bounced a fairly routine grounder to Sogard’s left, but the Brewers shortstop could not corral the ball, and the Cubs took the lead (+.191).
Bottom Play (WPA): Before Báez plated Russell, Albert Almora struck out (-.116). However, Almora and Báez both lengthened their hitting streaks to 10 games.
Up Next: With Milwaukee looking to find their bats, the Cubs send Josè Quintana to the rubber, opposite righty Junior Guerra. Being Saturday, the game begins at 1:20 CT. Quintana looks to continue the Cubs’ impressive run of good pitching; the bats have been quieter, but the starters have picked them up for the first time this year. Hopefully Kris Bryant will be in the lineup for the first time since early this week.
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports