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Cubs 4, Padres 1: Yu Darvish’s afternoon — KKꓘKꓘꓘꓘKꓘKKKKꓘ

Yu Darvish was a strikeout machine and the Cubs looked good in taking the final game of the road trip.

Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Right now, if the Cubs needed to win a wild-card game on the road, I think I’d choose Yu Darvish to start it.

Darvish struck out 14, his most as a Cub and one short of his career high, in a completely dominating performance and the Cubs took the final game of the series from the Padres 4-1.

Of the 22 batters Darvish faced, just six put the ball in play — two hits and four outs. It was an utterly dominating performance, strikeouts on fastballs, cutters, curveballs — if I haven’t said this before, and I probably have, this is the Darvish the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him in the 2017-18 offseason.

It’s also the first time since he’s been a Cub that his ERA has been below 4, as he finished the game with it at 3.97. Since the All-Star break: 2.44 ERA, 0.784 WHIP, six walks and 93 (!) strikeouts in 66⅓ innings. He is the staff ace right now. Also:

The Cubs’ new-look lineup with Anthony Rizzo leading off paid dividends in the first inning. Rizzo drew a leadoff walk and one out later was singled to third by Kyle Schwarber. Kris Bryant’s sacrifice fly gave the Cubs the lead [VIDEO].

I mean, this is not rocket science. Rizzo seems to like leading off and he’s good at it. Please, Joe: let him lead off unless Ben Zobrist is starting. That seems to be the best combination.

Darvish, meanwhile, was mowing down Padres hitters. He struck out the side in the second and in the third, the Cubs extended their lead. Schwarber walked and Bryant singled. Victor Caratini flied to left, and then, in a bit of a risky move, both runners took off while Jason Heyward was at bat on a full count. Heyward struck out, but the throw to third was late, so it counted as a double steal. I say “counted” because neither Schwarber (two steals this year) nor Bryant (four) is a speed merchant.

The Cubs took advantage of that baserunning thanks to Ian Happ [VIDEO].

Happ’s solid two-run single to right-center made it 3-0 Cubs.

Darvish then struck out six of the last eight hitters he faced, sandwiched around two walks in the fifth. With the last two Padres in the fourth also striking out, that means none of the last 10 hitters Darvish faced put the ball in play and he recorded his last eight outs by strikeout. Here is strikeout number 10 [VIDEO], Darvish’s 200th of the season.

The 14 K’s give Darvish 204 for the season. He’s the first Cub to strike out at least 200 in a season since Jake Arrieta (236) and Jon Lester (207) did it in 2015.

The Cubs put one more on the board in the seventh. Heyward doubled to right and Happ put down a nicely-placed bunt single. One out later, Zobrist drove in the fourth Cubs run [VIDEO].

When you hear the phrase “productive out,” think of that play. Zobrist hit a slow grounder to the right side, too slow for the Padres to turn a double play, and Heyward scored to make it 4-0.

Darvish departed after six innings with 110 pitches (73 strikes), and among other things, accomplished this:

Kyle Ryan got into a bit of trouble in the seventh with a leadoff walk, but then he got Ty France to strike out and then induced a double-play ball. He also allowed a leadoff single in the eighth, and after that got another DP ground ball, two nice innings of work.

Rowan Wick made things far too exciting in a bad way in the ninth inning, loading the bases on a couple of hits and a walk and hitting Manny Machado with a pitch to give the Padres a run before striking out Luis Urias to end it.

The Brewers won their game Thursday afternoon, finishing a four-game sweep of the Marlins, to keep pace with the Cubs. The teams remain tied for the second wild-card spot, four games behind the Cardinals, who defeated the Rockies Thursday afternoon.

Milwaukee and St. Louis meet for a three-game series in St. Louis this weekend, the last time those two teams will meet this year, raising the question: Who do you want to win those games?

And I’m just going to leave this right here:

Blue alternate: 15-28
Road gray: 15-18

Yes, I know the jersey has nothing to do with how the team plays. But as a superstitious baseball player, which one would you rather wear for road games? (NOTE: the numbers don’t add up to the road record of 31-44 because they wore the blue for two games at Wrigley, both losses, and they wore the Little League jersey for the road win at Williamsport in August.)

The Cubs open the final homestand, 10 games, Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, with the first of a three-game series against the Pirates. Since there’s a long flight back from San Diego, game time Friday is 3:05 p.m. CT. (That’s not a change, it’s always been scheduled that way.) Jon Lester will start for the Cubs and Steven Brault will go for the Pirates. TV coverage Friday is on NBC Sports Chicago and nationally on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories.