This felt like September baseball, and yes I know it’s September, but this series had all the implications of a “normal” September. Cubs in first place, chased by the Cardinals, five-game series at Wrigley Field...
The Cubs made an emphatic statement of who’s in charge in the NL Central with a 4-1 win over the Cardinals that featured outstanding performances by Yu Darvish and Willson Contreras.
Let’s start with Willson, although his heroics were set up with a terrific at-bat from Jason Heyward. With two out and runners on first and second in the first inning, this is what Heyward did to Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty:
That loaded the bases for Contreras, who had an even better at-bat:
That really set the tone for the game. 17 pitches in just two at-bats, and the Cubs made Flaherty throw 43 pitches in the inning.
In the third, with runners on first and third, Willson came through again [VIDEO].
That was it for Flaherty, just the seventh time in 71 career starts he failed to complete three innings.
Meanwhile, Darvish was mowing down Cardinals. He retired the first 15 he faced, eight by strikeout, some with ridiculous pitches like this:
Yu Darvish, K'ing the side.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 5, 2020
8Ks thru 5. pic.twitter.com/oKkGlRirXh
Cubs nemesis Matt Carpenter ruined any thoughts of a perfect game, no-hitter and shutout by leading off the sixth with a home run.
That hanging curveball from Jake Woodford was sent a long, long way:
Darvish completed seven innings, throwing 69 strikes in 101 pitches, striking out 11 and allowing just the home run as the only hit off him. He lowered his ERA to 1.44 and has walked eight (!) and struck out 63 in 50 innings this season. Can’t say enough good things about Yu, he has been not just the Cubs’ ace but at this point he’s also a leading contender for the Cy Young Award. He might get some MVP consideration, too — at this moment his 2.4 bWAR ranks fifth among all National League players behind Mookie Betts, Zac Gallen, Max Fried and Fernando Tatis Jr. Per Fangraphs, he leads all NL pitchers in WAR (2.3).
This is how good he was:
Yu Darvish has logged 7 starts of 6+ IP and 1/0 runs allowed this season.— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) September 5, 2020
The last pitchers to have that many such starts through their team’s first 40 games of a season:
Overall: Ervin Santana, 2017
NL: Mario Soto, 1985
Cubs: Hippo Vaughn, 1919 pic.twitter.com/UQ6QHIIbtK
Cubs manager David Ross said the first-pitch strikes from Darvish really stood out on Friday night. He threw 17 out of 22.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 5, 2020
"The way he command the strike zone with his secondary pitches is some of the best I've ever seen." pic.twitter.com/am0ceDBPIG
Darvish said in past years he might have 3-4 issues per start. This year? Maybe one. Today's issue, four-seamers to righties.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 5, 2020
"But I have a lot of cutters -- three or four kinds of cutters. Two kinds of sliders. Or three kinds of curveballs. So I can replace the four-seam."
Darvish, always thinking about 10 steps ahead of anyone else on the field. Plus, he flashed his sense of humor after the game:
Reporter: Is this the best you've pitched?— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) September 5, 2020
Yu: Yeah, for sure.
Reporter: You've made four All-Star games, does it compare to any other point in your career?
Yu: Three times better than before.
Rowan Wick threw a scoreless eighth and Jeremy Jeffress issued a one-out walk in the ninth, but ended the game on this slick double play [VIDEO].
I love the way Javier Baez realized he didn’t have time to step on second and get the out at first, so he just touched the base with the ball. Javy, always thinking 10 steps ahead of everyone else on the field. Now let’s hope he gets his bat untracked in the final three weeks of the season.
The Cubs increased their NL Central lead to 4½ games with the win. The Brewers, who won Friday, and the Cardinals are both 4½ games behind, but Milwaukee leads St. Louis by three percentage points. The Cubs stand as the only team in the division over .500 heading into Saturday’s games and are currently the No. 2 seed for the NL playoffs. If I have calculated these correctly, the Cubs’ magic numbers stand as follows (correct me if I’m wrong, please):
Division title: 23
Second place: 19
Wild card: 21
The Cubs and Cardinals will play a doubleheader Saturday, the Cubs’ last doubleheader (barring rainouts or COVID-19 issues) for 2020. St. Louis, meanwhile, will have at least six more twin bills after Saturday. Adbert Alzolay will start Game 1 against Adam Wainwright. Cubs manager David Ross says Game 2 will be a “bullpen game,” though no specific starter has yet been named. It could wind up being Colin Rea, or possibly Tyson Miller, who started Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Cardinals last month. Dakota Hudson will start Game 2 for the Cardinals. First pitch for Game 1 will be at 4:15 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network. The games will also be carried on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Cardinals market territories.