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Series Preview: Yu Darvish is pitching better and the Cubs looked poised to make a run

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They’re catching the Giants at the perfect time.

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Yu Darvish has not been elite since returning from Tommy John surgery, but in the four seasons following the procedure (he missed all of 2015), he’s been good, but closer to fine (113 ERA+ in 436 IP); although, really, not much worse than his first three seasons (pre-Tommy John): 128 ERA+ in 545.1 IP.

I guess I’m trying to convince you that he’s still a talented pitcher with some of the coolest, weirdest, and nastiest stuff out there.

Closer-type stuff, and I’m happy to see it. He’s a personal favorite of mine. Don’t get me wrong: when the Dodgers traded for him, I thought it was a total bummer. When he absolutely shot them in the foot during the World Series, I was not bummed. When he signed with the Cubs? Back to bummed. And it looked like he was going to be lost forever in the morass of the Cubs.

He spent most of last year on the injured list with a sore tricep and it sure did look like his major league career had hit the skids. But he’s bounced back this year, making all his starts, pitching 109 innings so far, and posting a 100 ERA+. So, yeah, league average, but there are signs that the 32-year old is on the way back to that closer-type level of dominance.

Since June 1st, batters are hitting just .177/.234/.360 on a BAbip of .195. His ERA is just 3.75 over these eight starts (the Cubs are 4-4 in those games). Remarkably, he got his very first win in Wrigley Field as a member of the Cubs against the Reds in his most recent start: 6 IP 7 K 0 BB 2 H.

Yu’s problem has always been walks. Since his debut in 2012, his 3.47 BB/9 has been the 40th-worst in all of baseball. His 10.97 K/9, on the other hand, has been 4th-best. Since June 1st, he’s struck out 53 and walked only 9 in 48 innings (9.94 K/9 and 1.69 BB/9, respectively). His last two starts against the Pirates and aforementioned Reds have been stellar: 12 IP 0 runs, 15 K, 1 BB, 4 H — only one of those hits was an extra base hit (a double).

So, if he’s not back, then he’s at the very least pitching very well against solid teams. Are the Giants a solid team?

This three-game series against the Cubs would seem to be their last big test before the trade deadline. Another series win would make it very difficult to justify a huge sell-off and there would be a contingent of fans who might wonder why the new guy didn’t try to make the team better if they were on the verge of a playoff spot.

That’s an interesting debate we can have in a few days. Right now, though, the odds are overwhelmingly in the Cubs’ favor. Not just because Darvish pitches game two of the series, but because the Cubs are playing a lot better overall of late. They went 7-2 on their recent home stand and this Giants series will be the first three of a nine-game road trip. And these Cubs playing to the peak of their ability would, on paper, seem to be a much better team than the Giants.

It’s really hard to figure out just what the Giants have: a bunch of guys playing to their greatest projection(s) or playing well over their heads? A hot streak against a dozen teams who’ve gone into a funk? That’s hard to know and not worth figuring out. It’s enough to say that — again, on paper — Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and the Cubs’ rotation are much better than what the Giants have to offer.

On the other hand... the Cubs’ last nine-game road trip came before this most recent home stand of theirs. They went 3-6 against the Reds, Pirates, and White Sox. Surely, the Giants are at least as good as those teams. Surely, the Giants have a good shot at winning two of three against a team that has not been good on the road this year (18-27).

Hitter to watch

Anthony Rizzo (.465 wOBA) and Kris Bryant (.461) have been hot this month, while Javier Baez (.376) has been as good as he normally is, so ignoring those three for the moment, watch the heck out for Robel Garcia. He has split time between second base and left field since being called up on July 3rd.

He has also struck out in 38.2% of his 34 plate appearances and walked just 5.9%, but he’s hit three home runs and has a .425 wOBA. He’s a pesky switch-hitter. Seems like the exact kind of player who will give the Giants trouble... even if they somehow survive the Cubs’ trifecta of Baez-Bryant-Rizzo.

Pitcher to watch

Yes, watch Yu. More like behold Yu, but then also watch out for Brandon Kintzler in Chicago’s bullpen. He’s basically their Sam Dyson. His 2.21 ERA is also the lowest of that bunch, though Steve Cishek isn’t far behind (2.64 ERA). The Giants are going to need to get to someone in the bullpen if they don’t blowout a Cubs starter, and if they aren’t able to do that, it might be because Kintzler will have squashed any threat.

Prediction

There will be more speculation that the Giants are asking too much for Madison Bumgarner.