The Cubs entered Friday’s series opener against the Atlanta Braves at an underwhelming 6-6, thanks to some inconsistent offense and less-than-stellar pitching performances. There have been some impressive games, but five of the first 12 games have resulted in three runs or less being scored.
Starting pitchers have only had six quality starts thus far. When pitching helped carry the team during the 2016 regular season, the staff had quality starts in over 61 percent of games. Small sample sizes skew this years data, but for a team that prides itself on having a deep pitching staff, it’s something that needs to change in order for the team to start winning.
Enter Yu Darvish, the prize free agent acquisition this off-season. The 31-year-old survived a rough outing in the opening series against the Marlins and had an impressive performance last Saturday against the division rival Brewers. Darvish took the mound on a dreary Friday afternoon with threats of rain looming, hoping to right the ship for the Northsiders.
Darvish found himself in trouble in each of the first two innings, but managed to strand five runners without surrendering a run. Despite not having the typical movement on his pitches, Darvish settled in and had a quick third inning, before the Cubs stranded three of their own in the bottom of the inning.
Darvish continued to grind through the early part of the game in the fourth inning thanks to a runner’s interference call against Braves pitcher Anibal Sanchez. With Dansby Swanson running from second on the pitch, Sanchez laid down a two-out bunt. Willson Contreras leapt out from behind the plate and launched his patented rocket toward the undoubtedly petrified Kris Bryant at first. The throw bounced off of Sanchez’s helmet (at nearly 90 mph) and down the line. Fortunately for the Cubs, Sanchez was running in fair territory and ruled to be the third out of the inning.
Darvish’s grinding was unable prevent Ozzie Albies from scoring in the fifth, when a balk and a wild pitch allowed the young second baseman to score the first run of the game. The Braves refused to stop their, however, with Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki getting hits and Preston Tucker squeaking a ball inside the right field foul pole to make it a four run game, all with two outs.
Darvish, visually frustrated, then proceeded to load the bases before being pulled for Brian Duensing. The lefty managed to induce a grounder to end the inning, leaving Darvish with a stat line of: 4.2 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 105 pitches.
Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards Jr., and Brandon Morrow all threw scoreless innings in relief, but the story of the day was the inability of the offense to mount a major threat after the second inning.
The team managed just four hits all day long, and coaxed just one walk. With Anthony Rizzo expected to remain out until at least the Cardinals series on Monday, the Cubs will need to find a spark this weekend to break out of their offensive woes.
With the exception of the fifth inning, the Braves weren’t able to get into much of a rhythm either, but that was all Atlanta needed, winning the game 4-0.
Jose Quintana hopes to put the team on his back Saturday afternoon at 1:20 PM as the Cubs take on Sean Newcomb and the Braves. The game will be on NBC Sports Chicago, and on the radio at 670 the Score.
Feature Photo Credit: Photo: Chicago Cubs/MLB Advanced Media