It could be up to Yu Darvish to save the Chicago Cubs’ season.
Darvish, who signed a six-year, $126 million contract with the Cubs in February 2018, will start Friday against the visiting Miami Marlins in Game 2 of a best-of-three National League first-round series.
Miami, which won the series opener 5-1 on Wednesday, will counter Darvish with rookie right-hander Sixto Sanchez, 22.
Game 2 had been scheduled for Thursday before the contest was postponed due to the threat of bad weather. If the Cubs level the series Friday, the decisive Game 3 would be played Saturday afternoon.
Darvish, 34, has had a strong season, posting the best ERA (2.01) of his eight-year major league career. He went 8-3 in 12 starts, leading the NL in wins during the abbreviated season.
Better yet for Darvish, he has a 2.40 ERA with 211 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 157 2/3 innings since the 2019 All-Star break.
“I feel like I have two aces with Yu and Kyle,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, who started Game 1.
However, Darvish has yet to prove himself in the playoffs, posting a 5.81 ERA and a 2-4 record in six postseason starts. This will be his first playoff start for the Cubs.
Darvish also has another negative trend working against him — a 6.08 ERA in five career appearances against the Marlins.
Sanchez went 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA in seven starts after making his major league debut on Aug. 22. With a fastball that averages 98.6 mph and touches 100, Sanchez had a 1.69 ERA through five starts, making him a candidate for Rookie of the Year.
However, in his final two starts of the regular season, Sanchez allowed nine runs in seven innings.
“Hopefully, he’s on the attack (on Friday),” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Sanchez, who has never faced the Cubs. “Sixto’s stuff is as good as anybody’s. He throws strikes with everything. We’re going to push him to be aggressive (on Friday).”
A factor for Game 2 will be the health of Marlins center fielder Starling Marte, who was hit by a 92 mph Dan Winkler fastball in the ninth inning of Game 1. Marte, struck on his left hand, left the game, and he reportedly underwent an X-ray that revealed a non-displaced fracture in his pinkie, per multiple media outlets.
The 31-year-outfielder reportedly is considered day-to-day, and there is a possibility he could return for Game 2.
“Star has been hit three times on that hand since we acquired him (on Aug. 31 from the Arizona Diamondbacks),” Mattingly said. “And he got hit in the head the other day.
“He’s been like a target almost, but he’s been bouncing back from everything. Hopefully we get good results (with the MRI).”
Weather is another factor. Wednesday’s game was played in rough conditions — a 30 mph wind blowing in various directions and some early rain. In the late innings, batters had to see the ball through shadows.
Pop flies were also an adventure. Marlins catcher Chad Wallach caught one after a bobble, and Miami second baseman Jon Berti made a grab after racing 94 feet, according to game analytics.
But the Cubs — who were favored to win this series by virtue of being the third seed as compared to No. 6 for Miami — have to win on Friday, no matter the weather, or their season is over.
The Cubs won 103 games and the World Series in 2016, then won more than 90 in each of the next two seasons. But Chicago hasn’t won a playoff series since 2017, and now it is in danger of being eliminated by a Marlins team that lost 105 games last season and started the first week of 2020 with 18 players having tested positive for coronavirus.
The Cubs will need to get their bats going, too, as they had just four hits on Wednesday, including a solo homer by Ian Happ. Cubs stars Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Wilson Contreras and Javier Baez combined to go 2-for-20 on Wednesday.
Those six batters hit a total of 170 homers last year.
Perhaps working in Miami’s favor: The Marlins, who won the World Series in 1997 and again in 2003, have never lost a playoff series.
–Field Level Media