Yu Darvish added another seven scoreless innings Friday night to a 12-start season he finished off with a 2.01 ERA, helping move the Cubs within a victory (or Cardinals) loss of clinching a division title.
Now comes the hard part.
The playoffs? That, too.
The way Darvish looked Friday, pitching in the playoffs is going to be easy.
Especially compared to the picking a Cy Young Award winner in the National League this year.
One voting member of the Chicago media even asked Cubs manager David Ross who he would select if he had a vote.
“It’d go to my guy. What are you talking about?” Ross said. “I’d give all my guys every award I could.”
As big-hearted as that might be, it doesn’t help.
Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer (5-4) leads the league with a 1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 100 strikeouts and two shutouts and has only three fewer innings than Darvish despite one fewer start.
When Bauer got done beating the Brewers with eight dominant innings on short rest Wednesday, he was asked whether he’d done enough to win the Cy Young.
“I don’t know how you could see it any other way,” Bauer said — which helped the decision about as much as Ross’ response.
As far as Darvish (8-3) is concerned, he told the same voter two weeks ago to “stop asking me” about the award.
Obviously, it was OK to ask after his final start, on Friday?
“No,” Darvish said.
Even though he won’t start again until the playoffs and the votes are due before then?
“The season’s still not over,” he said. “I could pitch one more game.”
If he’s going to let his pitching talk for him, Darvish will have plenty to say about October if it looks anything like it did Friday, when he said he regained the feel for his cutter — and regained the dominance that made him the league’s Pitcher of the Month in August.
“I have to just keep pitching like I did today,” said Darvish, who ran off seven straight starts allowing one run or none until a three-start stretch that included two losses and a 4.26 ERA — before Friday.
He’s lined up for what’s likely a Game 2 playoff start behind Kyle Hendricks, but the Cubs also have the flexibility to manipulate the order since Wednesday’s opener would fall on Darvish’s natural fifth day.
Either way, that’s still not as tough a choice as the Cy Young will be this year — with Atlanta’s Max Fried, the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw among those worth considering on a five-man ballot.
Of course, the bottom of all this Cy Young talk for the Cubs is just another way of saying they have at least a puncher’s chance for a deep October run with a starter of that caliber near the front of the playoff rotation — even with a lineup that has struggled all year (Friday’s homer parade notwithstanding).
“I thought he was really sharp today,” said Ross, who on Friday was back to watching the pitcher he called a “stud” and stopper and “elite” earlier this season.
In fact, Friday’s victory was Darvish’s fifth after a Cubs loss — allowing just one run in 33 combined innings in those starts (0.27 ERA).
And FanGraphs has him ranked first in the National League in pitching WAR after Friday, his 76 innings second only to teammate Kyle Hendricks’ 81 1/3. And he’s striking out 11.1 per nine innings with only 14 walks in the 12 starts.
“This season is different than a usual season,” he said of the pandemic-shortened season that has required more than 40 individual tests for COVID-19 among the mandatory safety protocols. “But for me, I don’t feel any difference. I felt great my first [eight] starts and the last three didn’t feel good. But the last start of the season I felt very great.
“I’m happy for everything this season.”
Even for his manager’s Cy Young support. Even if it came with a little sarcasm.
“Yeah,” he said, with apparent deadpan humor behind his mask during the Zoom session. “I’m so happy.”