FALL IS IN THE AIR — AND IT FEELS FESTIVE
PROMISING SIGNS AS CUBS, DARVISH TOP CARDINALS TO OPEN FIVE-GAME SERIES
The feeling hit right fielder Jason Heyward before the Cubs’ 4-1 victory over the Cardinals on Friday night — the first in a five-game series at Wrigley Field, in the middle of a long stretch against National League Central opponents.
“It feels like September,” Heyward said. “That’s what it feels like to me. That’s something I say with excitement.”
Over the last two seasons, September hasn’t exactly been exciting for the Cubs. However, the Yu Darvish of this season is something they should be thrilled about — and he’ll be a major factor if this September is different than the last one.
Darvish, the July-August NL pitcher of the month, retired the first 15 Cardinals batters he faced Friday before Matt Carpenter started the sixth inning with a home run. Though his bid for a perfect game bid didn’t survive, Darvish’s Cy Young chances are alive and well.
Not that he’s fixated on that.
“If I start thinking that, I will fail,” the right-hander said.
Carpenter was the only baserunner Darvish allowed on a night when he went seven innings, striking out 11. He won his career-best seventh straight start and lowering his NL-leading ERA to 1.44.
“The way he commands the strike zone with his secondary pitches is some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He can really do it. And you’ve got to respect the 95 [mph], the 97 he’s got in his back pocket.”
Meanwhile, the Cubs’ offense dispatched Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty (2-1) after 2 ⅔ innings. Willson Contreras had a two-run single in the first, an RBI single in the third and a solo home run in the sixth.
The Cubs did that despite another of their most important pieces not playing. A day after a foul ball bounced off the ground and hit him in the right eye, outfielder Ian Happ was not in the lineup. Happ, who’s having a breakout season with 10 home runs and a .421 on-base percentage, was replaced at the top of the lineup by Kyle Schwarber.
Ross said Happ is day-to-day after seeing doctors Friday morning and undergoing a number of tests. The eye, Ross said, is still coming back, and the swelling wasn’t as bad as it was Thursday night.
“I think it’s going to be fine,” Ross said. “With everything he’s gone through, I just don’t think it’s smart to start him.”
Assuming the issue isn’t a long-term problem, Happ figures to be a part of the Cubs’ efforts to win the Central. Between now and the end of the season, they will have found out more about their group.
“September’s been a big month, and it’s a lot of things that you learn about your teammates, a lot about your club, and you get to see where things are going to stand and shake out heading into October,” Heyward said.
The five-game series with the Cardinals is just the latest obstacle in this shortened and bizarre season. Like many teams, the Cubs have had their share of injuries but also got help before the trade deadline that should at least provide depth down the stretch.
“I just look forward to having a chance to jell this month,” Heyward said. “Let’s once again test ourselves in another situation where we’ve got five games in four days. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a lot. But it’s going to be a lot of fun, and that’s what we have to continue to do, is have fun as a group.”
Darvish is certainly making things fun when he pitches.
“That was really fun to watch,” Ross said. ✶
Yu Darvish pitched seven innings Friday for his seventh straight win.