The Chicago Cubs figured the margin for error would be slim with their former teammate on the mound. San Diego Padres right-hander Yu Darvish
’s start Wednesday represented the first meeting between the two sides since the Cubs traded the 34-year-old in the offseason. The two runs the Cubs managed off Darvish were enough, with the decisive run in their 3-1 victory scoring on Anthony Rizzo
’s double play in the seventh inning. Wednesday represented only the second time in 12 starts the Padres have lost with Darvish on the mound. Sergio Alcántara tacked on a solo home run in the eighth as the Cubs secured the series win. Career Cardinals (3,905 games' worth) Wainwright, Molina, Carpenter provide early spark in win over Cleveland. O'Neill pounds two home runs totaling 880 feet. “We’ve had little moments like that that can’t be understated, all year where guys are just getting big hits,” manager David Ross said. Following Thursday’s off day, the Cubs will host the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field where the ballpark capacity returns to 100%
. The Cubs won’t see the Padres again this year unless they face off in the postseason; they went 5-1 against the Padres in 2021. Here are 3 takeaways from the series.
1. A strong performance salvages the West Coast trip — and puts the Cubs back on track.
Losing three of four games in San Francisco to kick off the Cubs’ two-city West Coast trip was not the momentum they were hoping to ride as winners in 14 of their last 17 games before hitting the road. Dropping the series opener Monday against the Padres had the potential to derail the Cubs. The West Coast trip kicked off a stretch of 21 of the Cubs’ next 29 games on the road. They’ve shown resiliency since recovering from a slow start and, so far, overcoming injuries as unheralded players and young pitchers are getting an opportunity. “Winning the series on the road against these guys after we swept them at home (last week), that was really big,” right-hander Jake Arrieta said Wednesday. “That says a lot about our team, having had a lot of guys banged up and guys coming and going and being able to pick up for the guys that are out of the lineup for an extended period of time. We’ve had a lot of guys do some really great things for us and this series was no different.” Five of the Cubs’ next six series oppose teams with winning records. Going 3-4 on their West Coast trip isn’t a setback after their strong finish in San Diego. But it doesn’t get easier from here.
2. Ian Happ’s team-first attitude gives the Cubs additional defensive flexibility.
An old position became familiar again for Ian Happ in the series finale in San Diego. Happ started at second base for the first time since Sept. 12, 2019 — which also oddly came against the Padres at Petco Park. He told Ross last week he could play in the infield and do whatever was needed to help the team. Happ took ground balls at second and got some work in ahead of his start. With Javier Báez (hand) banged up during the Padres series, the limited options up the middle presented an opportunity for Happ to return to a spot he’s comfortable playing. “That’s the kind of player he is,” Ross said this week. “We’ve got a lot of those guys. (Kris Bryant) we talk about moving around, doing what’s best for the team, Happer same thing.” Ross didn’t rule out Happ getting time at second beyond Wednesday, noting the health of the team and balancing personnel and his options will play a role moving forward. Depth and defensive versatility have been a key factor en route to the Cubs’ climb up the standings despite injuries. Happ’s willingness to move between center field and second base can help Ross put together the type of lineups the team continues to get healthy.
3. Better starts provide glimpses of consistency and give the Cubs bullpen a break.
The Cubs bullpen remains a strength of the first-place team, but their effectiveness is at risk from being overworked. Heading into Thursday’s off day, Cubs relievers have combined to throw 243 ⅓ innings this season, fourth-most in the majors. Even so, the bullpen’s 2.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) ranks third best in baseball. Ross rightfully trusts his relievers, especially when they are charged with maintaining a lead as the bridge from when the starter exits to the end of the game. Right-hander Adbert Alzolay’s blister on his middle finger forced him to leave Monday’s series-opening loss before recording an out in the fourth inning. It could have carried bigger implications for the final two games of the series with how Ross might have opted to manage his bullpen arms. But Zach Davies delivered one of his best starts of the season — six shutout innings with only one hit allowed in Tuesday’s 7-1 win — and Jake Arrieta followed with five innings in Wednesday’s victory, holding San Diego to one run in the process. “(Yu) Darvish is really good, he’s tough to beat every time he’s out there so I had to limit damage,” Arrieta said. The Cubs need more consistency and value from their starting pitchers, whose combined 1.0 WAR is last in the big leagues. Before Arrieta went five innings Wednesday, the rotation had averaged 4.9 innings per start this year with six teams, including the Padres, averaging fewer; the best rotations are at 5.3 IP/GS or higher.
22 photos from Chicago Cubs opening day
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-1-TB.jpg Cubs fans cheer for their team on opening day at Wrigley Field on April 1, 2021.
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-2-TB.jpg Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Ian Happ watch the end of the team's loss to the Pirates on April 1, 2021, on opening day at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-3-TB.jpg Cubs fans watch the team leave the field after a loss to the Pirates on April 1, 2021, on opening day at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-4-TB.jpg The Pirates celebrate their win over the Cubs on April 1, 2021, on opening day at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-5-TB.jpg Cubs pinch hitter Matt Duffy leans out of the way in the seventh inning against the Pirates on April 1, 2021, on opening day at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-6-TB.jpg Cubs second baseman Eric Sogard scores behind Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings in the eighth inning on April 1, 2021, on opening day at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-7-TB.jpg Cubs shortstop Javier Baez strikes out in the seventh inning against the Pirates on April 1, 2021, on opening day at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-8-TB.jpg Cubs relief pitcher Ryan Tepera delivers to the plate in the eighth inning against the Pirates on April 1, 2021, on opening day at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-9-TB.jpg Cubs fans stay warm on April 1, 2021, on opening day at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-COLUMN-A-DISMAL-OPENING-DAY-10-TB.jpg Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward carries a Chicago flag onto the field before facing the Pirates at Wrigley Field on April 1, 2021.
US-NEWS-WITH-ASSIST-FROM-MAYOR-LIGHTFOOT-1-TB.jpg Mayor Lori Lightfoot throws out a ceremonial first pitch before the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates play on April 8, 2019, in the home opener at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-FOR-CHICAGO-CUBS-FANS-WHO-8-TB.jpg Fans walks outside Wrigley Field before the Chicago Cubs play the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 1, 2021.
SPORTS-FOR-CHICAGO-CUBS-FANS-WHO-7-TB.jpg Chicago Cubs fans arrive as the gates open to face the Pittsburgh Pirates, April 1, 2021, on opening day at Wrigley Field.
SPORTS-FOR-CHICAGO-CUBS-FANS-WHO-6-TB.jpg A fan uses a touchless ticket scan to enter Wrigley Field before the Chicago Cubs play the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 1, 2021.
SPORTS-FOR-CHICAGO-CUBS-FANS-WHO-5-TB.jpg Fans look at their phones outside Wrigley Field in Chicago before the Chicago Cubs play the Pittsburgh Pirates, April 1, 2021.
SPORTS-FOR-CHICAGO-CUBS-FANS-WHO-4-TB.jpg A man walks past a T-shirt vendor outside Wrigley Field in Chicago before the Chicago Cubs play the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 1, 2021.
SPORTS-FOR-CHICAGO-CUBS-FANS-WHO-3-TB.jpg Danielle Morin, left, talks with her mom, Bianca Morin, outside Wrigley Field on April 1, 2021 in Chicago.,
SPORTS-FOR-CHICAGO-CUBS-FANS-WHO-2-TB.jpg A man dressed as former Cubs player Frank Chance holds the leash of a dog named Winter while he looks at another dog outside Wrigley Field on April 1, 2021.
SPORTS-FOR-CHICAGO-CUBS-FANS-WHO-1-TB.jpg Fans walk outside Wrigley Field before the Chicago Cubs play the Pittsburgh Pirates during opening day festivities on April 1, 2021. Last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced more than 8,000 fans, 20% of capacity, will be allowed into the stands to watch the Cubs home opener.
SPORTS-FOR-CHICAGO-CUBS-FANS-WHO-10-TB.jpg Fans walks outside Wrigley Field before the Chicago Cubs play the Pittsburgh Pirates, April 1, 2021.