One month into season, Darvish trade continues to be painful for Cubs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Zach Davies -- who the team got in the Yu Darvish trade -- throws in the first inning Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Zach Davies -- who the team got in the Yu Darvish trade -- throws in the first inning Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/1/2021 9:34 PM

No one expected the Cubs to be better without pitcher Yu Darvish.

It's pretty clear the trade with San Diego was a cost-cutting move by the Cubs. But they were hoping a balanced starting rotation could still be competitive.

 

A month into the season, though, the Cubs' record is 12-15 after beating Cincinnati 3-2 on Saturday, and their starting pitchers rank second-to-last in MLB with a 5.70 ERA.

Meanwhile, Darvish has picked up where he left off last season with the Cubs, when he finished second in Cy Young voting. Darvish is 3-1 with a 2.13 ERA for the Padres.

A couple of things stand out when looking back at the Darvish trade. Only the Cubs' accountants know the team's true financial situation after the pandemic lost revenue, heavy renovations to the stadium and all the urban renewal in Wrigleyville.

But Darvish's contract is actually a pretty good value based on his production. He'll make $22 million this season, and the yearly salary is set to decrease to $19 million and $18 million over the next two seasons.

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In comparison, 10 pitchers will make more than $30 million this season, led by Dodgers free-agent signee Trevor Bauer, who will make $38-40 million, depending on whether he opts out.

Darvish is the 13th highest-paid pitcher in the majors. The other pitchers making more than $30 million are Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale. The Dodgers and Nationals both have three pitchers on their rosters who make more than Darvish.

In return for Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini, the Cubs got some young prospects back from the Padres, along with pitcher Zach Davies.

Davies started Saturday and kept the Cubs in the game. He gave up 2 runs in the first inning, one was unearned, and left the bases loaded in the third and fourth innings. Davies exited after four, making it five straight games where he didn't complete 5 innings, and his season ERA is now 8.22.

As anyone who follows baseball knows, major league pitching staffs are loaded with hard-throwers. The Cubs regularly see 96 to 98 miles per hour on the mound, but on their own staff, Adbert Alzolay is the only starter who can get to even the mid-90s.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When it comes to velocity, Davies and Kyle Hendricks typically peak at around 88 miles per hour. Relative to the rest of the league, they are two of the lightest throwers and both are off to poor starts.

It's worth asking, do Davies and Hendricks lose their effectiveness without a hard-thrower in the rotation? Hendricks typically worked the day before or after Darvish last year, while Davies was effective in San Diego last season.

"I think when you mix in a guy that throws 97 next to a guy that throws 87, the hitter has to adjust a little bit from night to night," Cubs manager David Ross said. "I think that's something that has been on our radar and there's not really much we can do about that. We don't have anybody that's a starter waiting anywhere that throws 97.

"So I would think for me, I would say our guys that are the Kyles and the Zachs, that are location pitchers and execution pitchers, haven't been executing. I think that's where I would start with that."

One bit of good news is the Cubs bullpen has been getting better. On Saturday, Rex Brothers, Dan Winkler, Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera kept the Reds in check. Then closer Craig Kimbrel recorded his 18th consecutive scoreless outing, even after giving up a pair of singles to start the inning.

Earlier this week, Kris Bryant was asked about potential rule changes to counter the hard-throwing pitchers and add more offense to the game. He may have indirectly pinpointed a Cubs' problem.

"How I would put it is there were a lot more comfortable at-bats (when he first got to the majors in 2015)," Bryant said. "Now there aren't very many comfortable at-bats. It's not like you can really formulate a great approach off a lot of these guys because it's just overpowering at times."

Opposing batters might already be too comfortable against the Cubs' contrarian, softer-throwing rotation.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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