The race for the crown in the most competitive division in MLB, the NL Central, is heating up as an unseen ever before battle not only inside the division, but with all four contenders looking for a wild card spot. The Cubs are currently half a game behind the St Louis Cardinals, with the Milwaukee Brewers just two and a half games behind. Cincinnati Reds are eight back after underperforming in 2019 despite a top rotation.
Chicago has had its fare share of difficulties but the Cubs have still won 11 of their last 20. And during that stretch, they just couldn’t stay consistent and capitalise on a solid offence, driven by the important upgrade that was Nicholas Castellanos, and an even better bullpen – 4.11 ERA in that span is the 3rd best in the National League. In addition, Cubs relievers have converted five of eight save opportunities.
Despite that, what’s going to decide the division will probably be good starting pitching. Something that the Cardinals have gotten going in August, and a department where the Brewers have struggled mightily since Brandon Woodruff went on the Injured List on July 21st. But the Cubs – they have something big brewing on the mound, considering the stretches that Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish have had.
For the Colombian pitcher it was time for a change after another terrible outing in a 10-2 loss to the Mets at Wrigley Field on June 22nd, which saw his record fall to 4-7. He was frustrated, but he wasn’t going to give up. And he didn’t.
Since then the former White Sox starter has been the winningest pitcher in the NL with a 7-0 record in nine starts and has a 2.96 ERA, the 30th-best in MLB during that span. He’s walked just seven batters, no more than two in a single game. Very few players turn around their season like Quintana has. The Cubs are 8-1 in his latest nine appearances on the mound, while they were 1-8 in his previous nine starts, and Quintana’s ERA is now down to 4.07 on the year.
Quintana and the incredible way he’s played lately can’t be more important in the Cubs’ situation. The former All-Star finished tenth in the 2016 Cy Young award voting and pitched well after being traded for by the Cubs with a 7-3 record and 3.74 ERA in 17 starts in the second half of the 2017 season, and also had two starts in the Divisional Series. If he helps the Cubs in their surge for a deep playoff run, he can finally justify giving up Eloy Jimenez in that trade to their Chicago rivals.
The case with Yu Darvish has been the same. However, the former Texas Ranger and four-time All-Star has had less luck and run support, pitching to just a 2-2 record in eight brilliant starts, giving up only two bases on balls. And both of them have had a sub-3.00 ERA since the middle of July.
The rest of the rotation – Jon Lester, Cole Hamels and Kyle Hendricks, have been pretty solid with a 3.77 ERA in 2019 and a bit more consistent than Quintana and Darvish. But that does in no way lessen the impact of their streaks and their importance for the team’s short-term success.
Kris Bryant’s numbers are close to his MVP campaign. Castellanos has had quite the start to life as a Cub, hitting .348 with 8 homers in 17 games. The North side’s rotation since the break has been the third-best in the NL – if Quintana and Darvish can keep their winning ways, Chicago has a potentially top rotation. Not only is that incredibly valuable for October, but also is an advantage in the National League Central division race in comparison to two teams who either don’t have that as a consistent component or don’t have that going for them at all.