Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish hasn’t taken a major league mound since May 20, which may prove to be his final outing of the season. Darvish, who has been on the shelf for three months because of triceps and elbow injuries, left his Single-A rehab start on Sunday after throwing just one inning, Matthew Martell of MLB.com was among those to report. Darvish came out for the second inning, but he “was seen wincing” during his warmup, Martell writes, before indicating to the dugout that he needed to exit.
While Darvish had been making progress in recent weeks, this is now the second setback the 32-year-old has suffered since June 28, when he experienced pain during a bullpen session. Darvish’s departure Sunday came as a result of the same discomfort as his previous setback, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune tweets, adding that his next step is to go for an MRI.
Darvish is still holding out hope for a return in 2018, per Gonzales, but given the nature of his injury and the lack of time remaining in the campaign, that may not be realistic. If Darvish’s season is indeed over, it’ll go down as a disastrous year for someone who was widely regarded as the majors’ top free agent last winter. The Cubs signed the former Ranger and Dodger to a six-year, $126MM guarantee expecting him to continue serving as a front-line starter, but he has instead tossed just 40 innings in eight starts this season and posted a personal-worst ERA (4.95), FIP (4.86), xFIP (4.23) and walk rate (4.73 per nine).
Despite Darvish’s lack of contributions, the Cubs still lead the NL Central by four games over the archrival Cardinals, though it has been a less-than-ideal year in general for Chicago’s starting staff. Like Darvish, fellow established starters Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana have failed to produce great results, with ERAs ranging from 3.72 to 4.46 and a combined fWAR of 2.8 among the three of them. However, they’ve been downright ace-like compared to Tyler Chatwood, another of the Cubs’ disappointing free-agent signings from last winter.
Chatwood, whom the Cubs signed to a three-year, $38MM contract, owns a 5.22 ERA/5.56 FIP with a ghastly 8.23 walks per nine over 101 2/3 innings. The Cubs pulled him from their rotation a few weeks ago, only to start him again Saturday in what ended up as a two-inning, three-run, three-walk performance during a loss to Pittsburgh. Afterward, Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required) wrote that it’s tough to imagine Chatwood “throwing another meaningful pitch this season.” But whether that’ll be the case remains to be seen, especially considering the injuries to Darvish and effective swingman Mike Montgomery – who went to the disabled list Friday with shoulder inflammation.
For now, the saving grace of the Cubs’ rotation looks to be lefty Cole Hamels, whom they acquired in a trade with the Rangers prior to last month’s non-waiver deadline. Hamels, a longtime front-end starter, was mediocre for Texas this season, but he has been utterly brilliant as a Cub. Across four starts, the 34-year-old has logged an incredible .72 ERA with a 2.40 FIP, 8.28 K/9, 2.16 BB/9 and a 59 percent groundball rate.
Considering the shaky state of their rotation and their surmountable lead on a playoff spot, it’s possible the Cubs will look for more help on the trade market in the coming weeks. It would be difficult to make an impactful move, though, particularly with the NL playoff race being a crowded one and the Cubs behind several postseason hopefuls (including three division rivals) in the waiver pecking order.