Cubs keep pace in the NL wild-card race with a 4-1 win over the Padres behind Yu Darvish’s 14 strikeouts

Yu Darvish (11) of the Chicago Cubs pitches during the second inning against the San Diego Padres on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019 at Petco Park in San Diego, Calif. (Denis Poroy/Getty Images/TNS)
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By Mark Gonzales Chicago Tribune (TNS)

SAN DIEGO — Manager Joe Maddon eschewed the thought of conducting a team meeting Thursday even after his Cubs fell into a tie with the resurgent Brewers for the second National League wild-card spot.

“I don’t see where the benefit of a meeting would come in right now,” said Maddon, who conducts three gatherings: before the season, around the All-Star break and before the start of the playoffs.

“I honestly don’t. There’s nothing new to be said.”

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And based on Yu Darvish’s performance in the second half, there are kernels of optimism even though the Cubs blew their 3 ½-game lead in the NL Central five weeks ago and are struggling to extend their string of consecutive playoff berths to five.

Darvish continued his mastery by striking out a season-high 14 and allowing only two hits in six innings as the Cubs held on for a 4-1 victory over the Padres and salvaged a split of their four-game series at Petco Park.

Pinch-hitter Manny Machado was hit by a pitch by Rowan Wick with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth, but Wick froze Luis Urias on a curve to end the game.

This marked the sixth time Darvish struck out at least 14. He struck out 14 five times with the Rangers in 2013, including a 15-strikeout performance Aug. 12, 2013, against the Astros.

Darvish became the first Cubs right-handed pitcher to strike out at least 14 since Mark Prior fanned 14 against the Reds on Sept. 30, 2004.

Since having his Sept. 1 start scratched because of right forearm tightness, Darvish has allowed five hits while striking out 21 in 11 innings. And in his 11 second-half starts, Darvish has posted a 2.44 ERA with 93 strikeouts and six walks in 66 1/3 innings.

Because of his dominance, Maddon allowed more wiggle room for Darvish, who threw five innings and 72 pitches in his last start against the Brewers on Sunday.

Darvish was dominant from the start, as his array of pitches peppered the strike zone and allowed him to retire the first eight batters before pitcher Dinelson Lamet hit a single off his foot.

Darvish earned his last eight outs on strikeouts, and those came in a timely manner. After allowing walks to Ty France and Luis Urias in the fifth, Darvish struck out pinch-hitter Manuel Margot to end the threat.

That marked the first time Darvish issued two walks in a start since June 26 against the Braves.

Greg Garcia led off the sixth with a triple, but Darvish struck out Nick Martini, Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer in succession to complete a 110-pitch effort — equaling his season high on April 27 at Arizona.

Without Ben Zobrist, Maddon opted for slugger Anthony Rizzo to bat leadoff for the third time this season. Rizzo responded by drawing a leadoff walk, advancing to third on a single by Kyle Schwarber (batting third for the first time this season) and scoring on a sacrifice fly by Kris Bryant.

That was the start of a calming effect after the Cubs were caught by the Brewers, prompting several players to express the need to win at any cost.

“Everyone likes anger at these moments or being upset,” Maddon said. “It’s just not the right way to do things. So far, it’s the continuing of the same process. I talk to them all the time. The coaches talk, we coach. We’re there to listen.

“A different method is not going to extrapolate what you’re looking for. We just need to go out there, get on top early and hold onto the lead. And we’ve done it pretty well at Wrigley. We haven’t done it anywhere else, and that’s kind of inexplicable.”

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