Not to take anything away from Yu Darvish — his stuff is among the best in the league, and there are perhaps not enough superlatives to describe it. He’s brilliant, dazzling, confoundingly good, and there is simply no way that the Texas Rangers would be in sole possession of one of the Wild Card spots entering into play on Friday without his 4.8 fWAR production this season.
Going down the stretch, however, the team is finding that they’re having to win in spite of him, as opposed to the Japanese hurler leading the way.
That’s been something that they’ve hard time doing, as Rangers fans can probably attest to. See, despite the number of flattering things that could be said about the gifted right-hander, there’s one more adjective that is perhaps most fitting of his recent performance: maddening.
Or, maddeningly inconsistent, to be more specific.
Yes, Darvish is still clearly capable of great things, but there’s no doubt that he’s showing some serious vulnerabilities in the month of September; and as much as that might sound like nitpicking on specific performances, the Rangers’ perilous hold on a Wild Card spot (just a half game up with four teams within three games) can afford no such margins of error.
Think the offense is the only reason why he’s 1-4 in his last seven starts despite a 3.40/1.26 ERA/WHIP and a 10.6 K/9? Well, you’d be mostly right, but when he’s walked three of more batters in four of them, that might cause an issue or two.
Still, as long as he’s going deep into games and giving the bullpen rest, that’s okay, right?
This is where the Jekyll and Hyde side of his game has really emerged in September. Including his latest turn on Thursday where his offense backed him up for his first W in over a month, Darvish has lasted just five complete innings twice in his last four starts … and he’s walked a whopping six batters in both of them, both season-highs.
No number of strikeouts is going to save a pitcher when they put that many batters on with free passes, I’m afraid. Whether it’s his season-low (monthly) 9.0 K/9 in the month of September, his season-high .220 BAA and 1.33 WHIP, there just no other way to put it: Darvish has not been as effective over his small-sample last 24 innings of work as he has been over the rest of the season.
The most frustrating thing about it? He definitely still has the ability to do it, as the two six-walk outings happen to bookend a pair of seven-inning, four-hit, one-run, one-walk gems that should have resulted in wins.
But, with the team in dire need of their ace to be perfect with perhaps just a pair of starts remaining, one out of two good starts will perhaps not be enough. Darvish can’t count on what has been a largely anemic offense (t-22nd ranked 63 runs, 17th-ranked .705 OPS this month) to bail him out again, and the team certainly can’t have him walk six batters in five innings in either of his final turns.
In short, they need near-perfection from their best pitcher even if it is just two games. Given the struggles from their other starters, the fact that Darvish has been far from it has to be one scary proposition.