Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Cincinnati Reds on August 29, 2020 (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

By Carter Cromwell

Clearly, Yu Darvish has turned his game up several notches this season.

After a disastrous 2017 World Series, an injury-plagued 2018 season, and a middling 2019 performance, the Chicago Cubs righthander has been consistently outstanding thus far in 2020.

His six-inning scoreless outing against Cincinnati August 29 was his sixth straight solid performance.  

Entering the last month of the season, it certainly is not too early to speculate that Darvish could become the first Japanese pitcher to win the Cy Young Award (he finished second in 2013). His six wins (against just one loss) are tied for the MLB lead with Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Indians and Max Fried of the Atlanta Braves; his 1.47 ERA is the best in the National League and only trails Bieber in the MLB leaderboard. He has a 1.00 WHIP, and he’s struck out 52 batters while walking just seven in 43 innings. 

His numbers so far are career-bests in several areas, including pitches per inning (15.4), strikeout-to-walk rate (6.50), percentage of pitches thrown for strikes (67.3), walks per nine innings (1.67), and opponents’ OPS (.565).   

After six weeks of the major-league season, he’s easily been the brightest standout of the nine Japanese import players.

The closest performer to Darvish has been fellow starter Kenta Maeda of Minnesota. Maeda suffered his first loss of the season after going six innings in a 3-2 Twins loss to the Detroit Tigers on August 30, but still has 4-1 record with a 2.53 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. 

In that game, Maeda gave up six hits, walked no one, and struck out eight batters. Two Tigers home runs and a quiet Minnesota offense – just five hits – did him in, though.

Like Darvish, Maeda has been stingy with bases on balls, also allowing just seven this season. His current rate of walks per nine innings (1.48), percentage of pitches thrown for strikes (67.6), and his strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.86) are career bests, by far. The same is true of his average number of pitches per inning (14.6).

Elsewhere among the Japanese imports, New York Yankee starter Masahiro Tanaka got his first win of the season with a six-inning stint against Tampa Bay. He gave up just three hits, though one was a home run, walked one, and struck out seven. For the season, Tanaka is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.   

The remaining Japanese import starter, Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi, did not pitch in the last week. 

The Mariners’ games with the Oakland Athletics on September 1-3 were postponed after a Daniel Mengden of the A’s tested positive for COVID-19. Kikuchi is 1-2 for the season, and his ERA is 6.12.

Seattle reliever Yoshihisa Hirano made one appearance last week, pitching one scoreless inning against the Los Angeles Angels. Hirano has yet to allow a run in four outings this season.

Reliever Shun Yamaguchi of the Toronto Blue Jays took a loss against the Miami Marlins on September 1. 

He pitched 2.2 innings and gave up three hits. Starling Marte’s solo home run in the eighth inning was the difference in a 3-2 Marlins’ victory. Yamaguchi has generally pitched well after two tough outings at the beginning of the season. Overall, he’s 1-3 with a 4.11 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.

Among the hitters . . .

– Shogo Akiyama of Cincinnati was 4-20 with one walk last week and is batting .196 for the season with a .538 OPS.

– Yoshi Tsutsugo of Tampa Bay went 3-11 at the plate. His season totals are .191 (batting) and .711 (OPS), with five home runs and 17 RBI

– Designated hitter Shohei Ohtani of the Angels was 4-19 on the week with nine strikeouts. He’s at .189 for the season with five homers, 18 RBI, and a .670 OPS.  

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