Everyone is ready to chalk up six years of Yu Darvish as a complete failure. I, on the other hand, believe the Chicago Cubs hurler is on a different track.
I’m one paragraph into writing this piece and I already know what the comments are going to look like. Chicago Cubs fans, by and large, vehemently oppose anyone who believes the next half-decade of Yu Darvish will be anything but a disappointment. And that’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion.
But I’m of a different mindset. I don’t care about 2018. It was nothing short of a disaster when it came to Darvish. He made eight starts, pitched only 40 innings and didn’t take the mound after mid-May. Really, there’s nowhere to go but up.
The right-hander went under the knife in September for an elbow procedure after spending months unsuccessfully attempting to work back from the injury that seems to have been misdiagnosed by the medical staff. Simply put, when your elbow isn’t right, you’re not going to be effective. Period. I don’t care if you’re making tens of millions of dollars or are playing catch in rec league softball.
This week, Darvish posted a video on Instagram showing him throwing – a promising sign when it comes to his being ready for Spring Training in just two short months. If he’s healthy and ready to go come Opening Day 2019, what does that mean for the Cubs?
An already talented rotation gets better
At the top of the rotation, Chicago boasts Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Those two, you feel pretty good about. Lester is coming off a league-leading 18-win season to go with a 3.32 ERA across 32 starts. Age doesn’t seem to be a factor for the southpaw and we actually broke down how he could age gracefully (think Andy Pettitte) a couple weeks back.
Hendricks, meanwhile, remains one of the craftiest hurlers in the game today. The soft-tossing right-hander turned in a career-high 199 innings of work last year in another quietly successful campaign.
Behind them, you have to consider Cole Hamels the number three. Following a midseason trade to Chicago, the lefty was lights-out, making a dozen starts and pitching to a 2.36 ERA. He was so good in August that he earned National League Pitcher of the Month honors.
In the not-so-recent past, Jose Quintana may have been considered the team’s number three, but a lack of consistency leads me to believe he’s not going to be the guy we’d hoped for. There’s no debating the Cubs drastically overpaid in acquiring the southpaw, sending both Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to the South Side mid-2017 in the deal. But that’s in the past – and Q needs to focus on the future.
He’s got the tools to be lights-out, but rarely puts together a run of four or five starts in a row where you feel really good about his outing. Hopefully, that changes in 2019, but I’m not holding my breath.
Which brings me to Darvish
Rounding out the starting rotation? Yu Darvish.
Now, it’s not often you see a guy on a $126 million deal pitching at the back end of the rotation, but I think it’s the best place for him – at least at this point. At multiple points last year, he expressed dismay and disappointment at the reactions of Cubs fans. Now, he has a chance to change all that – and I believe he’ll do so.
Slotted in behind the likes of Lester, Hendricks, Hamels and Quintana, Darvish just needs to take the ball every five days and build on each start. Iron out the little things and get back to what made him such a coveted asset on the open market less than 12 months ago.
If he can stay focused on the task-at-hand and learns to silence the noise around him, I believe Darvish could enjoy a much-needed moment in the limelight come July – representing the Chicago Cubs in Cleveland at the All-Star Game.
Hey, I told you it was bold, right?