The Chicago Cubs may already have had just enough talent and depth to contend for a World Series title in 2018. But the signing of marquee free agent Yu Darvish leapfrogs them to the front of that conversation.
With Darvish signing on the dotted line to the tune of six years and $126 million, the Cubs are getting a potential ace to add to a rotation that suddenly looks drastically deeper and more imposing than it did before yesterday. Darvish will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana to form one of the better top four in any starting rotation around the league.
Given the upgrades that Theo Epstein has made to the bullpen and the continued growth of their young positional stars, the Cubs are now set to challenge for their third straight NL Central crown, and reclaim the pennant from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Darvish boasts a 3.42 ERA in 131 starts while averaging 11.04 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest ratio of any pitcher in MLB history with more than 100 starts. The question, as usual, will be Darvish’s ability to stay healthy. The Japanese star was dominant upon his arrival to the league, posting ERAs of 2.83 and 3.06 in 2013 and 2014 as a member of the Texas Rangers.
However, Darvish had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in 2015. Although he had a respectable 3.41 ERA in 17 starts in 2016, that number soared to 4.01 in his first 22 starts with the Rangers last year before he was ultimately dealt to the Dodgers, where he regained some of his flavor and posted a 3.44 ERA in nine starts.
October is another caution flag for Darvish, given his notorious struggles against the likes of the Toronto Blue Jays and in the 2017 World Series against the Houston Astros. That said, he has only made six total playoff starts, and his shortcomings against a high-powered Houston offense marred his absolute dominance of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Cubs in the NLDS and NLCS, respectively. It seems unlikely that Darvish should continue those struggles into 2018, especially given how much of a pitchers-friendly park Wrigley Field can be in the waning months of the season.
Should Darvish stay healthy, he will provide the Cubs with the perfect addition to the rotation. His high strikeout ratio is made all the more encouraging by a steady improvement in his control, as his BB/9 numbers have fallen steadily since his rookie year. This is a welcome sight for a Cubs pitching staff that succumbed to the free pass for much of 2017 and certainly during the postseason.
Despite his age (he’ll turn 32 in August), Darvish has retained incredible life on his fastball, which still reaches the upper-90s with late life. Given his velocity along with an array of hard-biting breaking pitches, Darvish still has the stuff to be one of the best pitchers in the league, which is why he was so highly-coveted this winter.
With Darvish added to the fray, it would seem that Epstein’s offseason overhaul is complete. Whereas the strength of the rotation was the paramount concern at the beginning of free agency, Darvish and the Cubs are suddenly poised to challenge for their second World Series trophy in three years.
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