In a year that will most likely want to be forgotten by both the fan base and the franchise, the Chicago Cubs endured through many hills and valleys to eventually fall in the Wild Card round of the 2018 MLB playoffs. While pitching durability and the lack of clutch offensive hitting impacted the team and ultimately forced them out of the playoffs at an early stage, the pitching aspect held them back more.
Brought in to try and help steady the starting pitching rotation, Yu Darvish was unable to help the team at all last season, as his injury history flared up again in a big way. Having to be shut down almost as soon as he got started early on, Darvish was a big-time financial investment by Jed Hoyer and company that, so far, has not panned out.
A pitcher who has been the ace for both the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, Darvish moved on to the Cubs in a play to help get the team back to the World Series. Combining Darvish with Jon Lester forms a solid 1-2 punch for their rotation, in theory.
Coming back from a season-ending injury is never easy for any player, but especially when that injury affects what your game relies on. A pitcher’s arm is essentially plated in gold due to how valuable it truly is to his value that he brings to any one team.
While Darvish should be counted on in some fashion for Chicago in 2019, he should be expected to give 150+ innings, unless the team wants to see him end up back on the newly-named Injury List for the vast majority of the season.
With that in mind, here are three goals for Darvish and the Cubs for the 2019 season.
3. Be healthy enough to pitch down the stretch
All three of the top teams in the National League Central division have the potential to not only win the division, but to also represent the NL in this year’s World Series. Both the Milwaukee Brewers, who won the Central last season, and the St. Louis Cardinals, who added big-ticket pieces in Andrew Miller and Paul Goldschmidt, are all retooling and developed this offseason in hopes to yet again compete for the divisional championship.
In order for Chicago to once again factor into this equation, Darvish must be healthy enough to pitch deep into games after the All-Star Break. Unless the team goes out and rips their farm system apart (yet again) to bring in an ace starter, Darvish will need to take up countless innings for a team that is stronger in its rotation than in its back-end bullpen.
Pitching late in the season is something that Darvish has experience with, bringing valued tips to the table for the Cubs come August and September. While he may need to miss a few starts here and there due to rest and preventative maintenance, Darvish will need to pitch most of his turns through the rotation late in the year.
2. Lead the team in strikeouts
Normally a high-volume strikeout pitcher, the easiest way for Darvish to show that he is capable of producing at All-Star levels yet again would be to get back to his out getting ways through the strikeout. By helping lead this team in that category, he can develop his game through pitch counts and pitch analytics throughout the season.
In his last fully healthy season, Darvish put up 209 strikeouts in 186.2 innings. Hoping to pull off of those results, Darvish only made eight starts, spanning 40 innings and giving up 22 earned runs in that time, a testament to his injury woes.
1. Help develop the entire staff
Throughout spring training, a vigorous workout plan will be developed for Darvish to make sure that he is able to strengthen up his arm again in hopes of returning back to who he was signed to be. During this time of not being on the mound, Darvish needs to become more of a guy that the other pitchers go to, to help develop their own stuff and round out the entire staff better.
With Darvish most likely not being at full strength for the majority of the season, the likes of Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Lester, and Cole Hamels will need to step up, like they did last season, to help bridge that gap from the rotation to the bullpen.
Having been in the MLB for six seasons already and going into his seventh, Darvish will need to take on the role of a grizzled, knowledgeable veteran who can help his team both on and off the diamond. Even though his injury last season was a big financial and physical blow to the team, they should be encouraged with how much time he has had to make improvements and regain his strength for their next playoff run in 2019.