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Yu Darvish injury a cautionary tale for Chicago Cubs fans

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With a healthy Yu Darvish, the Texas Rangers would widely considered to be in the hunt for the American League West. However, without their Japanese right-hander, the starting rotation falls into disarray – with the ‘ace’ role falling to either Derek Holland or Yovani Gallardo.

According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter), the 28-year-old Darvish was diagnosed with a UCL sprain recently after experiencing soreness in his elbow – and Tommy John surgery is not out of the question.

Last season, the Rangers’ staff was decimated by injuries – with Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Martin Perez all falling victim to the injury bug. With the loss of several key offensive pieces (namely Prince Fielder) – the team limped to a 67-95 finish, the worst record in the entire American League.

A season that began with World Series hopes ended in despair, but the team re-set its sights on 2015. While this year, the Cubs aren’t in the same position as the Rangers were ahead of the 2014 campaign, there’s no doubt that optimism surrounding the team is at a high-point this spring.

With the addition of ace left-hander Jon Lester, who inked a $155, six-year deal with Chicago earlier this offseason, the pitching staff has a new face. The team has a clubhouse leader with World Series experience and a quality resume to his name, something the staff hasn’t had in years – probably since Greg Maddux‘s second stint with the team.

So, what would happen if Lester’s seven-year streak of at least 30 starts came to screeching halt with an unforeseen elbow injury? What if the southpaw known for his work ethic and durability suddenly went head-to-head with his mid-30s and lost?

In short, expectations in Chicago would change – drastically.

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A staff currently headlined by Lester would, instead, be again led by right-hander Jake Arrieta. Last season, the former Baltimore Orioles prospect broke out in a big way, flirting with no-hitters on three separate occasions, finishing the year with 10 wins and a sterling 2.53 ERA in a career-high 25 starts. However, what he brings to the table in 2015 remains to be seen.

There’s really no reason to think that Arrieta won’t continue to excel under pitching coach Chris Bosio, who has turned the 29-year-old’s career around on a dime since the Cubs acquired him from Baltimore along with Pedro Strop. But the certainty and stability of the Chicago starting five would be under fire immediately if Arrieta was the face of the group instead of Lester.

Behind the role of ‘ace’, everyone in the rotation would, presumably, move up a slot, as well – making Jason Hammel a number two man, followed by the likes of sophomore Kyle Hendricks, lefty Travis Wood – and some combination of Edwin Jackson, Felix Doubront or Jacob Turner.

I’m not saying that we have cause for concern regarding Jon Lester. In a superb spring debut yesterday, the lefty looked sharp against the Cincinnati Reds, tossing a pair of shutout innings. But, as Cubs fans are all too familiar with, high hopes and Fall Classic dreams can be derailed on a dime – and losing an ace is a shining example of such an occurrence.

Next: Lester sharp, but Cubs fall to Reds, 5-2

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