Chicago Cubs: Healthy Yu Darvish is the key to success in 2019

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(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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After failing to live up to the hype in his first season with the Chicago Cubs, Yu Darvish could re-define his role quickly with a successful 2019 campaign.

Yu Darvish’s first season with the Chicago Cubs was obviously a complete letdown, leaving a whole lot to be desired. That’s no secret to anyone. He was brought in to fill the void in the starting rotation left by former fan favorite Jake Arrieta but didn’t even come close.

In his first year with the Cubs, he only pitched 40 innings while making just eight starts, both the fewest of his six-year career. He posted a 0.2 WAR to go along with a career-high 4.95 ERA, not resembling anything like the pitcher who finished second in the Cy Young voting back in 2013.

While he struggled more than he ever had in his career that was hardly the issue. Darvish couldn’t get healthy as he dealt with injuries all season long. The last start the right-hander made for the Cubs in 2018 came all the way back on May 20.

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There was a slight glimmer of hope that Darvish would return to the Cubs in August but he re-injured his right elbow after just one inning of a rehab start for Class-A South Bend. That effectively put an end to his extremely disappointing season.

But losing Darvish played a much bigger role for the Cubs than just losing a potential ace. While, of course, the Cubs would have loved to have Darvish out on the mound every fifth day, his absence had a huge domino effect in regards to the starting rotation and the bullpen.

A catastrophic blow to the pitching staff

With Darvish out of commission, the Cubs were forced to turn their swingman/spot starter, Mike Montgomery into a full-time starter. While Montgomery performed admirably as the Cubs fifth starter he was much-needed in the bullpen. He was the one guy in the bullpen who could eat a lot of innings but could also be trusted to get outs in key lefty-lefty matchups.

While Montgomery was certainly qualified to be a starter and had done so in the past, he wasn’t stretched out to pitch deep into games. He started 19 games for the Cubs this season and ended up totaling just 97 2/3 innings as a starter. Never once in any of those starts did Montgomery last more than six innings. That ended up taking a huge toll on the rest of the Cubs bullpen as they had to eat a lot of innings.

As a unit, the Cubs bullpen was the fifth-most used in the National League, pitching 588 1/3 innings on the season. While they were used at an extremely high rate, they posted a National League-best 3.35 ERA. Steve Cishek took on the bulk of the load in the bullpen as he set career-highs in both appearances and innings pitched with 80 and 70 1/3, respectively.

With Montgomery in the starting rotation, the only left-hander in the bullpen Joe Maddon could really trust was Justin Wilson. Brian Duensing did not have a good season and ended up on the disabled list which then led to the Cubs giving Randy Rosario a chance. While Rosario showed up in some big moments, he probably would not have gotten that opportunity if Montgomery was able to remain in the bullpen.

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I get that injuries are a part of the game and they are unpredictable but the Darvish injury really hurt a lot more than just missing him out there every fifth day. If Darvish pitches like the ace he’s been in the past and can remain healthy, he fits right into an already elite rotation with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana. If healthy, not only does the rotation fall into line but the bullpen gets even deeper with Montgomery reclaiming his role in the pen.

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