Chicago Cubs name Opening Day starter, top Reds in Cactus League play

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /
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The Chicago Cubs named Jon Lester their Opening Day starter in recent days, which should surprise no one while steamrolling the Cincinnati Reds in Arizona.

Somehow, we’re already nearly a week into March, which means the countdown to Opening Day 2019 is officially on. The Chicago Cubs open the regular season calendar on the road in Arlington, taking on the Texas Rangers. That series should have a bit of excitement, not so much because of who the Cubs play, but because it marks the final Opening Series in the Rangers’ current ballpark. 

And when the two clubs square off on the afternoon of March 28, veteran left-hander Jon Lester will toe the rubber for manager Joe Maddon. That will mark the fourth time in the last five years the southpaw has earned the Opening Day nod. Last season, he took the ball in South Florida, allowing three runs on seven hits in just 3 1/3 innings of work. He’ll surely look to improve upon that showing this time around.

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But, for the time being, all eyes remain focused on Arizona, where the Cubs continue working their way through Cactus League play. On Monday, outfielder Albert Almora led the charge as the club throttled the Cincinnati Reds. The former first-rounder homered and made a highlight-reel grab in the outfield. He is now hitting .385 with a 1.077 OPS this spring as he vies for the starting center field job.

His performance has garnered little attention, likely because right-hander Yu Darvish has stolen the show thus far. After a shaky first outing where he flashed signs of being back to his old self, Darvish turned it on in his second start, hitting the upper-90s with his fastball and showcasing a slider with a lot of tight movement. It’s been talked about too many times to count, but if he can be what the Cubs expected when they brought him aboard last winter, this team immediately takes a leap forward.

This offseason, which will be remembered by most fans for its lack of activity – at least on the Cubs’ part – was all about building depth in the organization. And, like it or not, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer did that, while leaving room in the payroll for a midsummer acquisition. Looking back three months from now may allow us to look at the winter through a drastically different lens.

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