To little surprise, the Chicago Cubs tapped Jon Lester, Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels as their first three starters in the season-opening series at Texas.
It’s been known for some time that Jon Lester would lead the Chicago Cubs starting rotation on their 162-game journey that begins Thursday. But what follows was unknown – at least until this week.
Kyle Hendricks, who just signed a contract extension that runs through 2024, was supposed to start Tuesday but was scratched after the extension signing was announced. Knowing that I imagine he’ll make his season debut next Monday. Instead of Hendricks, Joe Maddon will send right-hander Yu Darvish to the bump Saturday, followed by Cole Hamels in the series finale on Sunday in Texas.
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It will be interesting to see how Darvish performs in his first start since last May. A secondary storyline, of course, will be his return to Texas – the place he made his big league debut and where he called home for five-plus seasons to begin his career.
Seeing him near the top of the rotation to begin the season also shows the Cubs’ confidence in him entering the year, which can be a positive thing. He’s consistently shown great velocity and improved control since his first start this spring.
Hamels, who hit a home run off Rick Porcello at Sloan Park Monday, also will face off against his former squad. It will be an emotional homecoming for Darvish and Hamels, I’m sure, but in terms of the games themselves, this is the start of hopefully a nice win streak to begin the season for the club. Chicago will travel to Texas, Atlanta and Milwaukee before their home opener against Pittsburgh on April 8.
Considering the offseason’s headlines focused on only Daniel Descalso getting picked up, the off the field issues with Addison Russell, the controversial partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group and owner Joe Ricketts’ emails, the Cubs can help move on from those distractions with a strong April. Hendricks’ extension provided some needed light on an otherwise dark offseason but these things will be a dark cloud over their head if they don’t play well to start the year.
I for one am excited to see what this rotation has to offer and it will be key all season considering their questions in the bullpen while Brandon Morrow is out. Will Lester still find ways to pitch consistently well? Can Darvish stay healthy? Is it likely to see Hamels repeat what he did in the second half of 2018? Can Quintana pitch through an opposing lineup more than two times?
It all starts Thursday and I can’t wait to see it play out.