Shota Imanaga isn't just the Cubs' All-Star representative; he's their undisputed MVP

The rookie left-hander will be Chicago's lone representative at the Midsummer Classic next week.
New York Mets v Chicago Cubs
New York Mets v Chicago Cubs / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages
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The Chicago Cubs believed that Shota Imanaga could be a front-of-the-rotation difference-maker in Major League Baseball. Most other big league clubs felt he'd be more of a solid, mid-to-back end guy. With an All-Star selection now under his belt in his rookie campaign, it's safe to say that bet has paid off for president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer.

Back in February, if I told you, on July 7, Imanaga would rank first among qualified NL pitchers in walks per nine, second in strikeout-to-walk ratio, sixth in adjusted ERA and eighth in both ERA and WHIP, you'd probably assume the Cubs were leading the division - or, at the very least, were very much in the hunt.

Obviously, you'd be wrong. Despite brilliance from Imanaga in his first 16 starts, the Cubs head into the final week of the first half seven games under .500, 11 games out in the Central and 5 1/2 back in the wild card picture. But don't let that take away from what he's done this season.

"When I was going into the meeting, I wasn’t sure what the topic was going to be about. We have plenty of amazing players and so if other people got chosen, that would make sense. When I was chosen, it made me very happy."

Shota Imanaga, via MLB.com

Shota Imanaga has been absolutely remarkable for the Cubs this year

Imanaga has recorded a quality start in 10 of his 16 starts this season, a mark that's tied for fifth among NL starting pitchers. He's regularly stepped up as the team's stopper - evidenced by the club's 12-4 record in his starts. In games not started by Imanaga, Chicago is a woeful 30-45. He's singlehandedly kept the faintest of postseason hopes alive in a first half that's been as disappointing as any in recent memory.

To think this train wreck of a season could be that much worse is hard to wrap my mind around. But it very well could be without the efforts of Imanaga, who hasn't skipped a beat since coming over from Japan this winter. He's the Cubs' lone All-Star representative next week in Arlington and this is the time to pause and appreciate him. But he's been so much more than just an obligatory Midsummer Classic pick - he's been this team's saving grace from his first start on.

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