Cubs didn't fret over Fall Classic struggles: 'We know there's more to Yu Darvish than what happened in the World Series'

Cubs didn't fret over Fall Classic struggles: 'We know there's more to Yu Darvish than what happened in the World Series'

MESA, Ariz. — Yu Darvish is a really, really good pitcher. But he most definitely wasn't during last year's World Series.

Pitching with the Los Angeles Dodgers on baseball's biggest stage, Darvish was rocked by the Houston Astros, who had a tendency to do that to opposing pitchers with their murderer's row of a lineup. Darvish made two starts in the Fall Classic, though his performances were anything but classic. He combined to pitch just 3.1 innings and allowed nine runs on nine hits, including a pair of home runs.

In the "what have you done for me lately" world of pro sports, that left a bad tastes in a lot of people's mouths. Theo Epstein and his front office were not among them, however.

The Cubs made a monster splash at the outset of spring training, signing Darvish to a six-year deal and ignoring those two starts from last October, instead focusing on what he's done in the entirety of his brilliant major league career and hoping he stabilizers their rotation for years to come.

There were, of course, reasons to be concerned about what Darvish did against the Astros. In addition to those ugly numbers, there was discussion that he was tipping his pitches, making it easier for Astros hitters, who needed no help smacking the ball around the yard, to light him up.

But the Cubs opted to pay more attention to his four All-Star appearances, his 1,021 career strikeouts in 832.1 career innings, his two top-10 finishes in Cy Young voting and his 11.0 career K/9 in six seasons since coming over from Japan. Epstein went as far as calling Darvish "the preeminent strikeout pitcher of our generation."

"The World Series was a struggle," Epstein said Tuesday during Darvish's introductory press conference. "First of all, I think there were a lot of reasons for what happened in the World Series, from — as has been discussed — the possibility of tipping pitches to the difficulty with the baseballs. And the Astros were red hot. They won the World Series for a reason. They were swinging the bat great against everybody. But I don’t think we’d be doing our job if we evaluated based on a two-game sample.

"He’s been over here for six years, he’s proven himself as an elite pitcher, a top-of-the-rotation guy who can make adjustments. When things go wrong, like they do for everybody in this game, he makes adjustments and learns from it and comes back stronger. If anything, I think getting close to a championship and getting all the way there has only increased his motivation and his focus on winning a World Series, and that’s what we’re here to do, as well."

Darvish has done the adversity thing before. He had Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2015 season and part of his 2016 campaign, as well. Last season was his first full year back from the surgery, and though he had a 4.01 ERA through 22 starts with the Texas Rangers, he shone after going to the Dodgers, posting a 3.44 ERA in his nine regular-season starts there before dominating the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Cubs in the first two playoff rounds. He allowed just one run and struck out seven in both his NLDS start against the D-backs and in his NLCS start against the Cubs, going five innings in the former and 6.1 innings in the latter.

The Cubs got an up close and personal look at Darvish last fall, and well, let's just say they're happy they don't have to worry about facing him in the postseason anymore.

"He’s an elite arm within major league pitching," manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday. "When this guy is right, and he normally is right, he’s the strikeout guy that he is, he’s got multiple pitches, he doesn’t walk a whole lot of folks, he’s going to be out there sucking up some innings. He just provides so many positives for us. It’s wonderful to have him on your side.

"When you’re game-planning against him, you watch that first and second inning and all of a sudden … you think, ‘Oh my god, it’s going to be a long day.’ Now he’s on your side."

For Darvish's part, he's not thinking just about went wrong in October. He's focused on improving and growing in all facets, and the Cubs are ready to help him with that. Their pitching infrastructure has turned Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks into aces and won Jon Lester another World Series ring.

"There are a lot of articles that I’ve read pointing out what I’ve done wrong, but I did well in the previous five games. It’s not just about the World Series games," Darvish said. "There were some part during the whole 2017 season that I could fix. So that’s what I’d like to take away."

"We look at the pitcher in totality," Epstein said. "If you look at it, he’s bounced back extremely well from the Tommy John surgery. His stuff is as good as anyone’s, and we think there are things we can do with him to keep him growing and better. Certainly felt bad for him during the World Series but also felt it might be an opportunity. Other teams overreact to that. We know there’s more to Yu Darvish than what happened in the World Series."

The Cubs know that already. They witnessed it firsthand. And now they're banking on Darvish being able to get rid of that bad taste in people's mouths. And quickly.

The new Yankees? High-priced Yu Darvish joins Cubs and makes World Series expectations even bigger

The new Yankees? High-priced Yu Darvish joins Cubs and makes World Series expectations even bigger

MESA, Ariz. — Face it, folks. The Cubs are the new Yankees.

That, of course, is no bad thing if you’re a Cubs fan. After all, the Yankees built a dynasty in the 1990s that brought four championships to the Bronx in a five-year span. Seeing something like that on the North Side would be quite the polar opposite of a century of lovable losing.

But that’s exactly what the Cubs are built to do.

After winning that curse-smashing World Series title in 2016, the Cubs’ young core now has a brand-new, high-priced addition in Yu Darvish, who officially joined the Cubs on the first day of spring training Tuesday. One of the top two starting pitchers on this winter’s glacially paced free-agent market, Darvish signed up for a lot of reasons — 126 million of them, if you're counting at home — but one big one jumps out: He wants to win the World Series.

“Obviously,” Darvish said when asked what his main goal for 2018 was, “to win the World Series as a Cub.

“My priority in selecting a team was a team that had a great chance of winning the World Series, and the Cubs obviously have more than a great chance of winning. So I’m really honored to be here.”

And that is why these Cubs are so much like those old Yankees teams. The annual monster contracts are one reason: Darvish signed up two years after Jason Heyward’s franchise-record contract and three years after Jon Lester’s megadeal. The homegrown core is another. But the annual expectation of a world championship is really what’s transformed the Cubs into what they are today.

Last season, the Cubs advanced to their third straight National League Championship Series. And it was a disappointment, no matter how much Joe Maddon argued Tuesday. The 2018 edition of Cubs camp got underway with an understood expectation: World Series or bust. That's a pretty crazy thought for fans who suffered through that championship drought.

But winning changes everything. Darvish is the latest big-money piece of the Cubs' championship puzzle, and somehow the expectations are now even higher in Wrigleyville.

“Yu was our primary target,” team president Theo Epstein said Tuesday. “We think this is a great day for the Cubs organization to welcome a pitcher of this caliber. He’s probably the preeminent strikeout pitcher of our generation, incredible physical abilities. And I think we’re getting him at a wonderful point in his career, where he’s really matured and is ready to go out and do some special things, winning a World Series being his top priority. That’s also our top priority as an organization.”

It’s a tough game to play, obviously, as it’s really, really hard to win the World Series once, let alone multiple times. But the Cubs’ window is undoubtedly wide open.

Darvish brings stability to a pitching staff that had some question marks after the departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey and Lester’s less-than-ideal 2017 campaign. That stability — helped along by the team-friendly contract of Jose Quintana — should propel Cubs starting pitching for years to come.

And of course the young core of position players, almost all of whom are under team control for another four years, will remain intact and continue to grow together. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ. It was believed one or multiple of the team's young position players would need to be moved for the sake of the starting staff. But now Darvish is here, and those guys don't seem to be going anywhere any time soon.

“It makes us stronger, obviously,” Maddon said. “Outside looking in, it looks better, but we still have to play the games. We have to play the games, we have to perform. It’s not just about one guy, but obviously he makes us better, there’s no question about it.

“I am not one to count the chickens and all that stuff in advance. You still have to play the games. It’s all theory right now. Right now, overall, the attitude of the group could not be better. … When you sign Yu Darvish, obviously it lends to that moment. We’ve still got to play the game on the field, and I’m really excited to see our product.”

All that makes the Cubs look capable of the kind of success that those Yankees teams had dominating the postseason for so many years. Darvish isn’t the guy who’s vaulted them into that stratosphere. The Cubs were among the World Series favorites before he signed. But his addition is a gigantic statement in baseball’s ongoing arms race. The Cubs’ gain is the Dodgers’ loss. And it helps the North Siders keep pace with the defending-champion Astros, who have built their own super-rotation in Houston.

After 2016, the mission is no longer pie-in-the-sky dreaming. These Cubs have the potential to run roughshod over the game not only this season but for the next four. And they know it. They expect it. The Cubs have reached the stage those Yankees teams of the past stood on for so many years. It’s a matter of fact: World Series or bust.

Watch: Darvish's first presser with Cubs

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USA TODAY

Watch: Darvish's first presser with Cubs

And finally, the moment the North Side has been waiting for.
 
Yu Darvish made his first appearance with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday — officially sporting a No. 11 jersey.
 
The righty — signed with the team through the 2023 season for $126 million— said he chose the Cubs because the team stood out to him among other suitors.
 
“[The team has a] great roster — each pitcher is great,” Darvish said through a translator. “There’s a lot that I can take away from, so I can’t wait to begin.”
 
Darvish will be a tremendous fit, Cubs President Theo Epstein said, for the team to continue to be World Series-level competitors.
 
“Yu was our primary target,” Epstein said.  “We think this is a great day for the Cubs organization to welcome a pitcher of this caliber. He’s probably the preeminent strikeout pitcher of our generation.
 
“We’re getting him at a wonderful point in his career where he has really matured and is ready to go out and do some special things.”

Watch the full press conference here: 

Yu Darvish Arrives at Cubs Spring Training

Yu Darvish has reported to Spring Training! Theo Epstein and Darvish meet the media from Mesa.

Posted by NBC Sports Chicago on Tuesday, February 13, 2018