Cubs

The spotlight shouldn't blind Yu Darvish

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The spotlight shouldn't blind Yu Darvish

Being the center of attention is the default setting for Yu Darvish.

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters traveled commercial, and thats supposed to be standard in Japan. Getting out of the plane and moving through the concourse, Micah Hoffpauir and Bobby Scales watched the paparazzi snap pictures. Fans swarmed their famous teammate to ask for autographs at the airport.

As Scales put it: Could you imagine the Cubs walking through OHare every road trip?

The Cubs are among the teams that submitted a blind bid before Wednesdays deadline. This is for the right to negotiate with Darvish, even if the sense is that it could just be due diligence, like checking in on Albert Pujols and not completely ruling out Prince Fielder.

Word could leak out earlier, but the Fighters have four business days to consider the highest bid. The final answer is due by Dec. 20.

If the final bill is close to the more than 100 million it cost the Boston Red Sox to import Daisuke Matsuzaka five years ago, then Darvish automatically becomes one of the games most intriguing players, a marketing and promotional force.

The Japanese media had Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan pinned against an elevator bank at Milwaukees Pfister Hotel during the ownergeneral manager meetings last month. They needed something on Darvish.

Foreign reporters surrounded Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos last week at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. There was curiosity and gossip about Darvish in the lobby at the winter meetings.

Whenever Darvish arrives on American (or Canadian) soil, he may not be in for total cultural shock, but the 25-year-old pitcher will face a series of adjustments.

Hoffpauir who spent nearly a decade in the Cubs organization before heading to Japan last season described a style of play that almost sounded like soccer.

The No. 1 difference (between) American (and) Japanese baseball, Hoffpauir said, is (that) Japanese baseball is very, very concerned about scoring one run. Theyve got to get that first run on the board and I (had) never in my life seen (that before).

If our leadoff hitter gets on in the top of the first inning, our two-hole hitter nine out of 10 times is bunting and everybody in the stadium knows it and its not even a question. Thats just the way it is. If we have the opportunity to get (him) into scoring position and take two shots at it with our No. 3 and 4 guys, then were going to do that every time.

If Darvish doesnt live up to the hype, he will have to deal with a backlash that may seem jarring. Scales who got called up to Wrigley Field in 2009 and 2010 described Japanese culture as very reserved, very respectful.

People drink in the stadiums in Japan, Hoffpauir said, but you dont have the constant heckling. You dont have people being booed and stuff like that. It seems to be more of a positive-type atmosphere. The fans everywhere are great.

Hoffpauir had been there only a few weeks when he felt the Tokyo Dome Hotel shaking. A tsunami and earthquake would devastate the country last March. Still, overall he enjoyed the experience and picked up his option to return to Japan next year.

Hoffpauir was joined by his wife Tiffany and their daughter Addyson, whos now three years old. They ate more McDonalds than they probably wanted, but that was a place where you could point at what you wanted.

The Fighters had two interpreters for their four American players. Scales a midseason replacement brought over from Triple-A Iowa used a Slingbox to watch University of Michigan football games. But with the time difference, he was usually falling asleep in his hotel room by the time his school started the second half.

Off the field, these are the little things that Darvish will have to get used to in a new country, all while learning the game new league, new teammates, deeper lineups at the highest level. Even professional athletes cant stay always stay in the bubble.

Hoffpauir is convinced that Darvish will approximate a No. 2 major-league starter as soon as he reports to spring training. The Japanese ace has strung together five consecutive seasons with an ERA below 1.89. What else is left to prove there?

At least Darvish whos reportedly in the process of divorcing his wife, a high-profile actress shouldnt be blinded by the flashbulbs and TV lights. He performed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic. This is his world.

He will have no problem with the media, Hoffpauir said. Hes dealt with that all of his career.

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel is one step closer to joining the Cubs bullpen.

According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, Kimbrel will join Triple-A Iowa and make his first appearance on Tuesday, against the Sacramento River Cats.

While the Cubs officially signed him on June 7, Kimbrel has yet to pitch in actual games. The 31-year-old has been in a condensed spring training program at the Cubs' Arizona complex, throwing live batting practice on both Thursday and Saturday.

The Cubs haven't revealed an official timeline for Kimbrel to join the 25-man roster, as they are basing things off of how he feels. The expectation is he will pitch in about five games with Iowa before joining the Cubs. However, both Theo Epstein and Kimbrel acknowledged how the goal isn't to rush the closer back into MLB action.

"We're not gonna rush it," Epstein said. "It's gonna be tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan this thing the right way so that he could be in a position to succeed not just immediately but in October. That's gonna be our guiding principle as we go."

"We sat down and put a gameplan together — something to work off of," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based off how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best that I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

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Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.