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Be afraid, Cubs fans. Be very afraid.

Just kidding. The two losses against the White Sox each the last two nights are mere exhibition games that don’t count and will be long forgotten by the time things get real. So relax.

But, no, seriously, be afraid.

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Because as forgettable as games like Monday’s 5-3 loss might seem, the season starts Friday, and some of this stuff could start to get real a lot faster than the Cubs might think.

What do Yu mean? Exactly.

A few Monday takeaways:

Yu kidding me?

That would be the hope after No. 2 starter Yu Darvish turned his tuneup for Saturday’s first start into a first-inning meltdown that went so wrong and took so long that after eight batters, the Cubs and Sox just decided that two outs and five runs in the inning were enough.

It included a leadoff double by Tim Anderson and a walk to Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases, followed by an Eloy Jimenez grand slam — all before recording an out.

"Mainly it was two-strike pitches leaking over the middle," manager David Ross said.

He settled down after that, allowing only two hits and a walk in 3-plus innings after the first. But it didn’t matter on this night any more than it will when the games start to count.

After the game, Darvish tweeted (compliments of Google translation: "I threw it to other team opponents after a long absence. After the first hit I felt like I was feeling more focused."

 

The Cubs are counting on Darvish’s dominating second half last year to carry over into a 60-game season with no margin for error or finding one’s groove — a second half that included a 2.76 ERA, 118 strikeouts and just seven walks.

What’s often left out of that conversation is the 5.01 ERA in the first half — which followed a 2018 season that didn’t look much better (4.95) even during his eight healthy starts.

With Jon Lester behind the other starters as the season opens and Jose Quintana (thumb) injured, an already thin rotation risks going into freefall if Darvish doesn’t look more like the four-time All-Star who earned a $126 million contract than the pitcher the Cubs have gotten for all but a half-season of that deal so far.

Offensive indeed

The Cubs managed just five hits for the second straight night -- only three until the ninth inning.

This time it was former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, a left-hander, limiting them to one hit in five innings, and the Sox pen doing the rest against a team that struggled against lefties last year, too.

But Sunday night, they didn't do much against Triple-A starter Drew Anderson before the Sox pen shut them down.

Maybe the White Sox are better than even all the Sox optimists think. But this is a Cubs lineup that has to be a difference maker in winning games this season, given the bullpen issues. As Ross said, “I think our offense is going to be our strong suit.”

Bullpen bright side

A Cubs bullpen that remains a big question mark heading into the season handled the White Sox after Darvish was done.

James Norwood, Ryan Tepera and Jeremy Jeffress looked particularly good.

"J.J. looked great. Saw some 93s in there," Ross said of the Cubs' veteran addition to the bullpen this year.  "That was an uptick from his last outing, which was nice to see."

Must be the close shave

Whether shaving off his beard before Monday's eighth inning appearance made a difference, Craig Kimbrel managed a scoreless, if not exactly dominant, inning. And if this is as good as it gets from Kimbrel (albeit, against the Sox subs), the Cubs will take it from the former All-Star who struggled down the stretch last year. Kimbrel walked the leadoff hitter but got a strikeout, benefited from a thrown-out runner on a steal attempt and after a single, got a fly ball for a scoreless eighth.

"Craig's still getting on top of the baseball. I think he figured some things out," Ross said. "He's still battling that release point a little bit, but the ball was coming out well."

Around the Hoerner

Rookie Nico Hoerner started at second base but finished in center field, with a stop at shortstop in between -- a glimpse into how Ross looks at his roster, if not Hoerner specifically.

 

MORE: What makes Cubs’ Nico Hoerner sneaky North Side version Luis Robert

"We've got to be prepared for anything this season," Ross said. "All the uncertainty with this season, you could lose anybody at any minute. Moving guys around is going to be important."

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