Yu Darvish is ready for takeoff

Yu Darvish is ready for takeoff

Yu know the Cubs season is right around the corner when we catch word of a Darvish bullpen.

Darvish still hasn't even been a member of the Cubs organization for a full calendar year, but almost that entire time has been spent with the focus firmly on his health.

That hasn't changed for the 32-year-old pitcher enjoying his first Cubs Convention amid Winter Storm Harper at the Sheraton Grand Chicago this weekend.

Darvish said he is fully healthy now and his offseason program is progressing along slowly after he underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow in September.

Darvish was slated to throw from 120 feet for the first time Saturday, planning 20 pitches from that distance. From there, he will have a bullpen on Friday.

"His health is everything, clearly," Theo Epstein said. "I know it's not worth anything at this point of the calendar, but the reports are terrific. He's added a lot of good muscle, he's added a lot of flexibility.

"Most importantly, his arm feels terrific. He's experiencing no discomfort whatsoever when throwing and when testing his arm. He's walking around with a little bit of confidence. I think that reflects how he's feeling about himself physically."

Cubs fans might be sick of hearing this narrative, but a healthy Darvish really can do a quite a bit in changing the team's overall fortunes for 2019. This is a guy who strikes out batters at a higher rate than any other starting pitcher in baseball history and even when he was able to pitch in 2018, he sported an ERA more than a run-and-a-half higher than his previous career mark.

The Cubs know their road to success goes through the starting rotation (even nowadays in the world of extreme bullpenning) and Darvish has emerged as the ultimate X-factor.

An offseason of rest and rehab has Darvish and the Cubs feeling confident with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

"Now, the important part starts," Epstein said. "Just taking that into spring training and into the season and being ready for the battle and getting some really good hitters out and being someone we can lean on in that rotation."

The Cubs had enough concerns about their overall state of the rotation (including Darvish) that they picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option despite a serious budget crunch this winter.

But Hamels — Darvish's former teammate with the Rangers — has something most Cubs fans don't: A firsthand look at how dominating Darvish can be when he's healthy.

"I know he wants to do really well," Hamels said. "And he's capable of so much. You've seen bits and pieces when he was with Texas and the Dodgers for a few games — he's really good. He can carry a game; he can carry a month of starts for a team.

"So to be able to put him in between all of us and all of us working together, it's going to be a lights-out rotation. That's what it takes. I know he's ready to do it. When he's healthy, he's one of the best in the game."

Before he was a Cub,, Kyle Schwarber was a high school singer, football player

Before he was a Cub,, Kyle Schwarber was a high school singer, football player

Kyle Schwarber will go down in Cubs lore for his dramatic return from a torn ACL and LCL in time for the 2016 World Series. Despite not facing big league pitching in six months, the catcher-turned-left fielder put on a hitting clinic that series.

Schwarber hit .412 in five games, which includes the rally-inducing single to leadoff the 10th inning of Game 7. That game, of course, was played in Cleveland, which is a perfect Segway for a few off-the-field facts about the Cubs slugger.

1. Schwarber was born in Middletown, Ohio and grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan. As a former catcher, his role model was Johnny Bench — the Reds Hall of Fame backstop.

2. Schwarber attended Middletown High School, where he was a linebacker on the football team. Here’s a legendary photo of him trying to tackle future Ohio State quarterback and NFL wide receiver, Braxton Miller.

3. Not only was he an athlete in high school, but Schwarber was also a member of his school’s show choir. You need this content in your life, and I’m happy to provide it to you.

There’s Schwarber, front and a bit off-center:

For good measure, the Cubs had Schwarber and other players reenact the performance back in 2016 — with future manager David Ross taking a playful shot at Schwarber:

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4. Schwarber has one brother and three sisters. His dad is a retired police chief, a big inspiration for the Schwarber’s Neighborhood Heroes campaign — which recognizes first responders and their sacrifices.

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The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history

The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history

Banks. Sandberg. Sosa. Rizzo.

In addition to being a potential “Cubs Mount Rushmore,” these players are synonymous with ones who fans remember — and likely cheered for — the most. Odds are you’ll find more Ryne Sandberg jerseys in the stands than, say, Terry Mulholland or Steve Trout.

But an astute fan of the 2016 club would mention that John Lackey nearly had as many strikeouts that season as Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta. Or that fan favorite Mark DeRosa led the 97-win 2008 team in runs scored (103). 

These are the glue guys. The grinders. The players that hold teams together.

So, with a nod toward the 2016 World Series champs, here is the list of the 16 most underrated Cubs of all-time:

The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history 

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