Cubs 2020 roster outlook: Rotation's success starts with Yu Darvish


Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Round out our series is starting pitcher Yu Darvish.

2019 recap

Darvish’s season got off to an inauspicious start, walking seven batters in 2 2/3 innings on March 30 against the Rangers. By the All-Star break, he sported an excellent 26.5 K% and respectable 1.34 WHIP, but the free passes (11.7 BB%) caught up to him (20 home runs, 5.01 ERA).

The second half was a much different story. Darvish asked for the ball in the Cubs’ opening second half-game, which started an incredible run for the 33-year-old. In 13 starts, he posted a 2.76 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, only walking seven batters compared to 118 punch outs.

This includes a remarkable 142-batter walk-less streak spanning seven starts, in which Darvish racked up 49 strikeouts. In total, he made 31 starts last season (178 2/3 IP), finishing with a 3.98 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 229 strikeouts (second-best of career) and 56 walks.

Expectations for this season’s role

Darvish or Kyle Hendricks will start on Opening Day this season, whenever that may be. You can argue either is the club’s No. 1 starter, though 1A and 1B may be more fitting labels.

2020 outlook

Darvish looked like a sunk cost with a huge contract after his injury-shortened, rough 2018. No one is saying that now, and he's healthy and a look at his social media posts shows he’s in a good place mentally.

The question is whether he can carry over his 2019 second-half success into 2020 and beyond.

The Cubs rotation is another year older and has some question marks. How will Tyler Chatwood perform in his second go-around as a starter? Can José Quintana bounce back from a rough end to 2019? How will Jon Lester, now 36, perform?

With that uncertainty, the Cubs need Darvish to pick up where he left off last season. A successful season from the Cubs starts with the rotation, and the rotation's success starts with him. 

The complete roster outlook series:

1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job
14. Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago
15. Lineup adjustment could be key to Jason Heyward's success
16. Anthony Rizzo remains an all-around rock for Chicago
17. Kyle Ryan's versatility key in uncertain bullpen
18. Now is not the time to write off Jon Lester 
19. Willson Contreras' health is critical to team's success
20. How Alec Mills fits on Opening Day roster
21. Steven Souza Jr. could provide needed boost vs. lefties
22. How COVID-19 hiatus could impact Nico Hoerner's trajectory
23. How Adbert Alzolay can build off 2019 debut
24. Why catcher Josh Phegley could win final roster spot
25. Why Jason Kipnis has struggled in recent years

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