The Two Months From Hell ended the only way they could have for Yu Darvish, with another all-expenses-paid trip to the disabled list, this one courtesy of triceps tendinitis in his throwing arm.
That Darvish is a major disappointment for the Cubs isn’t debatable. But now he has tiptoed into disaster territory. If you think it’s too early to ponder that possibility, you haven’t been paying attention to Chicago sports or a merciless social media environment. But let’s start with a dash of kindness. The $126 million right-hander can’t be called a complete disaster. There’s too much finality in that designation. He’s a disaster in training, meaning there’s time for him to pull himself out of it, provided the other shoe, the other flu or the other triceps doesn’t drop.
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Is all of this simply terrible luck, a bizarre welcome mat of injuries, sickness and fan ill will for Darvish? Or is there something in Darvish’s first two months in Chicago that team president Theo Epstein should have seen coming?
Let’s take the Cubs at their word. It’s the only way to have a reasonable discussion about this. Let’s assume that Darvish indeed had a bad case of the flu that landed him on the DL earlier this month. And let’s assume he has inflammation in his right triceps, also worthy of a stay on the DL. To believe there’s a conspiracy by the team to keep Darvish off the mound because he’s mentally fragile is to believe the Cubs know they have made a massive mistake and would rather hide it than acknowledge it.
That would be a hell of a hidden ball trick.
So let’s take the Cubs at their word because trying to hide $126 million seems ludicrous.
Darvish’s bad start (1-3, 4.95 ERA) is out of character for him. Even with this season’s stats added in, his career ERA in March/April is 2.96. But his career has done a decent imitation of a seesaw. He has been an All-Star four times. He has had Tommy John surgery and missed an entire season. His career ERA in July is 5.09. He shut down the Cubs in the National League Championship Series last season. He stunk it up in the World Series. Rise and fall. Fall and rise.
Epstein knew all of this when he all but chose Darvish over Jake Arrieta, who turned down an offer to stay with the Cubs and signed with the Phillies. That was the gamble Epstein took. He went for the ace with the extremes (Darvish) instead of the ace who seemed to be in decline (Arrieta).
If Epstein is a praying man, he’s praying hard for the good Darvish to ride into town soon. The pitcher has picked the worst time to visit one of his valleys. He very well could get to his career level (3.49 ERA) by the end of the season. But as first impressions go, this is the prom date meeting the parents as empty beer bottles fall out of his car.
There’s also the outside chance that Darvish’s body has decided it has had enough of this whole baseball thing. That would go on Epstein’s permanent record in bold lettering. Geniuses are supposed to see things the rest of us can’t. If that’s unfair, then so was ascribing much of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series success to him.
Darvish has made life ridiculously difficult for himself. He already has been booed at Wrigley Field, no small accomplishment in a park wired to cheer anything in blue. His standard outing this season has been four strong innings followed by a meltdown in the fifth. No one has been able to explain the pattern or fix it.
Sometimes the best explanation for a player being alternately very bad and very good is the simplest one. This is who Darvish is, with the understanding that there will be better times ahead, because that’s the way his career has gone. If the Cubs are coddling Darvish or shielding him until he finds his way out of a dark place, then they’re ignorant of his up-and-down history. It would be the first time Epstein has been ignorant about anything.
There’s a chance he made a major mistake by signing Darvish. There’s a chance he didn’t see a trend in Darvish’s career that warned of imminent disaster. Perhaps there was something in Darvish’s poor World Series performance for the Dodgers last season (a combined eight earned runs in two losses) that suggested the bright lights (and sunlight) of Wrigley wouldn’t be a good fit for him.
But, again, the simplest explanation might be the most likely one. In this case, that would be that everything that could go wrong for Darvish has. It doesn’t mean that things will continue to go wrong for him the rest of the season and beyond.
Unless they do.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcastsand Google Play, or via RSS feed.