Judging by some of the public reaction to Yu Darvish’s latest start – a reaction that ranged from “meh” to “you supply the Theo Epstein effigy and I’ll supply the torch” – it’s probably time for a reset on expectations for the Cubs pitcher.
The bar isn’t his $126 million contract anymore. As natural as it might be to react to the gall of an underachieving pitcher making that much money, there’s nothing in it for anybody. Not for the Cubs. Not for you fans.
Lowering the bar will allow you to live a more peaceful life, free from angst, anger and angina. You will thank me later for your newfound serenity.
What we’re talking about here is context, a foreign substance in an age of knee-jerk reactions and mallets over the head on social media.
Context and a lowered bar say the same thing: Darvish is showing improvement.
He pitched 5 1/3 innings Wednesday in a 5-2 loss to the Pirates, giving up four earned runs and two homers on a miserable April night dressed up as the Arctic. The important part here is the weather, though not as an excuse. One of the knocks against Darvish is that whenever the first hint of difficulty or stress comes along, he crumples. I don’t know if that’s fair or not. I only know that it’s the perception.
On Wednesday, with the first-pitch temperature at 40 and winds blowing in from right field at 20 mph, Darvish fought. Even when the Pirates knocked two pitches out at Wrigley Field, he continued to fight. He relied more on his fastball than normal, and it was good. He did not lose his composure. His poise could have frozen over, but it didn’t.
Our recently discovered sense of context allows us to understand that he has shown progress over his first three starts. The realists among you will respond (reasonably): How could he not show progress? The dude walked seven Rangers in 2 2/3 innings in his 2019 debut. Seven! The general reaction in Chicago was that nothing much had changed. In an injury- and sickness-plagued 2018, he started just eight games and often wasn’t good. Here was more of the same.
Our lowered bar sees it differently: Pay attention to the baby steps of his season to date.
In his second start, a loss to the Braves, Darvish walked four and gave up three earned runs in four innings. OK, not great. But better. And then came Wednesday night. In the cold and the wind, he didn’t walk a batter. It’s the first time he has had no walks in a game in his time as a Cub. If he can do that consistently, even if he gives up a home run or two, the Cubs are going to win games with him on the mound. That’s why there should be encouragement over what happened at Wrigley the other night.
I don’t mean to glorify what Darvish did against the Pirates. I mean to put it in a place where there’s room for some optimism.
This is where the reset comes in. This is where the lowered bar finds its proper level. This is where you forget about the big contract and focus on the small advances. If you can do that, trust me, you’ll be happier.
Anyone with a rooting interest in the Cubs needs to be rooting for this guy. Anyone who has hope for this season needs him to get better. He’s by far the team’s most physically talented pitcher, and if the Cubs want to be a factor in the National League Central, he has to be a major contributor. Even if they want to trade him and his two-ton contract, they need him to improve. No team is going to take him off the Cubs’ hands if he struggles again this year. On so many fronts, the arrow needs to keep pointing up for Darvish.
His next start is Monday in Miami. Think of it as another chance for forward motion. Maybe he progresses to 85 pitches against the Marlins, instead of the 74 he averaged in his first three starts. Maybe he gets into the seventh inning for the first time this season. Maybe he gives up fewer than three earned runs for the first time.
For some of you, forgiving Darvish and Epstein, the Cubs exec who signed him, is impossible. Too much pain. Too much scar tissue. The rest of you might want to give peace a chance. If Darvish continues to improve, peace might even give way to appreciation.
For now, let’s leave the bar way down low and forget about admiration. That way, no one gets hurt.