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Yu Darvish’s top-2 NL Cy Young Award finish shows Cubs’ gamble paid off

Darvish went 8-3 this year, leading the NL in victories and tying the Indians’ Shane Bieber for the major-league lead.

Cubs starter Yu Darvish finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
Cubs starter Yu Darvish finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
Orlin Wagner/AP

The Cubs went all in on Yu Darvish when they signed the right-hander to a monster six-year, $126 million contract as a free agent in 2018.

And nearly two years later, their bet on Darvish has paid big dividends.

Darvish finished second in National League Cy Young voting on Wednesday when the awards were announced on MLB Network. The Cubs’ ace finished behind the Reds’ Trevor Bauer, who took home the honor. Mets’ ace Jacob deGrom, who won the award in 2018 and 2019, finished third.

Cleveland Indians starter Shane Bieber won the American League Cy Young Award, becoming the first pitcher to win the award unanimously since Clayton Kershaw in 2014.

You can make the argument that even missing out on the NL Cy Young Award, Darvish was the league’s best pitcher. The Cubs’ ace went 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 12 regular-season starts.

Even though the Cubs lost in Game 2 of their elimination matchup against the Marlins in the NL wild-card series, Darvish had another strong performance, allowing only two runs and five hits and striking out six in 6 2/3 innings.

Darvish’s 93 strikeouts tied the Padres’ Dinelson Lamet for fourth behind deGrom (104), Bauer (100) and the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (96). The only ERA qualifier with fewer walks than Darvish’s 14 was Cubs teammate Kyle Hendricks with eight. Hendricks and Darvish also were first and second in strikeouts per walk, with Hendricks at 8.00 and Darvish at 6.64.

‘‘I’m definitely not the best right now, but I think I can be better in a few years,’’ said Darvish, 34, after the Cubs were swept by the Marlins in the playoffs.

‘‘I can’t say enough about Yu. What a phenomenal year,” said David Ross, who finished third in NL Manager of the Year voting. “He put us in this position to be in the postseason.

‘‘It was fun to be his manager and watch him pitch every day. He’s a true professional, and [I’m] very proud of the year he had.’’

Things were different for Darvish last season and even during a shortened regular season that saw some of MLB’s biggest stars struggle, he continued his progress from the second half of 2019 and carried it into 2020.

Darvish’s change has been a stark contrast from the pitcher who first came to Chicago and looked like a shell of himself. But with the help of the Cubs’ pitching coaches, who allowed him to be himself, Darvish flourished and the difference was noticeable to anybody who saw him on the mound.

“This guy’s got the ultimate confidence,” Kyle Schwarber said. “I think you could ask anyone in the room that if Yu Darvish is on the mound, no one’s gonna want to face this guy. . . . I don’t think that anyone’s ever looked forward to, when they’re trying to do a scouting report on Yu Darvish for like, seven pitches, all plus pitches. Good luck.”

‘‘He’s been a true ace this year,’’ president Theo Epstein said last month. ‘‘Such an important part of this club in terms of performance and leading the league in WAR among pitchers and what that meant to us on the field. And the innings, the shutdown innings. He’s given us the opportunity to win.’’

The Cubs’ starting rotation was their strength in 2020 and with Darvish and Hendricks under club control for a while and change on the horizon, it may be their biggest strength heading into the future. Not just a strength in the short term, but something they can build off of.

Adding a solid No. 3 starter via trade or free agency to join Darvish and Hendricks would help make that a reality. Right-hander Marcus Stroman signed his $18.9 million qualifying offer with the Mets on Tuesday, removing a possible free-agent target from the list.

The Cubs will have to continue to search the market for starting pitching depth with two open spots in their rotation.