FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Cubs’ new $126 million pitcher, Yu Darvish, just finished his first spring on Monday healthy and happy.
The newly ordained leadoff man, Ian Happ, keeps getting on base. The one decision left in the bullpen — whether setup man Pedro Strop is ready after a late start — has been answered, if you ask Strop. Either way, he pitches Tuesday with the expectation that the club will agree with him after his assigned inning.
The most roster-stable, healthiest, smoothest Cubs spring training since team president Theo Epstein took over in 2012 just needed on Monday to survive 18 more innings before the Cubs get to the 2018 season as one of the top two or three World Series favorites.
Which can mean only one thing.
“We’re in a pretty good position. All we know is that will change,” Epstein said. “The grind of the season has a way of chipping away at your stability. Our job is to try to stay a couple steps ahead of that. But the craziness has yet to begin.”
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The Cubs open with four in Miami against the tanking Marlins, starting Thursday.
The first three starting pitchers, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Darvish, all made their routine tune-up starts in recent days without complication and will make their next starts in Miami.
“I feel really healthy,” Darvish said through his interpreter. “This team went beyond my expectations in every factor. The environment’s great, and I can’t believe spring training’s almost over because I feel super energized even though it’s late in spring training.”
The Cubs continue to monitor waiver wires and other late-spring roster shuffles to see if a minor upgrade can be made to the bullpen. It would have to involve a certain level of quality because they’d rather not lose Eddie Butler from the organization by making such a move (he’s out of options).
(And, no, they’re not signing Greg Holland.)
This is not the way most spring trainings work. Teams lose pitchers to injuries (Jeff Samardzija and Madison Bumgarner of the Giants) or shortstops to bad drug tests (Twins’ Jorge Polanco), or they add significant lineup help but still leave camp without confidently addressing pitching holes (Brewers).
“There have been a number of times at the end of spring training where you kind of panic, looking at our depth chart, calling other teams, trying to talk ourselves into ‘somebody’s going to get a lot better all of a sudden when the lights come on.’ ” Epstein said. “But we haven’t really had to do that this spring. It’s been a nice, smooth leadoff to the season.”
All 12 position players return from a group that scored 822 runs (second to the Rockies in the National League). All-Star-caliber Darvish was brought in to replace All-Star-caliber Jake Arrieta.
If there’s a question mark, it might be closer Brandon Morrow’s lack of experience in that role. But Steve Cishek and Justin Wilson have some. And Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. have the stuff to try.
Mostly, the Cubs’ spring has been defined by its good health.
“I’m still holding my breath for two more days,” Epstein said. “It’s gone really smoothly. I think our players came in focused, motivated, energetic, hungry, and we’ve played well, with very few exceptions, including the organizational depth.”
Just don’t try to tell him it’s safe to relax.
“There’s always issues,” Epstein said. “Sometimes you just don’t know about them yet.”
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