Ryan Says: Darvish’s New Delivery, Outfield Playing Time, NL Central Previews

We’re under one week until opening day against the Miami Marlins, and things are beginning to become more clear for the Cubs. And strangely enough – knock on wood – they really don’t have too many injuries. Not even nagging injuries, really. At this point, it’s possible that Pedro Strop will be on the disabled list to start the year (although he did appear in his first spring game on Thursday). It’s otherwise smooth sailing for now.

• It’s no secret that Yu Darvish got lit up in the World Series. Pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Darvish allowed two home runs and eight earned over only 3 1/3 innings in two starts. He lost both games and Los Angeles lost the series in seven to the Houston Astros. But that’s old news.

As it turns out, Darvish was tipping his pitches. Something in his delivery was telling Astros hitters what was coming, which explains how they suddenly figured out how to absolutely destroy one of the nastiest pitchers in the game. As a result, Darvish has made some noticeable changes. I put together a little video comparing his delivery this spring versus 2017 in the NLDS.

The most jarring of the changes is that he has a long pause before his stride, almost Hideo Nomo-like. Darvish has looked outstanding this spring, and even commented that he was getting stronger in the 6th inning on Wednesday. I have a gut feeling that Darvish is in for a really, really good season.

• Ian Happ certainly enjoys hitting in Arizona. Through 48 plate appearances in spring training, Happ has a slash line of .333/.417/.810 with five home runs. Yes, that is a 1.226 OPS. Don’t expect him to be that good during the regular season, but Happ has certainly made a case to be in the lineup nearly every day. Not only that, but batting at the top of the order.

Another Cubs outfielder having a nice spring is the slim-and-trim Kyle Schwarber, who has a .381/.471/.786 slash with four homers. Yes, that is a 1.256 OPS. Again, spring training. But Schwarber comes with major expectations, given his draft status and playoff heroics of the past. The strong showing this month after his poor 2017 – and in general, his .222/.329/.471 career slash line – is a huge deal for Schwarber.

Figuring out how to get playing time for these two guys, plus Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist, will be a major challenge for Joe Maddon. It’s easy enough to just say that Zobrist and Heyward need to sit, but it’s never that simple. The playing-time split is one of the early story lines I’ll be watching in 2018.

• Hey, it’s another shameless plug! Over at Locked On Cubs, I’ve been previewing the NL Central this last week. I talked to Craig Edwards about the Cardinals, Jason Rollison on the Pirates, Travis Sarandos on the Brewers, and James Rapien on the Reds. There’s a lot of good stuff in those podcasts, and they’re all around or under 30 minutes.

For St. Louis, Edwards clues us in on two young pitchers that he thinks could be difference-makers for the Cards this season. Rollison talked about the hope for the Pirates in 2018, while Sarandos lamented the Brewers’ inability to bring in a top-flight starting pitcher. Rapien understands that the Reds are rebuilding, but sees hope for the future. It’s worth giving it a listen if you want to get caught up on the minutiae of the Cubs’ rivals.

And while we’re on the topic of my other baseball-related ventures, I wanted to point out that this upcoming week will be my last at FanRag Sports. Long-time readers will remember that I originally left Cubs Insider to write for the young, fairly unknown site. I was part of a ton of growth over three years and I had some amazing career milestones there. I’m sad that it’s coming to an end, but Hemingway was right: The writing business is a hideous bitch goddess.

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