Darvish gives Chicago Cubs' rotation plenty of depth

The signing of Yu Darvish on the eve of spring training changed the entire dynamic of the Cubs' starting rotation.

That is, Darvish has added a dynamism that makes the Cubs rotation the best in the National League Central and maybe the best in the league.

The Cubs have four starters who could be opening-day starters for any team in baseball. Here are some of their credentials:

• Jon Lester, who will start the season opener March 29 at Miami, has made 5 opening-day starts, including 1 with the Cubs in 2015. He is a three-time world champion and a four-time all-star.

• Kyle Hendricks has been a starter in Game 7 of the World Series and Game 1 of a division series. His 10 postseason starts for the Cubs are the most in franchise history, and he has a career ERA of 2.94.

• Darvish was a four-time all-star with the Texas Rangers, most by a pitcher in team history.

• Jose Quintana took over as the ace of the White Sox's staff last year after Chris Sale was traded to Boston. He was an all-star in 2016.

That's a pretty strong top four, and the Cubs believed they unearthed a gem when they signed right-hander Tyler Chatwood from Colorado in early December.

Before the signing of Darvish, the Cubs looked to have a rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and possibly left-hander Mike Montgomery, who has served as a valuable swing man since the Cubs obtained him from the Mariners during a July 1016 trade.

The Cubs publicly were OK with this, but there was little doubt they would add arm after onetime ace Jake Arrieta explored free agency, finally signing last week with the Phillies.

The addition of Darvish not only strengthens the rotation, but it also allows the Cubs to use Montgomery as a spot starter and middle reliever (even though Montgomery would prefer to be a full-time starter).

One thing to watch this season will be the number of innings pitched for each starter. Last season no Cubs starter reached the 200-innings mark. Lester and Hendricks both spent time on the disabled list, Lester with shoulder fatigue and Hendricks with a finger injury. On top of that, manager Joe Maddon wanted to take it easy on his starters after their long postseason run in 2016.

This off-season was shorter, and Lester told reporters early in spring training that he's ready to go. He also has spoken in the past in his pride in reaching 200 innings in a season.

"I took about two weeks off and got back at it," he said. "Hopefully, we don't have to worry about (injury) this year. I feel good as far as where I'm at physically."

The Cubs also are hoping that a full season with one team will help Quintana, who came over in a July trade with the White Sox last season. Quintana went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA in 14 regular-season starts with the Cubs before going 0-1 with a 5.40 in the postseason.

Chatwood is off to a good start in spring training, with 12 strikeouts in his first 11 Cactus League innings. The Cubs are banking on Chatwood excelling now that Coors Field is no longer his home park. Away from Coors last year, he went 5-7 with a 3.49 ERA. In Colorado, he was 3-8 with a 6.01 ERA.

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