By Mike Tulumello
MESA, Ariz. — The Chicago Cubs, boosted by the addition of Yu Darvish, are certainly well armed as they start spring training. The result, they hope, is a drive toward a second crown in three years.
“The expectation for this group is to win the World Series,” center fielder Albert Almora Jr. said “We know the group in here can do it. We expect nothing but that.”
The Cubs have made three straight extended postseason runs, with 2015 and 2017 ending in losses in the NL Championship Series.
“You could feel the confidence,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday after the Cubs’ first workout for pitchers and catchers.
Darvish totally rounds out the starting rotation, Maddon said.
“Listen, it was going to be really good, anyway,” he said.
“When you go to play somebody in a four-game series, they’re not going to want to see any one of the four,” he said. “Visually, it looks wonderful. But at the end of the day, I’m always mindful of the sense that you still got to do it. This is all theory right now. You love it when theory and reality come together.”
The Cubs went 92-70 in the regular season, then edged the Washington Nationals 3-2 in the NL Division Series. But they limped to the offseason after being routed 4-1 by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.
“We did not like the way last year ended,” Maddon said.
Darvish was a big part of the Dodgers’ success in the final two months of the regular season and the postseason until he fell apart in two World Series starts against the eventual champion Houston Astros.
“We’re getting the guy you’ve seen for the last six years. Two starts isn’t going to change anything,” said Brandon Morrow, the Cubs’ new closer and Darvish’s Dodgers’ teammate at the end of last season. “I think that will only be motivation for him.”
“From the couple months we were together, he’s a hard worker, he takes his bullpen sessions very seriously,” Morrow said.
“I’ve sat on the sidelines and watched. He’s always working on something.trying to be able to do whatever he wants with every pitch,” he said.
Said Maddon, “People are going to be coming after us hard again. We got to come out of the chute more quickly than we did last year, with more mental intensity.”
“That’s really important this year. A guy like Darvish helps,” he said.
Notes: Maddon is bringing baseball-themed artwork into the Cubs’ complex. “For years, I’ve wanted to utilize the thought of putting art back into the game.” One of the first pieces of art is a portrait of David, the slayer of Goliath, who appears to be standing on a pitcher’s mound. In a time when numbers and data are prominent in baseball, “Let’s not forget the human being,” Maddon said. “Let’s not forget the heartbeat. Art to me equals the human experience, the human being. Final point, I wanted our guys to know that they are artists. If you really watch video of a well-played game . you see artistry in the movement of athletes. I want them to think of themselves as artists, also.”