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Carlos Martinez is one of the only sure things in the Cardinals' rotation.

The Cardinals might as well focus on the wild-card race. But really, what's the point? The Cubs are headed to the World Series anyway.

At least that's the vibe you get as you consume the Yu Darvish coverage that's been coming out of Chicago since the Cubs signed the 31-year-old right-hander to a six-year deal worth $126 million.

"This is what urgency looks like in professional sports," writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. "This is how you sustain success. A Cubs team coming off its third straight National League Championship Series attacked free-agency like a team looking for legitimacy."

"Ladies and gentlemen, your NL champion Chicago Cubs," writes Haugh's colleague Steve Rosenbloom.

"If Darvish is the pitcher the Cubs hope he is, next season won’t have many worries," writes Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times. "Only celebrations."

The cynic in me wants to call in a correction. The Cubs signed Darvish, not Max Scherzer.

Then the realist in me speaks up, and the snark stops. The Cubs don't need Darvish to be Scherzer in order to once again treat the Cardinals like a bug on the windshield, something to wipe off during a trip to bigger and better things.

The Cubs just need Darvish to stay healthy, not tip his pitches, and prove that his past postseason struggles were more fluke than foreshadowing.

If he can do that, look out.

The current state of Darvish Mania might be a bit much. But here's the thing: The numbers fan the flames.

You have probably heard of ZiPS. If not, here's the full explanation. In short, the system ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski created when he was at Baseball Think Factory "uses growth and decline curves based on player type to find trends, then factors those trends into the past performance of those players to come up with projections."

ZiPs sees Darvish finishing with a 13-7 record and a 3.27 ERA in 28 starts (168 innings) in his first season in Chicago. That's 3.9 Wins Above Replacement. And an adjusted ERA of 133. Remember, 100 is league average.

These could be off. Perhaps the injury-prone Darvish doesn't hold up. Maybe he doesn't figure out that whole pitch-tipping problem. There is good reason for concern about his performance over the length of his deal, due to his age and past injury problems. Of course, these worries will vanish if Darvish helps the Cubs win big again. His addition, on paper, suggests he might.

Don't assume he has to do it alone. The rotation of Darvish, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood sure looks like the best in the National League Central. That starting five will be paired with a lineup that averaged 5.07 runs per game last season, which was fourth-best in baseball, second-best in the National League, and first among teams that didn't call homer-happy Coors Field home.

Only 29 major league starters made 18-or-more quality starts last season. The Cubs now have three of them: Darvish (19 quality starts in 2017), Lester (18) and Quintana (18). That leaves Hendricks, who overcame a bout of tendinitis last season to start 24 games and finish with a 3.03 ERA, the lowest of any Cubs pitcher who made at least one start, and Chatwood, a gamble signing who now shifts to fifth starter. And don't forget that the Darvish addition moves potential fifth starter Mike Mongtomery back to the bullpen, which strengthens the Cubs' relief corps.

Let's go back to the projections.

Because ZiPs projects the performance of each player on a team, it can also project a team's performance.

Before the Cubs signed Darvish, ZiPS assigned the Cubs a 58.4 percent probability to win the National League Central, and an 80.4 percent probability to make the postseason.

After signing Darvish? ZiPs now assigns the Cubs a 71.9 percent probability to win the National League Central, and an 89.9 percent probability to make the postseason.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the Darvish signing, the Cardinals have dropped to a 17.2 percent probability of winning the division, with a 53.3 percent probability of making the postseason.

Let's view it through another lens, using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection.

Before signing Darvish, PECOTA projected the Cubs as an 89-win team aimed for first place in the NL Central. Now? The post-Darvish PECOTA projection reads 92 wins for the first-place Cubs. That's now eight wins ahead of the Cardinals, who are projected to finish in second place with 84 wins, just one ahead of the third-place Brewers.

A six-year deal for Darvish might not have made much sense for the Cardinals, considering they have up-and-coming pitching prospects the Cubs sorely lack. But the biggest question mark the Cardinals took to spring training was a rotation that was heavy on hope and light on sure things. The addition of a proven veteran could help ease those concerns and increase competition for a rotation spot, but there has been no sign such a move is coming. (I don't mind taking a shot on new addition Bud Norris as a potential bullpen-booster, but he has an 8-15 record and a 5.68 ERA as a starter since 2015.)

Earlier, I mentioned that list of 29 pitchers who made 18-or-more quality starts last season. The 2017 Cardinals landed three on that list: Carlos Martinez (20), Mike Leake (18) and Lance Lynn (18).

Martinez is the only one who returns. The Cardinals are counting on Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Luke Weaver, Miles Mikolas and a cast of up-and-comers including Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty to not just make up for what was lost, but to improve upon it.

And perhaps they will. Maybe they will even be better than the Cubs. Believe it or not, there is still an entire season to play.

But the Darvish signing does seem to touch on the biggest difference between the current versions of the Cardinals and the Cubs. The former banks on hope. The latter taps into the bank account to minimize doubt.

Ben Frederickson is a Herald & Review News Service columnist based in St. Louis.


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