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Cubs’ Shota Imanaga is having the most fun right now

1 month agoTony Andracki

There might not be a player in baseball who is having more fun than Shota Imanaga right now.

Cubs players and coaches – as well as the entire fanbase – are certainly having fun watching Imanaga state his case not only for National League Rookie of the Year but also possibly to start the All-Star Game and take home the NL Cy Young as well.

Imanaga has been a revelation for the Cubs this season in his first season in America after an 8-year career in Japan.

The 30-year-old southpaw came to the U.S. as a confident pitcher who was sure of himself as a pitcher and as a person.

He displayed that confidence from the very first second he became a Cub, addressing fans at the Convention in January with the opening lines of the song “Go Cubs Go.

The legend of Imanaga has grown from there, as the team has leaned into his star-making turn by declaring each day he starts “Sho Time.”

Imanaga didn’t allow an earned run until his 4th start of the season and his season ERA sits under 2.00 (1.89) following yet another heroic performance Saturday against the Cardinals.

The Cubs have won 11 of his 13 starts, including a pair of 1-0 games in May.

Imanaga has not allowed an earned run in 6 of his 13 outings and he has only permitted more than 2 earned runs in 1 outing (May 29 at Milwaukee, in which he apologized to his manager after).

And he’s done it all with a laid-back style and a sense of humor that has endeared him not only to Chicago, but the entire baseball world.

Take the new moniker in his locker, Mike Imanaga II. That stems from his love of Dunkin’ coffee, which he has openly discussed.

Then there’s Saturday, where he flashed some pure emotion:

And followed that up with yet another classic punchline:

“I was pretty hungry,” he said through interpreter Edwin Stanberry. “So I was thinking about what kind of food and nutrition I should take after the game. This is my honest thought.”

Or the time in early-May when he got a big out against the Padres at Wrigley Field and had this to say of the crowd reaction:

“Recently, it’s been hard for me to get up in the morning so if I switch the fans cheering to my alarm, I think I’ll get up pretty fast,” Imanaga said as laughter filled the media room.

It’s not an easy thing to make the transition from one country to another. There is a language barrier, a complete shift in culture and the way things are done, not to mention weather (Imanaga refuses to wear long sleeves, even during frigid Chicago nights). Everything from ordering coffee to commuting around a city suddenly become a lot more difficult.

Not only has Imanaga succeeded with all of that “life” stuff, but he has done so with an incredible level of success on the field – while adjusting to a brand new league with new hitters, new ballparks, new umpires, new teammates and a new coaching staff.

Nobody would blame Imanaga if he had boring, canned answers about his success or his transition to the U.S. game given all that he is dealing with.

Instead, he has let his natural personality and sense of humor show and everybody is here for it.

“It’s a great trait that he has,” manager Craig Counsell said. “And it’s what makes him really good at what he does. I think we all admire that and you admire people having success but I think you also just admire the way he goes about it.

“He’s enjoyable to watch. He’s got a really great sense of humor about it. And a unique way of competing that I think is a teacher for us, really as much as anything.”

Where does that level of comfort come from?

“I’m just thinking about what can I do to get comfortable here?” Imanaga said. “My teammates in the clubhouse, their communication is great. If it wasn’t for the support I have around me, it wouldn’t be the case. So I’m very thankful for everyone around me.”

Imanaga’s success will almost assuredly carry him to the All-Star Game next month. And he has a very good chance to start the contest – only Philadelphia’s Ranger Suarez (1.77) and Atlanta’s Reynaldo Lopez (1.69) have a lower ERA than Imanaga’s 1.89.

The Cubs haven’t had a pitcher start an All-Star Game since Claude Passeau in 1946.

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