It’s been a long time since Chicago had cause for optimism. Now, the White Sox and Cubs look poised to put Chicago back on the map
Last season, Chicago’s two professional baseball teams finished with identical 73-89 records, each landing 17 games back of first place in their respective divisions. It was just another in a long stretch of futile seasons in the Windy City. A stretch of futility, however, that may be coming to an end.
The White Sox have reached the playoffs only three times since 2000, though that does include their surprise 2005 World Series-winning season. Aside from their one championship this millennium (the team’s first since 1917), the White Sox have been mostly a non-factor. They haven’t reached the postseason since 2008, when they lost in the Division Series to Tampa, 3-1. They haven’t won 90 games since 2006, and have been mostly forgotten in the American League Central.
The White Sox’ neighbors to the North, the Cubs, have been even worse. We all know about their World Series drought; we’re at 107 years and counting since their last championship. The Cubbies haven’t even made the playoffs since 2008, and haven’t won a postseason series since 2003, aka the Bartman year. Without a World Series appearance since 1945, the Cubs have been perhaps the most notorious losers in sports since WWII.
Chicago has been a baseball black eye for the better part of a century. Since 1915, the Cubs and White Sox have combined for two World Series victories (both the White Sox). Meanwhile, San Francisco has won two championships since 2012. For the first time in years, though, hope springs eternal in Chicago.
We’ll start in the American League, where the White Sox may be the best team in the league. They already had plenty of talent, but wasted no time adding more this offseason. Let’s start with their pitching rotation, which may be the best in baseball.
Chris Sale headlines the rotation, looking to continue a run of success that led to new Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson saying Sale reminds him of himself – high praise for anyone. He’s the best pitcher in the American League, and only injuries to start his 2014 prevented him from winning his first Cy Young. He should be a favorite to do so this year.
The White Sox weren’t content there, adding Oakland’s Jeff Samardzija (who himself played on the other side of Chicago). Their new Sale-Samardzija one-two punch rivals any in baseball. Throw in Jose Quintana and John Denks, and the White Sox have one of the most formidable rotations in baseball. New additions Zach Duke and David Robertson will shore up their bullpen. Good luck building a lead against the White Sox; even better luck coming from behind if you don’t.
The White Sox aren’t the only Chicago team to improve it’s pitching staff. The Cubs already had Jake Arrieta, who came over from Baltimore last season and looked better than advertised. They can sandwich him now between new signings Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, a top-three that can compete against any team in baseball. Lester brings over a proven track record as a solid number-one pitcher, if not a typical “ace,” and one of the best postseason resumes in the game. It doesn’t matter which ballpark you’re in; if you come to Chicago, you’re going to have a tough time putting the bat on the ball. You may also have a tough time keeping it in the ballpark.
The White Sox bring one of, if not the, top offenses in baseball. Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu should pick up right where he left off; the only difference is, he has some backup this time. Newly-signed Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche should provide some stability in the lineup behind Abreu. Just as important is a player many have forgotten about, Avisail Garcia. Acquired in 2013 as part of the deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston, Garcia played only 46 games last season after tearing the labrum in his left shoulder. A healthy Garcia for a full season, especially in that lineup, could be devastating. Add in guys like Tyler Flowers, Conor Gillaspie, and Alexei Ramirez, and these White Sox can flat out hit.
The Cubs are no slouches on offense either, thanks to a new strategy by GM Theo Epstein. Fielding youngsters all over the diamond, the Cubs have been hoarding offensive talent for years now. It may finally pay off at the Major League level this season. First-baseman Anthony Rizzo is already making a name for himself as a premier hitter in the National League, with a .286/.386/.527 line last year to go with 32 home runs. He’s joined by fellow youngsters Javier Baez and Starlin Castro in the infield; Minor-Leaguer Addison Russell may not be all that far behind.
In the outfield, the Cubs also have some offensive talent, led by Jorge Soler, who hit .290 with five home runs in only 24 games with the big league club last season. Chris Coghlan and Arismendy Alcantra join him. The Cubs are young, and will have some growing pains, but they’ll hit the cover off the ball while they do it.
For most of the last century, baseball in Chicago has been a joke. Two teams, two championships since 1915. If not for the 2005 White Sox, Chicago as a whole would be looking at 100 years of losing. The good years have truly been few and far between in Chicago, but that may all be coming to an end.
Both the White Sox and Cubs have used the perfect blend of free-agent signings, prospect hoarding, and farm-system coaching to create highly competitive teams. I don’t know if “Next Year” has arrived in Chicago, but it’s certainly closer than it’s been in a long time.