When it comes to Chicago baseball, you are either a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan. Being centrally located in the near west suburbs, the Oak Park and River Forest communities have plenty of each.
So it stands to reason that this week’s Tate’s Take column will make some readers happy, and others not so much.
Here are my thoughts on our two baseball teams:
I have to admit I wasn’t impressed when Tony La Russa was named White Sox manager after last season. While he’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he hadn’t managed since leading the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series title in 2011.
Also, La Russa represents the old-school generation. At 76 years old, I wondered how he would relate to today’s flashy Major League Baseball culture, particularly with a young, talented, and fun-loving team like the Sox.
Well, the early results are in, and they’ve been very good. The Sox enter this week with the American League’s best winning percentage. This is especially impressive given all the serious injuries the team has had, especially in the lineup.
The starting rotation has been dominant, led by all-stars Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon, who are first and third respectively in earned-run average in the AL. Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel have been solid as well, and Liam Hendriks — another all-star — is a very strong closer in the bullpen.
The Sox offense started the season slowly but has gradually improved. Tim Anderson, who played in his first All-Star Game last week, is a spark at the top of the order. Jose Abreu, who was the AL’s Most Valuable Player last year, is heating up fast. Yoan Moncada has had a solid year, and a trio of rookies — Jake Burger, Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn — have made substantial contributions to the lineup, which will become stronger once Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert all return from the injured list in the next few weeks.
Unfortunately, second baseman Nick Madrigal will not be back this season from his injury. It’s up to White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn to fill that hole — as well as find more relief help — before the July 30 trade deadline. Hahn said before the season he’d be aggressive in adding to the roster if necessary; let’s see if he can deliver.
While I think the Sox should easily win the AL Central, those holes at second base and in the bullpen need to be taken care of if they want to meet their stated goal of making it to the World Series.
It’s been a different story for the Cubs. As late as June 24, the Cubs led the National League’s Central Division. That evening in Los Angeles, pitchers Zach Davies, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel combined to no-hit the Dodgers in a 4-0 victory for the Cubs.
However, the Cubs dropped the final three games of that series and subsequently got swept in Milwaukee and Cincinnati as part of an 11-game losing streak that effectively ended any hopes of making it to this year’s playoffs. They entered this week with a 46-47 record, nine games out of first in the NL Central.
Team president Jed Hoyer, who replaced Theo Epstein last offseason, was hoping to be a buyer and add to the roster in hopes of making a run. But the recent lengthy skid has altered the course, and Hoyer has become a seller.
Left fielder Joc Pederson became the first domino to fall when he was traded July 15 to the Atlanta Braves for a prospect. Moreover, three key players from the 2016 World Series championship team — shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo — are on the final year of their contracts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if any or all of them are on other teams after the deadline.
The Cubs’ issues are many, but to me, there are two that particularly stand out.
First, besides Kyle Hendricks, the starting pitching has been subpar to say the least (and I’m being nice when I say so). Davies is inconsistent, Jake Arrieta has completely fallen off the face of the earth and Adbert Alzolay is still learning how to be an effective MLB starter.
The other problem, which has been especially so since 2016, is the lineup’s approach at the plate. The Cubs don’t hit the fastball consistently, don’t make enough solid contact and strike out far too often. They swing for home runs all the time instead of being patient and focused on putting the ball in play.
It’s disappointing that the Cubs haven’t been able to build off their 2016 World Series success. Now it certainly feels like this is the end of a golden era for the franchise.
While Sox fans can make plans for October, a familiar refrain can be heard among Cub fans: Wait ‘til next year.