Cubs/Sox Early Summer Update
The dismal records of the Cubs and White Sox don't surprise anyone as the teams head into the summer. However, there have been plenty of individual surprises and storylines that make the rest of this season worth paying attention to.Not much was expected out of our hometown baseball teams in 2014. ESPN-affiliated website Grantland, for example, pegged the Sox at 74-88 and the Cubs at 67-95 in their 2014 projected standings. Even the most outlandish of team projections only had the Sox slightly above .500, and the Cubs...well, still not .500. Neither team was to even sniff the postseason. So far the Sox have outplayed most of their projections, but not in the way you might have expected. This spring Sox proponents pointed out some promising young arms in the starting rotation, namely Andre Rienzo, Jose Quintana, and of course, Chris Sale, as a likely strength for the club. A strong rotation along with the typically strong offense the Sox benefit from could help the team make a run, they said. They were right about the offense. The South Siders (28-27) led the Major Leagues in runs for much of the early months. Adam Dunn got off to a hot start, Alexei Ramirez has been arguably the best shortstop in the league on both sides of the ball, and some unexpected hot hitting from Tyler Flowers and Gordon Beckham have gone a long way. But no one could have predicted the breakout of slugging Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu. A $68 million dollar exclamation point (or question mark, depending on who you asked) over the offseason, imported masher Abreu had been owning Cuban pitching for years. It remained to be seen if he could adjust to big league pitching. He adjusted tremendously, hitting .270 with 10 homers and 32 RBIs in April in one of the best rookie debut months in history. Abreu has spent time on the disabled list in May. Ramirez, however, has played every game thus far, registering an OPS nearly 50 points higher than any other AL shortstop and has been better by nearly one entire win above replacement. Ramirez is hitting .327 with 36 RBIs. Beckham may have finally unlocked his potential, hitting .297. The team's struggles have mostly come on the pitching side. After Sale and Rienzo the rotation, namely John Danks, Erik Johnson, Felipe Paulino, and Scott Carroll have disappointed. In the bullpen, Scott Downs, Maikel Cleto, and Ronald Belisario have not pitched well either. But Sale (4-0, 1.63 ERA) has been absolutely dominant and keeps the Sox in a game until the end every start. On the North Side, the Cubs (19-32) are still all about the future, and not so much the present. Superstar prospects like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are still in the minor leagues although one or both of them may debut later this season. More and more great prospects have been added to the system each of the last few years, and maybe the greatest haul yet will come from the likely trade of dominating ace Jeff Samardzija (1.68 ERA). New manager Rick Renteria was tasked with improving the play of slumping Major League stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro and so far he's been doing something right. Rizzo (8 homers, .396 OBP) and Castro (.272 AVG, 7 homers, 25 RBIs) have carried a Cubs lineup that's been abysmal otherwise. Mike Olt's been mashing home runs to lead the team with nine but he's also batting .168. Emilio Bonifacio cooled off hard since an astronomical start, and Nate Schierholtz (.206 AVG) has been cold all year. Darwin Barney (.184 AVG) and Welington Castillo (.252 AVG) are routinely lauded for defensive contributions but neither are hitting well enough, especially Barney. Rizzo and Luis Valbuena (.377 OBP) are the only two Cubs that do a great job getting on base. What happens when you can't score runs? You can't support your pitching staff all that well. Ace Samardzija didn't get his first win until May 26 despite being baseball's ERA leader, the latest time the ERA leader was winless in over 30 years. Samardzija, the Cubs' longest-tenured member, is the only remaining link to that 97-win first-place 2008 team. Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta have been great in the rotation while Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson have shown flashes of getting back to where both have been before. In Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, and Hector Rondon, the Cubs have a trio of very hard-throwing shutdown relievers. Rondon (1.59 ERA, 6 saves) won the closer job after Jose Veras imploded multiple times. Besides the whole closing thing, the Cubs' bullpen has actually been quite solid. The problem here being that the Cubs rarely have the lead by the time these guys take the mound. Still, the Cubs will have some interesting things take place over the next few months. Samardzija is most likely to get traded to Atlanta, Toronto, New York, or Baltimore, Baez, Bryant, infielder Arismendy Alcantara and pitcher Kyle Hendricks may get the call up in the impact prospects department, Renteria will continue to put pressure on his underachieving team, and Tom Ricketts will duke it out in court with the rooftops over the Wrigley renovation plans. As Year 3 of the Cubs' rebuilding campaign appears to be another 'progress' year more than an 'execution' year, the focus of the organization is again not on the Major League product. But beautiful Wrigley Field is in its 100th season, and the 'Party of the Century' continues all season long. The Cubs are wearing throwback jerseys from across decades every Sunday to celebrate each decade of Cubs baseball at the Friendly Confines. Check out their special website that details the festivities. Chicago baseball fans have had it rough the past few years. But between the Sox potent offense, star power, gameday experience, and the Cubs' young talent, Wrigleyville entertainment, and 100th anniversary festivities, a great time is still to be had at the ballpark during what should be another one of our beautifully warm summers. Gold Coast Tickets recommends you get out to the park ASAP--grab some buddies, girlfriends, or bring out the whole family. And take advantage of our convenient gameday ticket pickup locations outside the ballparks!
Photo Source: Lance Iversen/USA Today Sports