As the South Siders head to 1060 W Addison this weekend, with them comes a clash of expectations. Both teams pursued roster overhauls in the winter, both teams adding new starting pitching as well as some much-needed sources of run support. The Cubs focused their free agency search on a catcher and a starting pitcher. Securing the lefty batting Montero, the second-best pitch framer on the market, and a lefty ace in Lester, as well as re-signing Jason Hammel, the club felt that they had navigated the FA market well. As has been preached and preached though, throughout the Cubs organization, the primary source for talent for the North Siders would be through the farm system. Bringing Kris Bryant up along with defensive specialist, Addison Russell, and relying on the likes of other young talents like Jorge Soler, Starlin Castro, and an improved Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs appear to be exponentially better a couple weeks into the season, at least, that is how it appeared on paper. Fans were citing Back to the Future, and this time, letting themselves maybe, just maybe, believe that they wouldn’t have to say “next year” in September. The White Sox, very busy themselves in the offseason, looked as though they too, would be much better on paper. Adding the former Cub, Jeff Samardzija to beef up the starting rotation, as well as signing the big bats of Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera while also trying to address their greatest weakness, the bullpen, with the additions of Zach Duke and David Robertson, the White Sox appeared to be all-in on spending and winning. The potential addition of rookie promising prospect hoping to become an ace, Carlos Rodon, tied the picture together with a pretty bow that made fans think…“the ten-year anniversary of their last World Series! It makes nothing but beautiful, poetic sense!”
And now, in perfect dramatic fashion, the two clubs face off immediately prior to the mid-point of the season and the all-star break. Speaking of, the Cubs will have two members playing, Anthony Rizzo as a first base reserve, and Kris Bryant, starting in the place of Giancarlo Stanton, both of whom will also be competing in the home run Derby the evening prior. The two young big-batted stars could likely face the White Sox only representative for the game: Chris Sale. All three selections are well deserving. Sale tied the major league record for eight consecutive starts with double digits strikeouts, and holds a 2.80 ERA and a 7-4 record. Bryant and Rizzo are the heart of the offensive power in the Cubs lineup. Bryant, batting .275 has an on base percentage of .381 with 12 HRs and 50 RBIs. Rizzo is threat at every at-bat, with an average .296 and an OBP of .401 with 16 HRs and 48 RBIs.
But at the midpoint, the records and standings reflect the reality of both clubs’ expectations. The North Siders, at 46-38, are 3rd in the NL Central, the best division in the National League, and hold the second wild card spot by a 3-game lead on the Mets. Though the team has struggled against the major-league leading and long-time rival Cardinals this season, it appears as though Maddon’s team has a real chance to compete against any team, any given day. However, the White Sox, with a record of 39-44 are last in the AL Central and third worst in the American League. Some blame the lack of clarity in the dual leadership front-office, others blame the big, brand new roster, that at times, appears they do all they can to give away close games, and others call for the head of “reluctant manager,” Robin Ventura.
Both offenses struggling as of late, it appears that the series will be a battle of arms. The matchups are listed below:
Friday 3:05—–Hendricks (3.82, 4-4) v Rodon (4.18, 3-2)
Saturday 3:05-Lester (3.48, 4-7) v Sale (2.8, 7-4)
Sunday 1:20—Arrieta (2.8, 9-5) v Quintana (3.69, 4-8)
It feels as though Sale, when and if he pitches a complete game is unstoppable, and that the White Sox can beat just about anyone, while Lester who started the season struggling, has started to find his stuff for about 5-6 innings an outing. While Quintana has been decent throughout the season, still battling the lack of run support, his opponent on Sunday, Arrieta, has proven to be the Cubs’ true ace. So it appears, that if the last two games split, the series will come down to the two young guns in Hendricks and Rodon. Game 1 would also likely be the day that big bats come into play. Beyond that, the Cubs have an edge in their bullpen. The White Sox have struggled in the category for the past two years, while the Cubs have surprised everyone, having one of the best in the game in the first half of the season.
With the reality of the MLB being a near total lack of dominant teams, outside of the Cardinals, and a plethora of fun, exciting baseball thanks to the likes of a crop of young, talented players flowing into the ranks and succeeding, and high-scoring, divisional races throughout both leagues, one could argue that the series is of importance for more than just pride and bar-bragging rights within the city limits for the first season in a number of years. The South Siders, coming off a surprisingly successful trio of series against the Cardinals, Oriole, and Blue Jays, the White Sox could be beginning to turn things around pre-break in the league while only 5.5 games back of the second wild card spot. The Cubs however, are looking to gain ground on both the Pirates and Cardinals going into the break, hoping to prove that indeed, “they can only get better.”
Though records and narrative point in opposite directions, the two clubs and their different strategies to overhauls could both still succeed. Either way, one can be sure that this weekend will be one of the best Crosstown Classics in quite some time.