Playoff baseball is back for all of Chicago

My grandfather, Papa, as we called him, was born in 1933 in Chicago. He’d spend summer afternoons growing up in Rogers Park, finding a way into Wrigley Field and following the Cubs on a radio, if he could find one. He followed them when he was in the army and followed them when he returned. His father was a White Sox fan but, sickened by the 1918 Black Sox Scandal, changed course, indoctrinating Papa with blue pinstripes instead of black.

He’d seen all the miseries. The collapse in 1969, Leon Durham’s error in 1984. He was at the Bartman game in 2003. It took 72 years for his favorite city to bring home his favorite sport’s ultimate prize, when the White Sox did it in 2005. It took another 11 years for his favorite team to do it. It seems like everyone in Chicago has a story like that. It’s what made 2005 and 2016 so special for so many.

Now, Papa, at 86, watches baseball by himself just about every night, both Cubs and White Sox, as his anti-Sox bitterness slowly dissipated over the years. Between March and the start of the season, that vice wasn’t there, and he was left to watch the news and old Cubs games on Marquee (Once The Last Dance ended, of course).

But then it came back. And for the city of Chicago, it came back in a big way, with both the Cubs and White Sox joining the March Madness-esque postseason sprint. 1906 and 2008 are the only times both teams have been a part of the playoffs in the same year.

But how long both teams are in it remains to be seen. The homestretch of the season was not kind to either team, despite the Cubs’ reclaiming of the NL Central. Their record dipped to below .500 after their 13-3 start and have looked bad against bad teams, like when they lost three out of four games that were seen at the time as must-win. Their bullpen’s bounced back but the starters beyond Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish could be a concern. Ian Happ’s come back to Earth a bit and Kris Bryant just finished the worst season of his Major League career.

As for the White Sox, a team who earlier this month had the best record in baseball ran into a wall the last couple weeks, ending their season by dropping two out of three to the Cubs. Some of their biggest catalysts like Luis Robert and Tim Anderson have seen a drop in production and they’ve struggled to score runs as a result. Dylan Cease’s underlying stats have come to the surface in his recent starts and the Sox, like the Cubs, don’t have much certainty beyond their 1-2. In the first round against a team like the A’s, who feature one of baseball’s better all-around pitching and are anchored by a lights-out bullpen, the White Sox may struggle to put up runs and will need support from their rotation.

It’s not all doom and gloom entering this postseason, however. The White Sox bullpen was one of the best in baseball this year. Their bullpen may not be able to go arm-for-arm with Oakland, but in a best-of-three, Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel may be enough to knock off the A’s in two. Same goes for the Cubs, whose front of the rotation is much better than that of the Miami Marlins. And while it’s reductive and borderline pointless to say that these two teams could get hot, it is true that the White Sox feature one of the most dangerous one-through-nine in baseball. We’ve seen Jon Lester become a different pitcher in the postseason, which would reshape the calculus of the Cubs’ rotational outlook.

It was a weird season but an exciting one in Chicago. Both teams looked brilliant at times and both teams looked listless at others. They each saw a no-hitter, the only teams in baseball to throw one this year. Both teams are back in the playoffs and both teams can make some noise.

Play ball.