Chicago baseball has been nothing if not dramatic since the season started a little over a month ago. The Cubs battled their way to first place in the division after a terrible start, while the White Sox welcomed the debut prized prospect Eloy Jimenez only to add him to the injured list a few weeks later.
The Cubs are playing the best baseball in the MLB right now. At 51, they boast the best run differential (runs allowed subtracted from runs scored) in baseball and are first in on-base plus slugging in the National League. Since April 9, the team’s ERA is 2.48 – the best in baseball by nearly a full run.
Obviously, the biggest single highlight so far was Kyle Hendricks’ 81-pitch shutout of the Cardinals. He made one of the best offenses in the NL look like fools and barely broke a sweat doing it. Javier Baez, despite all the critics predicting regression, is continuing to play like an MVP. Kris Bryant is finally “back,” so to speak, and punctuated the return of his power swing with a grand slam to help sweep the Cardinals.
The Cubs do have some problems, the most obvious one being Yu Darvish. While he has made a couple decent starts, and seems be working on some aspect of his game, it is frustrating to watch a man with his talent (and $126 million contract) struggle to find consistency. There is also the looming roster struggle the front office will need to handle once they decide to recall Ian Happ and Addison Russell to the major league squad. On the surface, it seems hard to justify disrupting the rhythm of a crew on such a roll. There is little to do but wait and see how Cubs President Theo Epstein and his team handle it.
The White Sox are a more complicated team. They are enjoying breakout seasons from Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada, two of the younger players originally expected to help lead the South Siders out of their rebuild. Veteran Jose Abreu is off to a great start, providing much needed offensive production and leadership. Overall, the offense looks impressive.
Their first problem is, frankly, disastrous showing from their pitching staff. Every starter is carrying an ERA over 5, and outside of closer Alex Colome, their bullpen is not looking much better. What’s worse, Carlos Rodon is probably facing a Tommy John Surgery, which will end his season, while bullpen arm Nate Jones is on the 10-day injured list with “no timetable for recovery.”
Technically, there are reinforcements. The problem is, that would mean pulling from their pool of prospects who still need some development in the minors. The question for the Sox is this: is it worth disrupting Dylan Cease’s development to push for that small chance at being competitive this year?
The promising showing from the offense gave hope that the Sox could be somewhat competitive in their division this year, especially with how vulnerable the Indians look. Unfortunately, if the injuries keep nagging and the pitching does not stabilize, the team will need to dig deep to find solid ground.