Chicago Baseball at the Halfway Point

The All-Star Game is July 13th at Citi Field this year.  As baseball heads toward it’s mini-break to recognize its stars from the first half of the season, let’s look at the current state of Chicago baseball on both sides of the river.

The White Sox are in the midst of an extremely tough season that is clearly a letdown after last year’s accomplishments when they were in the pennant race until late September. Then a home stand against the Tigers all but ended their postseason aspirations. Now the Sox find themselves in last place in the Central and staring at a the only prize possible: a top draft pick next year.

For the Cubs it’s the same thing as every other year for most of the last century or so.  Theo has apparently cut bait with his closer Carlos Marmol, who only a few years ago was one of the shining lights on the team that was near their post-season goal. The Cubs have plenty of gifted players to build around, most notably Rizzo, Samardzija, Castro, and the newly drafted Kris Bryant. Bryant must think he should already be invited to Citi Field given the way his negotiations are going. The Cubs’ organization needs to focus on the cream of their current roster and cultivating the farm system prospects to put a future team together that can compete on the big stage.  With the new ownership and management in place, and well-publicized modifications to Wrigley certain to happen, the fans will have expectations for success.  Mordecai Brown and Johnny Evers aren’t walking through that door and if Theo can turn this ship around he’ll be as memorable as those guys.

This is a long process. The Cubs are in last place, but they’re closer to something positive than they were at the beginning of the season. The NL Central is statistically a power division; so better to be the doormat of the Central than an underachiever elsewhere. The NL Central allows Theo and Hoyer to build a team that’ll not only face top-notch competition more than most, but force them to build a team to challenge the Cardinals.  That kind of emulation will result in the kind of wins perennially achieved by the Cards.  Letting Pujols walk and feasting on draft compensation is something Theo needs to recognize. He can’t be making the kind of bad transactions he did in Boston. There is just no room for error when it comes to trying to dethrone the class of the Central in the NL.

I don’t mean to ignore the Reds and what they’ve done with their organization. Joey Votto is a stud and Mike Leake is a future front-of-the-rotation starter.  Then there are the Pirates, who have baseball’s best five-tool player in McCutchen (sorry, Trout), and they just scored two top-15 picks a couple of weeks ago.

Kris Bryant will sign, and the Cubs will mesh at the deadline with Garza and perhaps even Gregg and Feldman, but it all comes down to how those pieces develop. The Cubs need to “aim small, miss small” to coin a phrase from a movie. Theo and Sveum need to accept that they aren’t going to win the NL Central next year, but getting to .500 over the next 9 months is a realistic goal.

The White Sox are simply a disappointment this year. There’s nothing else to say other than that the offense hasn’t lived up to its billing. Chris Sale is the best arm in the city, but Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn aren’t putting up the type of numbers that are making managers pitch around them while allowing guys like Rios and Viciedo to do damage with the bases packed. The White Sox won last night, but the defensive mishap in the 9th was just too representative of the season. The 27th out was botched on an infield pop-up that turned into a blooper rail. The Sox would recover to save face, but it should never have come to that. Organizationally, the White Sox have plenty of offensive chips available to work through their farm system. The last two drafts have seen the Sox get hitting from the both the infield and outfield. The Sox will have to focus on seeing how their depth rotation pans out, and that’ll give Kenny Williams a better feel for filling out the organization both offensively and on the mound.

Chicago Baseball is so important to the city because history is long, deep and fresh. The city has two teams that distinguish our allegiances and concurrent tough seasons are a very hard swallow.  2005 suddenly seems very very far away.