Hello Landmark sports fans, I'm Melvin Tate. While I primarily write about Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick for the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest, I have also covered Landmark high school sports in the past.
With high school sports on summer hiatus, I'd like to take a closer look at Chicago's Major League Baseball teams. Since the Cubs and White Sox recently split four games, neither can claim bragging rights in the Crosstown Classic. However, a more important question remains for both clubs; specifically, how will each of them fare the rest of the season?
Here's my breakdown of the Cubs and White Sox in the latest installment of "Tate's Take."
The Cubs (50-44) lead the National League Central Division by two games over St. Louis (47-45). Shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras represented the Cubs at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Cleveland. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Jason Heyward have been solid as well.
On the mound, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester have been the team's most consistent starters. The bullpen, which was a sore spot at the beginning of the season, has improved and added Craig Kimbrel (one of MLB's top closers).
However, there are some issues that concern me about the Cubs. Injuries to Hamels and Hendricks are problematic, especially considering Yu Darvish continues to struggle living up to the long-term contract he signed before last season. The unexpected leave of absence by Ben Zobrist, who is dealing with a family issue, has cost the Cubs a good bat and versatility in the lineup. And while the team has an excellent home record of 32-17, they're only 18-27 away from Wrigley Field. Simply put, they have to improve that road mark if they want to advance into the postseason for a fifth consecutive year.
The White Sox are in third place in the American League Central Division with a 42-48 record. This is the best record the South Siders have had at this point of the season during the last three years, which has been part of a lengthy rebuilding process general manager Rick Hahn decided to embark on following the 2016 season.
The White Sox have produced plenty of excitement this year, largely due to their young talent finally breaking out. Examples include starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (who made the AL All-Star team along with catcher James McCann and veteran first baseman Jose Abreu), shortstop Tim Anderson, third baseman Yoan Moncada and left fielder Eloy Jimenez. Along with Abreu, center fielder Leury Garcia and second baseman Yolmer Sanchez have provided a steady veteran presence in the lineup.
Rookie pitcher Dylan Cease is one of the organization's top prospects and looked solid in his MLB debut - a 7-5 win over Detroit. Closer Jesus Colome has been reliable the vast majority of the season.
Unfortunately (other than Giolito), the starting pitcher rotation has been a glaring weakness. Injuries and ineffectiveness have resulted in one of the worst earned-run averages in baseball. Carlos Rodon, the Opening Day starter, saw his year end as a result of Tommy John surgery. And Michael Kopech - another top prospect - will miss the entire year due to his own TJ surgery late last season. Thankfully, with the advances made in health and science, this operation isn't the career killer it used to be for a pitcher. Both Kopech and Rodon should return in good condition for 2020.
The lineup also needs to improve its consistency as the hitters have looked like the next coming of the 1927 Yankees at times and the Hitless Wonders at others.
Attendance is up this season at Guaranteed Rate Field (ugh, I'm sorry, but it will always be Comiskey Park to this native South Sider), proof that White Sox fans are embracing their young, exciting and still-developing talent. I expect the team to start contending again in 2020. And with plenty of good prospects still in the farm system, the Pale Hose are positioning themselves to embark on an extended run of success.
The Cubs have established stars in Baez, Bryant and Contreras. They also have an aggressive front office led by Theo Epstein that's willing to make the necessary moves to put the team in the best possible position. I anticipate the Cubs acquiring another bat in the next few weeks before the trade deadline of July 31 to shore up the lineup. In spite of the criticism he gets (some of which is deserved), Joe Maddon is still one of the game's top managers.
Can the Cubs pull away and win the tightly-bunched NL Central (the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are only 5 ½ games out of first)? Can the White Sox manage to finish at least .500?
The second half of the season should provide plenty of drama and intrigue.
And hey, if you're a Chicago Bears fan, I'm sure you're excited as I am about training camp opening up July 25. Can head coach Matt Nagy follow up a hugely successful 2018 season in his debut with another stellar record and NFC North title in a year where expectations are very high? We'll find that out soon enough.
In the meantime, get out to a Cubs or White Sox game and enjoy the rest of the summer.