by Tom DeMichael
It. Is. Always. Tough. To. Repeat. As. A. World. Champion. In. Sports.
A simple sentence is difficult to read when one has to stop and start every time. And that’s exactly what the Cubs have been dealing with this year. With every loss that keeps them around .500, a win brings hope that they’ll start running their stuttering words into cogent sentences.
Where does one begin?
Lack of a legit lead-off hitter? (Sub that with the excruciatingly desperate and extensive experiment to turn bona fide slugger Kyle Schwarber into the table-setter, along with the loss of spark plug Dexter Fowler.)
Starting pitchers who have a combined ERA of more than a run and a half more than last year? (As well as a dearth of the quality starts they so proudly carried in 2016.)
A sputtering offense that starts and stops more than my long gone ‘68 Plymouth Belvedere – complete with more bondo than one can imagine? (Injuries? Sure, but everyone has injuries over a long season. The Cubs’ farm system is heartier than most to provide temporary or semi- permanent relief – AKA Ian Happ, Jeimer Candelario, etc.)
Never has a World Series winning team not had a returning player to the following year’s All-Star Game – until now (recalling that Wade Davis was saving games for the Royals last year.)
And, to top everything else, the NL Central is begging, pleading, itching for anyone to take control. Five teams, all scrambling to be mediocre.
While many fans were disappointed with the All-Star no-shows, that just might have been what the physician prescribed. Perhaps four days off were just what the players needed. Not to mention the “win-win” crosstown trade that went down before their return (more on that in a moment.)
Starting with the three-game series in Baltimore, the Cubs looked more like the winning team of 2016. An offensive output that averaged nine runs a game, overall good starting pitching, and last-inning heroics gave the Cubs a three game sweep on the road. That’s something that has been sorely missing (among other things) this year. They repeated that feat in Atlanta for a 6-0 road trip.
As one may easily surmise, Cub President Theo Epstein is no wooden partner to Edgar Bergen. He’s been watching the same games we have been watching. Going to his deep (but not endless) minor league stables, Theo sent his two top prospects – OF Eloy Jimenez and SP Dylan Cease (plus two) down the Red Line L to 35th and Shields.
In return, he got left-handed starter Jose Quintana. In his first start, he “only” went seven innings, giving up three hits, no runs, and striking out twelve. Sox fans aren’t surprised – they watched him win fifty games since 2012.
With that deal, Rick Hahn continued to build a contender/winner in the mold of the Cards, Red Sox, and north side Cubs. The Southsiders now had nine of the Top 100 minor league prospects in baseball.
Not content to stand idle, Hahn then traded 3B Todd Frazier, plus RP David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the dreaded Yankees for more prospects. Among them was OF Blake Rutherford, the 30th top prospect in the game.
The Sox now had ten of the Top 100 minor league prospects in baseball. And, their “toppermost of the poppermost” – Yoan Moncada – was brought up to the bigs to play 2B.
They have exciting and talented outfielders like Rutherford, plus Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. A solid infield that starts with SS Tim Anderson and 1B Jose Abreu will soon be joined by Moncada and 3B Jake Burger. Look for names like Cease, Kopech, Lopez, and Giolito to take the mound in a short while. In no time, the Sox will be viable contenders in the AL Central.
It’s déjà vu all over again, but south of Madison Street. The White Sox are poised for (quoting Theo) “sustainable success,” perhaps as early as 2020. Then, the Crosstown Series could take on a whole new meaning.