Chicago teams ready to compete

chris sale

Steven Macri is a sports writer for My CJ Sports and has formally interned with SiriusXM and Fox Sports. Give him a follow on Twitter @StevenMacri.

Chicago has no shortage of baseball. Players like Ernie Banks and Joe Jackson used to rule the streets from the early-mid 1900’s. Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa brought muscle to the city in the 1990’s, supplying Chicago with home runs. The Windy City has seen a vast number of All-Stars throw on the red and blue or the white and black, but there has been a shortage of championships.

The last World Series trophy that was brought home to the streets of Chicago was in 2005, when the White Sox defeated the Houston Astros. That team was powered by Thomas, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye. The pitching staff had the likes of Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, and Freddy Garcia. There was one problem with this celebration; this was the first time the city had hoisted a trophy since 1918. There was a dark cloud of karma over the White Sox organization, they had not appeared in the World Series since the 1919 scandal when players accepted bribes to lose.

The Cubs have the biggest “curse” in professional baseball. The classic “Billy Goat” story is known throughout baseball. The Steve Bartman episode that occurred during the 2003 NLCS is a reminder that there might be some type of witches play in the city of Chicago.

President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer have made it a point to turn around the Cubs fortunes. Their first move of the offseason was bringing in beloved manager Joe Maddon. In October Maddon received mix reviews when he decided to use his opt-out clause and soon after the veteran manager joined the Cubs.

The Cubs had their clubhouse leader, but they needed the players for Maddon to plug into his lineup. The organization was quickly putting together the pieces to their puzzle; one that could compete all the way into October.

Jon Lester became a pawn in Epstein’s chess game. Epstein, who is familiar with Lester from when he was the Boston Red Sox general manager and Lester was his ace. Lester, who currently is currently 31, signed a 6-year deal. It was a risk to sign a 31-year old to a long term contract, but one that Epstein was willing to take.

Lester knows how to win. He was in the Red Sox minor leagues when they broke the Curse of the Bambino at the big league level. Lester may have not been at the professional level in 2004 for Boston’s first championship, but he helped guide them to two World Series titles in 2007 and 2013. The one in 2013 surprised everyone, including the fans, because they were coming off a losing record in 2012 and were not supposed to amount to much.
Lester is coming off a year where he had a 16-11 record and a 2.46 ERA with the Red Sox and Oakland Athletics. He will now join a rotation that consists of Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. After a year away from the team, Jason Hammel will also return to the Cubs.

The bullpen was also strengthened during the offseason. The Cubs stole Jason Motte from their in-division rivals, the St. Louis Cubs. Motte, who is known for his “K” cancer foundation, had an off year in 2014 after missing the entire 2013 campaign. Motte has seen success in the past. The reliever had 42 saves for the Cardinals in 2012.

The Cubs also added Miguel Montero in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Montero was an All-Star catcher last season when he hit 13 home runs and had 72 RBI. The Cubs also traded for Dexter Fowler, who played for the Houston Astros in 2014. The organization parted ways with Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily during the trade. Fowler will provide the Cubs with speed, which will be valuable at the top of the lineup.

It is not the young talent that excites Cubs fans, but it is their young talent that is finally major league ready. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are now the veterans of the group. Rizzo is coming off his best year in the big leagues, hitting 32 home runs and driving in 78 runs. It’s not the power that caught everyone’s eyes, it was his ability to get on base. Rizzo sported a .286 batting average and 913 OPS.

Castro made his third All-Star game in five major league seasons. The shortstop has proved he can get on base at the top of the lineup. Castro had a major league best 207 hits in 2011. Castro got his average back up last season, hitting .292 for the year.

Jorge Soler was called up last year for 24 games and proved why the Cubs are banking on him to be a fixture in the middle of their lineup for years to come. He hit five home runs and drove in 20 runs during that stretch of games. Kris Bryant, who is regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball, is finally ready to be called up. He should make an impact quick for the Cubs.

The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908. What happened during 1908? The first long distance radio signal from the Eiffel Tower was sent. The publication Scouts for Boys was made and the first Scout Troop outside of the UK was formed. Henry Ford completed his first Model T automobile. A lot has changed since 1908, but the number of rings the Cubs have earned hasn’t. With young talent piecing together, the organization is hungrier than ever to bring home a trophy.

The White Sox are entering their first year without Paul Konerko. This year the White Sox have made several big signings that could have them competing in the American League Central.

The White Sox brought in Jeff Samardzija during free agency. He will form a 1-2 punch with Chris Sale, who made an argument for Cy Young during 2014. Sale held a 12-4 record with a 2.17 ERA and 178 strikeouts. Sale has already put together a strong resume at the age of 25. Sale makes an argument for the title of being the best lefty in the game.

Samardzija, on the other hand, did not have a record that represented his year. Samardzija had a 7-13 record with a 2.99 ERA with the Cubs and the Athletics. He is a power pitcher, who can get any of his pitches past batters. The big right hander finished with 202 strikeouts last season.

The White Sox bolstered their bullpen as well. David Robertson will continue to wear the pinstripes, but in a different city. He will now be the White Sox closer, after the 2014 campaign with 39 saves.

Rick Hahn also made it a purpose to add offense, something Robin Ventura desperately needed. The manager was juggling around his lineup all season long. Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera and Emilio Bonifacio were all added through free agency.

LaRoche will automatically be placed in the middle of the batting order. The first baseman has shown no signs of slowing down, coming off a year where he hit 26 home runs and drove in 92 runs. He has a hefty task of replacing the fan favorite Konerko.

Cabrera will be found at the top of Ventura’s lineup card. He found a new life in Toronto after his 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs. That suspension came during a season where Cabrera was on pace for a batting title, hitting .346 in 2012. Cabrera had a nice bounce back year, batting .301 and even showing some power, belting 13 home runs and driving in 73 runs.

The offense will live and die around Jose Abreu, who recently won the AL Rookie of the Year. Abreu is poised to follow a year where he cracked 36 home runs and had 107 RBI. Abreu can also get on base, hitting .307.

Alexei Ramirez will also be a factor for the White Sox. He is fresh off his first All-Star selection. Ramirez does a little bit of everything for the White Sox. He can flash the leather, get on base, and even steal a base. Adam Eaton also showed glimpse of being a productive bat, hitting ten triples during the 2014 year.

The two Chicago teams have may have built a fierce rivalry again. One worth watching. All-Star talent has consistently suited up in at Wrigley Field and in the south side of Chicage, but since 1918, the city only has one World Series to show for it.

That is bound to change, right? Chicago fans should be getting restless. They have not seen a playoff team since 2008.

The teams look ready to compete on paper. Now, it’s their turn to do the talking on the field. One thing is for sure, get your popcorn ready Chicago fans, it’s bound to be an interesting year.

 

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Comments

  1. Joel Goldstick says:

    Theo is not the owner of the Cubs

  2. Michael Donnelly says:

    great article, thanks steve

  3. BlueDemonTim says:

    1919 was not the last time the Sox went to the World Series before 2005. They were there in 1959.