After sweeping the Cubs over the weekend, the Chicago White Sox are ready to rule the roost in the Windy City when it comes to baseball.
While the sweep itself does not change the essential dynamics between the two teams, it was a confirmation of the very different paths the two teams are traveling. After all, the Cubs just traded most of their key players, and now more closely resemble a Triple-A team than an MLB contender. Still, one cannot help but be stunned by the rapid decline of the team on the North Side.
After taking the first two games, the South Siders added the exclamation point Sunday night. It didn’t take long, as Tim Anderson hit the first pitch of the game into the right-field bleachers for a quick lead for the South Siders. Before the inning was over, the Sox had scored five runs on a total of three home runs. It was a rough start for the Cubs, but rather indicative of how the season has turned for the Cubs.
As if that was not bad enough, the Sox added insult to injury. Rising star Eloy Jimenez had two homers, a double, and five RBIs while potential ace Dylan Cease struck out ten in only five innings. Ironically, Jimenez and Cease were acquired by the Pale Hose from the North Siders as part of the Sox rebuild in 2017. The Cubs acquired lefty Jose Quintana in the deal, and the trade is considered one of the worst in Cubs’ history. Yet, while the Sox take their place at the top of the baseball ladder, it is worth a look back at what the Cubs accomplished with their core group.
The Legacy of Theo Epstein
The Cubs undertook a rebuild of their own when Theo Epstein became the team’s general manager after the 2011 season. He immediately began a vigorous rebuild that would see the Cubs hang around the bottom of the National League Central for the next three years. However, that would change beginning with the 2015 season. The rebuild was over, and the Chicago Cubs were ready to compete.
A Historic Period
From 2015 through 2019, the Cubs averaged 94 wins a season, winning two division titles. They also went 34-26 in the 2020 season, winning the NL Central. The North Siders qualified for the playoffs five times in six years, winning two wildcard berths. They made it to the National League Championship three years in a row (2015-2017) and qualified for the World Series in 2016. They capped off that 2016 run by beating the Cleveland Indians in seven games. That championship ended a 108-year World Series drought for the Cubs, driving the North Side into a frenzy.
Without question, the run the Cubs made over this time is without parallel in Chicago baseball lore. No Chicago team had ever been a serious contender six years in a row, yet Epstein and his front office made it happen for the Cubs.
For this, he and all of his staff deserve a great deal of credit.
The End Of An Era
There is an old expression that says all good things must come to an end. Sadly for the Cubs and their fans, the six-year run of contending baseball came to a crashing halt in 2021. While it wasn’t totally unexpected when the end finally came, it was difficult for even many Sox fans to witness. Within a 48-hour period, the Cubs traded away their three core stars Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez, as well as quality relievers Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin, and Ryan Tepera. They also traded two other players in Trevor Williams and Jake Marisnick.
So, the tearing down of a team just five years removed from a championship was virtually complete. While the Cubs received several excellent prospects in the trades, the overriding emotions for most North Side fans range from disappointment to anger, and everywhere in between. Alas, the glory days are over for the Cubs for the time being.
South Side Rising
Meanwhile, the Pale Hose and GM Rick Hahn have been busy rebuilding their own franchise. Ironically, the South Side rebuild began after the Cubs’ championship in 2016. Similar to the Cubs, the Sox spent three years in the wilderness, fielding teams that specialized in being non-contenders. From 2017 through 2019 the White Sox averaged 95 losses a season, as fans waited patiently (in most cases) for a return to the playoffs. This is a franchise that has never had back-to-back postseason appearances. For fans, hopefully, the wait would be over soon.
Back To The Playoffs
Then, in 2020, the White Sox found their game and compiled a 35-25 record, finishing tied for second in the AL Central. The South Siders thus ended their playoff drought at 11 years, qualifying as a wildcard team. The playoff appearance signified the end of the rebuild and a return to hopefully perennial contention. Unfortunately, the Sox lack of starting depth showed up in the postseason, and they lost in three games to the Oakland A’s in the first sound. However, the team’s success in 2020 helped fuel even higher hopes for 2021.
World Series Or Bust
After a slow start, the White Sox began to turn things around, and the starting rotation began to take form. Led by newcomer Lance Lynn, and a resurgent Carlos Rodon, the rotation has been at or near the top of the AL in earned run average for most of the season. In spite of a sporadic offense and an underperforming bullpen, the South Siders have held first place in the division for two months now, and show no signs of letting up. At this point, they hold a season-high 10 1/2 game lead over second-place Cleveland. Unless something beyond crazy happens, the Sox should coast to the division title.
The Sox were active at the trade deadline, adding Kimbrel and Tepera from the Cubs, as well as second baseman Cesar Hernandez from the Indians. All three of these players filled big needs as the White Sox make their push through the postseason. Hernandez has replaced the injured Nick Madrigal (since traded to the Cubs) at second base, and his power figures to be a major asset for the South Siders. The 2021 Pale Hose are in it to win it and are going for it in a serious way. While the future does look bright, Hahn realizes that nothing is guaranteed in this great game. So the White Sox are all in for 2021.
About That Future
The White Sox are ascending just as their North Side foes are on the descent. The Cubs have enjoyed being the baseball darlings of Chicago ever since Theo Epstein hit town. However, that has been turned upside down, as the South Siders have an impressive array of talent, with a mix of youth and veterans. As the Cubs struggle to define their path forward, the Sox have no such issues. With everybody healthy, this edition of the White Sox can compete with anybody for years to come. Sure, there will be needed acquisitions along the way; but Hahn and company have laid the groundwork for a prolonged run of playoff appearances which began in 2020. This team is built for now and for the future.
The New Kings Of Chicago Baseball
The Cubs enjoyed a long stay as the city’s favored team, while the South Siders were relegated to fair-haired stepchild status. Those days are over; the Sox are back. While they may not win the World Series this year, it is clear that they will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. The White Sox are the new kings of Chicago baseball, and will not relinquish their crown easily. Cub fans better get used to being just another team; it is going to be a while. Great run, North Siders, but stand back and watch the kings from the South Side capture the hearts and imaginations of fans all over the Chicago area. The South Side is back.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images