Monday, May 26, 2014

Sox as mediocre, Cubs as dreadful, as we should have expected for ‘14

We’re at Memorial Day. Which in addition to giving us countless excuses for political people to pay tribute to military veterans (in hopes they’ll vote) is the perfect time to look at our city’s baseball clubs to figure out what they’re worth.

The highlight for '14
The White Sox have played 52 games thus far, while the Cubs have taken the field for 48. Finally a large enough sample for us to start talking intelligently about what the teams are worth.

THE WHITE SOX are winning about half their games, while the Cubs have the worst record of any team in the National League (18 wins, or a .375 winning percentage).

Which is what should have been expected – except from those more delusional Cubs fans who desperately wanted to believe the White Sox would be just as bad as they were. In short, that we’d relive 2013 all over again.

As for those Sox, the presence of Jose Abreu has turned out to be as good as anyone had a right to expect. He hasn’t played in a little over a week because of an inflamed left ankle, yet he still is among the American League leaders in both home runs (15) and runs batted in (42). He’s up there with Nelson Cruz of the Baltimore Orioles in both categories.

Abreu, a Cuban defector, likely will be the highlight of the season for Chicago baseball for 2014 once he returns to play some time next week. And that’s taking into account the fact that he’s bound to have a slump at some point this year.

IT IS GOING to hurt that we’re now just approaching the time of year that weather gets better and attendance starts to shoot up.

No longer No. 2 at position No. 6
Yet the White Sox, who are averaging just over 19,000 tickets sold per game (who knows how many are actually showing up?), have the drawback of knowing that the teams whose games usually draw larger crowds (the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and those cubbie bears) were scheduled for the dreariness of April and May.

W. Bush and Mantle weren't really there
And as for the fact that the Yankees spent all of last week in Chicago (playing both the Cubs and White Sox), the highlight games may well have been the two games where the Yankees came from behind to win in extra innings).

White Sox fans are going to get a lot of second-rate games scheduled for the prime of the season. It may well be that only the hard-core fans show up the rest of 2014. And we’ll get nit-wit Cubs fans who will claim that’s evidence the White Sox have no fans – instead of evidence that the fair-weather fans turn out at Wrigley Field.

Not about to be caught any time soon
IT ALSO TURNED out this past week that Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter played his 2,584th game at his position, surpassing legendary White Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio. Although with Omar Vizquel still being a couple hundred games ahead of Jeter, the one-time White Sox shortstop (along with Cleveland and Seattle) will keep his mark of 2,709 games played there.

Where the crowds aren’t what they were back in the days of Sammy Sosa and all those home runs. But they’re still averaging just over 32,000 tickets sold per game, and in the Top 10 of Major League Baseball games.

When will he return?
Who’s to say why? All I know is I hear the talk about how the ballplayers in places like Des Moines, Iowa; Knoxville, Tenn.; and suburban Geneva are going to develop and turn the Cubs into legitimate contenders someday.

Yet the decades during which I have followed professional baseball have taught me there are many talented minor league ball players who, for whatever reason, don’t make the major league adjustment.

I ALSO COULDN’T help but be amused by the new hitting coach the Cubs hired for their top minor league affiliate in Des Moines – one-time Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez.

Is David Ortiz next for Cubs?
He’s also going to be a ballplayer for the Iowa Cubs, although Cubs executive Theo Epstein says Manny won’t be in Chicago anytime soon.

Epstein was general manager back when Ramirez was part of the Red Sox’ powerhouse that won a couple of World Series titles. Which makes me think Epstein – for all his talk of looking to the Cubs’ future – is firmly planted in the past.

Which means it could be a long, long time before the Cubs amount to anything worth talking about. Maybe around the time that Sosa himself is welcome back in Wrigley Field.


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