Two teams took the field in Chicago on July 8th. Both teams are from different sides of the city, whose trains are going down two separate paths both literally and figuratively.
The Chicago Cubs got the 8-2 victory over their cross town rivals, the Chicago White Sox. It was not just a make-up game due to a rainout (that almost got rained out itself), nor was it simply a season sweep of the South-siders following four straight seasons of domination from the pale hose.
It signified the two entirely different paths that both franchises are on, both in-season and in the years to come. This season is essentially a lost cause for both teams, but the Cubs are showing that they have a definitive plan for the future, while the White Sox have no identity.
In what may have been Matt Garza’s final start as a Cub, his trade stock continued to rise as he went 7 innings strong for the 5th straight game, allowing 5 hits, fanning 6, and giving up 2 runs, 1 of them earned. Alfonso Soriano had arguably his best game of the season, reaching base on every at-bat, hitting one home run, scoring 4, and stealing two bases.
As Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo continued to struggle, going 1-10 collectively, guys that are not expected to be trade pieces stepped up for the Cubs. Luis Valbuena, inserted into the line-up as the DH after Wellington Castillo was scratched due to illness, drove in 3 runs, including the 2-run double that gave the Cubs the lead and broke the game wide open. Dave Sappelt, called up last week, went 4-5 with two RBIs.
On the other side of town, the Sox showed some promise as catcher Josh Phegley, who received his first big-league call-up on Friday, hit his second homer in as many days, and made a beautiful throw to first to nail Julio Borbon on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play.
Gordon Beckham continued to regain his form, scoring the only other Sox run on a steal of home after a bad throw to second by Dioner Navarro and a miscue by second baseman Darwin Barney.
Aside from that, the South-Siders continued to look bleak as they fell to 10-27 since May 27th, when they were playing .500 ball and looking strong going into to a home-and-home with the Cubs.
Hector Santiago struggled, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs before being pulled in the 5th inning after 101 pitches. Their bullpen, one of the few that are worse than the Cubs, gave up 6 runs and 8 hits in the final two innings. Paul Konerko and Jake Peavy has yet to return from injury, Gavin Floyd is done for their season, and their best trade assest, All-Star Jesse Crain, could be on the disabled list when the July 31st trade deadline comes.
As the White Sox, contenders in the AL Central the past two seasons, have become the cellar dwellers of the American League with no signs of turning it around, the future plans in place for their counterparts to the north are starting to take shape.
Under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the Cubs have focused on revamping their farm system with key draft picks (Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant), trading for prospects (Anthony Rizzo), and signing young, international players (Jorge Soler). They’ve now taken towards trading some of their overachieving players, like Scott Feldman, for international pool money, which they used to sign two of the best 16-year-olds available in outfielder Eloy Jimenez and shortstop Gleyber Torres. Matt Garza still has a 50-50 chance of signing a long-term deal in Chicago, but his recent performances could bring a good package of prospects back to Chicago.
The White Sox did sign the No. 2 international prospect according to MLB.com in Micker Zapata. Their 2012 1st round pick Courtney Hawkins has a lot of upside despite his struggles in Class-A Winston Salem, and pitcher Erik Johnson has shined in Triple-A Charlotte.
However, aside from ace starter Chris Sale and the prospect of what Phegley may become, the White Sox are at a stalemate. They aren’t good enough now to contend for a playoff spot, but their farm system is not good enough to make a run in the near future. Unlike the Cubs, there is not a lot of optimism on 35th and Shields.
Whether or not the Cubs are trending and the Sox are falling, the fact remains that both teams are 14 games out of 1st place in their respective divisions. The future gives hope to many and fear to others, but for now, baseball has been painful to watch on all sides of Chicago.
The trade deadline is upon us, and it’ll be exciting to see where each piece ends up. But for Chicagoans, as each win or loss goes into the column for the Cubs or the Sox, it only means one thing: one day closer to Bears training camp.