Hot Chicago clubs partying like it's 1906

Cubs, White Sox leading divisions with two best records in Majors

May 9th, 2016

CHICAGO -- This is silly, isn't it? And so much fun.

In the bottom of the 13th inning on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field, Javier Baez came to the plate against the Nationals' Blake Treinen. And, of course, he drove a home run deep into the left-field bleachers.

Cue that song, the one Dusty Baker hates.

A little bit earlier in the day, about eight miles south at U.S. Cellular Field, Jose Quintana had done what he and the White Sox other pitchers have been doing all season. He made quick work of the Twins, finishing off a weekend sweep that delivered just as much joy for Sox fans as the four-game dismantling of the Nats brought Cubs fans.

That's a 24-6 start for the Cubs and 23-10 for the White Sox, the two best records in the Major Leagues. They lead the Central divisions by eight and five games, respectively, five weeks into a season that is bringing back memories of 1906, when the Sox beat the Cubs in the World Series.

It figures they'll slow down some time, won't they? Or are they really going to win 241 games between them?

Say this for Chicagoans and the franchises' fans scattered around the globe: They're sure to enjoy this for as long as it lasts, which just might be all the way to October.

With the Blackhawks and Bulls either out of the playoffs or missing it altogether, and the NFL having taken down the tents in Grant Park following the Draft, baseball was center stage this weekend, one of the rare ones when both teams played home games. The six games from Friday-Sunday drew 195,814 to the two ballparks, and only fans rooting for the visitors went home unhappy.

Here come the arguments, and brother, they're going to be sweeter than ever this summer.

Who is the best arm in town? Is it Jake Arrieta or Chris Sale? Who would you want at the plate with the game on the line, Jose Abreu or Anthony Rizzo? The best leadoff man: Dexter Fowler or Adam Eaton? Most impactful newcomer: Todd Frazier or Ben Zobrist?

Hey, how about Mat Latos? The White Sox fourth starter, signed as a bargain about a week before Spring Training began, is 5-0.

It's been that sort of a start to the season for both Chicago teams. Just about everything they touch is turning to gold.

Chicagoans have been disagreeing about the relative charm of their favorite ballparks forever -- Wrigley Field's ivy or U.S. Cellular's pinwheel scoreboard? But never before have they seen the two teams playing as well at the start of a season as they are now.

Before this past Thursday, there had never been a day when four first-place teams played games in the same city on the same day. But Chicago found itself with that distinction, thanks to the cooperation of the Red Sox, Nationals and Major League Baseball schedule-makers.

Boston won on Thursday to capture the series over the White Sox, but Latos stepped in against the Twins on Friday to turn things back in the right direction. Then Sale and Quintana delivered back-to-back victories, as they've done five times this season already.

The two left-handers may have made their biggest contributions a few years ago, actually.

Their presence did a lot to end any thoughts of a Cubs-style housecleaning after the White Sox lost 99 games in 2013. Instead, the Sox signed Abreu and vowed to become competitive as soon as possible. Here they are, thanks in large part to importing veteran players through free agency and trades over the past two years.

Sale and Quintana are a combined 12-1 with a 1.59 ERA, and the Sox have played so well behind them that they're pulling away from the Indians and Royals. They signaled their seriousness about winning the division by releasing good soldier John Danks last week, opening up a spot for a fresh arm.

It's not a surprise that the Cubs are in first place. They won a National League Wild Card spot and rolled to the NL Championship Series last season, then improved their roster by signing Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Zobrist as free agents.

But you'd never predict how well the Cubs have played in their first 30 games. They've positioned themselves for a possible run at the all-time record of 116 wins, set by the 1906 Cubs and tied by the Mariners in 2001.

They've scored the most runs in the Major Leagues (despite a season-ending injury to young slugger Kyle Schwarber), while also having the best pitching. That's a pretty good combination, and it gets better when you factor in that they're also playing the best defense anywhere.

"We got swept by a very hot Chicago Cubs team," Bryce Harper said after Baez's game-winning homer. "I don't even know if you can say they're hot; they're just that good. It's a great team."

Baker has seen good Cubs teams before. He managed one to within five outs of a World Series appearance in 2003. But Baker has had better weekends in Chicago than this one.

The Cubs play their old-fashioned fight song after victories, and Baker will be fine if he never hears "Go Cubs Go'' again.

"I hate that song," Baker says.

Luckily for him, the Nationals won't be back before October, if then.

The music's playing, fans are dancing on both sides of town and summer hasn't even arrived. It's going to get noisy.