From the Obnoxiously Early (or potentially just Obnoxious) Department, we present you the following useless trivia:The Chicago Cubs are 6-1. The most recent time they won the World Series -- way, way back in 1908 -- their record after seven games was 6-1.The Chicago White Sox are 5-2. The most
From the Obnoxiously Early (or potentially just Obnoxious) Department, we present you the following useless trivia:
The Chicago Cubs are 6-1. The most recent time they won the World Series -- way, way back in 1908 -- their record after seven games was 6-1.
The Chicago White Sox are 5-2. The most recent time they won the World Series -- not-so-way back in 2005 -- their record after seven games was 5-2.
The rest of the country might find the concept Illi-noying at this early stage of the 2016 season, but if you're rooting for a Red Line Series standing in for the World Series, you might as well begin right there. Strong starts don't legitimize dreams of a World Series served in a deep dish, but they sure don't hurt.
In all seriousness (I'd say "Series-ousness," but after the Illinois pun, that would be reader abuse), early though it may be, we do have to give the two Chicago clubs a little bit of credit.
The Cubs entered 2016 with the very real question of whether the target on their backs and the weight of expectations would hinder their early April outcomes, and then those questions wound up paling in comparison to the much more tangible reality that they'll play the vast majority of the season without Kyle Schwarber, who was one of their most productive bats as a rookie last year.
The White Sox, meanwhile, had very real legitimacy issues after a 2015 flub. The Sox were one of those infamous offseason winners in the lead-up to 2015, then began the year with an 0-4 record and really never found any rhythm. So it was easy to be skeptical of their supposed strides after further aggressive activity this past offseason.
Don't go making any late-October hotel reservations on the Magnificent Mile just yet, but here are some things going well for the Cubs and White Sox so far:
No letup from the lineup: There is no denying Schwarber's absence could catch up to the Cubs (Jorge Soler is off to a humble 3-for-23 start) eventually. But for now, they are outhomering opponents 8-5, outwalking them 38-9(!), and outscoring them 47-18. That'll win you some ballgames.
No atrophy from Arrieta:Jake Arrieta saw a 40.7-percent jump in innings last season, so it would have been totally understandable if he entered the year with any lag. Instead, he's picked up on his absurd second half and National League Cy Young Award pace with a 1.93 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in 14 innings. With a 58-percent usage rate, Arrieta is showing a lot of faith in his sinker -- as he should, considering it was one of the most valuable pitches in baseball last season. Oh, and his 442-foot home run didn't hurt, either.
The "new" center fielder:Jason Heyward was supposed to be that guy, but his time in center was cut short by the stunning return of Dexter Fowler this spring. And Fowler, who has plenty to play for on a one-year contract, has looked like a man on a mission so far, turning in a .455/.586/.773 slash line with four extra-base hits.
The 'pen looks great: Cubs relievers have an NL-best 1.06 ERA and a Major League-best .121 average against and 0.47 WHIP. The bullpen, anchored by closer Hector Rondon, didn't get as much preseason love as some other elements of the Cubs' roster, but it made considerable strides last season. This year, the Cubs did a good job of giving themselves flexibility with the inclusion of four legitimate swingmen in Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren, Clayton Richard and Travis Wood.
The current depth and the looming depth: Though Soler has struggled, on the whole, Tommy La Stella has performed well enough (4-for-8) to give Joe Maddon the option of playing La Stella at third and moving Kris Bryant to left on occasion. Javier Baez, meanwhile, didn't make the Opening Day roster because of a left thumb injury, but he's begun playing in Triple-A Iowa, where he'll continue to navigate between the infield and outfield, and he could join the big league club as soon as this weekend.
Not quite cursed: Sure, the Schwarber situation gave ammo to the cynics and skeptics who harp on hexes. But this team put a party room -- complete with a disco ball and fog machine -- in its home clubhouse, and rather than be punished by the baseball gods for such blasphemy, they immediately found reason to christen the room with Monday's comeback win. In general, the Cubs, rather than feeling the weight of expectations, are having fun with them.
They're scoring late: The offseason additions of Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie and Austin Jackson certainly hasn't led to some unsustainable explosion in run production. In fact, none of those guys have done much, and the Sox have a .643 team OPS that ranks in the lower-third in the Majors. But this team is producing runs late (a .291/.313/.405 slash line in the seventh through ninth innings, versus a .245/.300/.364 mark in those innings last year), and that's already made a big difference in two of their early wins.
Their 'pen looks pretty good, too: I thought the re-signing of Matt Albers was a savvy move that didn't get much attention, and so far he's not only delivered five scoreless innings, but the righty has also shown an uptick in velocity. The bullpen, overall, has allowed just three runs on 10 hits with seven walks and 19 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings.
Eaton good in the neighborhood:Adam Eaton's struggles atop the lineup early last season were a major culprit in the Sox digging themselves a hole in the American League Central standings. He recovered to post a superb second half (.335/.418/.486), and despite offseason shoulder surgery that slowed him this spring, he's picked up right where he left off with a .417/.481/.542 slash line. Eaton also just became a father, so things are going well.
Latos tolerance: After getting signed out of the clearance bin with a one-year, $3 million deal, Mat Latos had a really rough spring that didn't bode well for his bounceback bid. But his first start that mattered was a strong one in Oakland, in which he pitched backward and kept the A's off balance for six scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit.
Standout starters not named Sale:Chris Sale is great, as everybody knows. But Carlos Rodon's slider is one of baseball's burgeoning weapons, and he used it to get whiffs on 44 percent of swings against the pitch in Oakland last week. Jose Quintana, too often saddled with no-decisions despite superlative stats, is as underrated as they come, and he has allowed just three runs in 11 2/3 innings so far.
No LaRoche hangover: Well, you know what happened this spring. Adam LaRoche retired because he couldn't have his son tag along every day, several White Sox publicly protested, and many outside the team wondered if Robin Ventura's clubhouse was combustible -- especially when Eaton called Drake LaRoche a "leader." Turns out, the absence of their 14-year-old has not impeded the team's ability to win baseball games. So that's good. And regardless of how you feel about LaRoche's abilities at this stage of his career, the bottom line is that his departure gave the White Sox some financial flexibility they could employ at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
File all of the above under "early, but encouraging." We'll see if this Chicago hype can give way to legitimate Chicago hope as the season evolves.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.