For the first time in 15 years, the best team in Chicago resides on the South Side
It’s been far too long since the White Sox were the toast of the town in the Windy City.
Even when the Sox had the best record in the American League last week, it still seemed as though the often-overlooked South Siders weren’t getting the attention and respect they deserve. With all four major professional sports leagues in full swing (along with golf, tennis, college football and NASCAR) at the exact same time, it makes some sense. There’s never been a more crowded sports calendar in the 21st century. As much as a person can love sports, there simply isn’t enough time for fans to watch everything. Naturally consumers are going to gravitate to the sports and teams they already care most about.
In recent years, simply having a team in Chicago atop the standings would be enough to garner attention from the entire city. But that merely isn’t a rarity in 2020. The team on the North Side is also in first place, and even though the NFL’s television ratings have taken a significant hit in weeks 1 and 2, the 2-0 Bears have generated enough buzz and excitement from residents of both sides of Chicago. But let’s make one thing clear: the best team in Chicago resides on the South Side.
The White Sox last made the postseason in 2008. Across the MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL, there are a total of 123 American professional sports teams. Just six of those teams went the entire 2010s without a trip to the postseason; the White Sox were one of those teams. The Sox stumbled their way through the better part of the decade, even trading away two cornerstone franchise shortstops (Marcus Semien and Fernando Tatis Jr.) for Jeff Samardzija and James Shields (whoof!). Meanwhile the North Side would see a baseball renaissance, as the Cubs made four straight playoff trips and ended their 108 year-long World Series drought.
It’s been a while since the Sox were relevant. Even in 2008, when they last won the American League Central, they were nearly an afterthought in the Windy City. The Bulls had just drafted homegrown superstar Derrick Rose, the Blackhawks were in the early stages of their surge to dominance, and the Cubs won 97 games that season, while the Sox won 88 and eked their way in to the playoffs in tiebreaker fashion.
The last time the White Sox were definitively Chicago’s best team was 2005. Led by Paul Konerko, the 2005 Sox won 99 games and rolled through the playoffs to the tune of an 11-1 postseason record, en route to their first championship since 1917. It was one of the most dominant playoff runs the sport of baseball has ever seen.
Fast forward 15 years and the Sox are in the process of reclaiming the title of Chicago's best. Currently sitting at 34-20 (as of September 22), the Sox would be on pace to win 102 games, if this season were to be played to its 162-game entirety. They have the largest run differential (+72) of any team in the American League.
Offensively, the team has taken a big step forward from last season. The 2019 Sox placed 13th in the American League in runs scored. Through player development and the free agent market, they’ve transformed their offensive output overnight. This year, the Sox are lighting up the scoreboard, as the stand at second in runs scored, first in batting average, third in OBP, second in homers and second in OPS.
The White Sox young core of promising position players has turned into an offensive powerhouse.
Hitting .355, Tim Anderson has proven that his 2019 campaign was no fluke and that he’s one of the league’s best shortstops. With just a few games remaining, he has an outside shot at winning his second-straight batting title.
Through 24 games, Nick Madrigal is looking like Jose Altuve 2.0 (except, ya know, he doesn’t steal signs?). The 5-foot-8 second baseman is mashing .353. Albeit a small sample size (no pun intended), the double play combo of Madrigal and Anderson could be one of baseball’s best for the next decade.
Jose Abreu is having an MVP-caliber year. His 18 homers are the second-most in the American League. The Sox have also received stellar contributions from young outfielders Luis Robert (the current odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year in many Vegas sportsbooks) and Eloy Jimenez (.295 BA and 14 HR's).
We had a feeling that the Sox would score runs this year, but what we didn’t know was how good their pitching staff would be without fireballer Michael Kopech. The Sox’s starting rotation has the third-lowest combined ERA in the AL, and the trio of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Dylan Cease looks to be about as good of a 1-2-3 as any other that an AL team will trot out in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. On top of that, through the first six starts of his Major League career, Dane Dunning has answered the bell, logging a 3.19 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, providing the staff an excellent boost and necessary depth.
The bandwagon is quickly filling up, but the party is just getting started on the South Side. The Sox have two of MLB Pipeline’s top 20 prospects (Kopech and first baseman Andrew Vaughn), both of whom are on track to be key contributors in 2022. Factor in a number of team-friendly contracts already on the books and a very flexible payroll, and the Sox are set up wonderfully for many years to come.
Conversely, the golden era of baseball on the North Side might not last much longer. With Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester all scheduled to hit free agency upon the conclusion of the 2021 season, the front office has a number of important decisions to make soon. While a full rebuild will probably not be necessary, the Cubs will likely have some retooling to do in the near future. But that's just how the pendulum swings.
Success is extremely difficult to sustain in baseball and windows of competition are typically short. Very few teams will make the playoffs eight years straight like Dave Roberts' Dodgers, or 10, like Bobby Cox's Braves. As the Cubs were enjoying their best and longest sustained run in over 100 years, the Sox were slowly but surely piecing together a juggernaut, similar to how the Cubs entirely rebuilt their organization in the early 2010s.
Now the Sox are here. The Cubs are here too. A crosstown World Series would be one for the history books, but as one team trends upwards and the other appears to trend downwards, the window of opportunity for such an event is shrinking.
It's time for Chicagoans to take the South Siders seriously and invest in the White Sox.
(Image via David Banks/Getty Images)