Like many others before, it has been a rough baseball season in Chicago. Both the Sox and Cubs are struggling to stay above .500 and falling farther back in their respective division races.
While I keep trying to convince myself that the Sox can still come back and win the division, things aren't looking particularly good at the moment. As for the Cubs, they would need quite a run to catch St. Louis or Colorado for a playoff spot.
Both teams seem to find new and inventive ways to aggravate their fans, but which organization has been more frustrating this season?
I've come up with several categories that contribute to my conclusion of which team has bothered their fans more. As usual, this is a subjective process, and I obviously have a bias that leans towards the South Side.
Expectations Entering the Season
There's no question that the Cubs are the big "winner" in this category.
Though both teams won their respective divisions last season, the Cubs did it much more convincingly, posting 97 wins compared with 89 in 163 games for the Sox.
The Cubs were expected to steam-roll the hapless NL Central on the way to another playoff appearance. They were bringing back the bulk of one of the most successful offenses in the league as well as a capable starting staff.
The Sox, on the other hand, were picked to finish in the middle of the pack by most publications. Their division title last year appeared to be a bit more of a fluke, with significant help from previous unknowns in Carlos Quentin, Gavin Floyd, and John Danks.
While they are all talented players, few seemed convinced that all of them would repeat their success from 2008. There were also the gaping holes in center field and at second base to worry about, and Josh Fields wasn't exactly a proven All-Star at third base.
While I thought the Sox had as good a chance as any in their division at the beginning of the year, the division title was supposed to be a foregone conclusion for the Cubs.
This is the one category where I think the Sox have been far more frustrating than the Cubs.
While the Northsiders have had consistently lackluster play throughout the season with only a few series against the Pirates and Nationals of the world to keep their record respectable, the Sox have had a far more inconsistent season.
Unlike the Cubs, the Sox have actually played well against solid teams like the Rays, Yankees, and Angels. It's been teams like the Indians, Mariners, and Orioles that have given the Sox trouble of late.
With the Cubs, you can look at their roster and see that several of their hitters just aren't getting the job done, that the Ramirez injury significantly hurt their offense, and that their bullpen is short on productive arms.
With the Sox, their biggest issues seem to be a lack of focus and consistency. The majority of their roster has been pretty productive, they just keep finding ways to screw up just enough to lose games.
Their defense, one of the worst in the league, will blow a routine play that will cost them two or three runs. Their offense, though productive across the board, will get runners in scoring position with less than two outs and then fail to drive the run in. Their bullpen, though generally solid overall, will pick the most inopportune times to allow a big inning.
The Sox seem to have enough productive players to be successful, but simply can't find a way to get the job done. I personally find that far more maddening than the general underachieving on the Northside.
Glimmers of Hope
For the purpose of this article, the "winner" in this category is the team which provided fewer bright spots to encourage their fans. I'm also including any reasons to expect improvement next season as a factor in this category.
This is another category where I definitely have to give the edge to the Cubs.
Very few things have gone right for the team from the North Side. The roster is filled with players that have failed to meet expectations, like Alfonso Soriano, Geovanny Soto, and Milton Bradley.
While they still have productive veterans like Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Ted Lilly, the team is tied in to large deals to under-performing players and has few young players on the horizon that could drastically change their fortunes.
They are also tied into numerous sizeable long-term contracts that drastically hurt their roster flexibility. The Cubs are stuck with seven players that will make at least $13.5 million next year as well as Milton Bradley at a cost of $10.33 million.
They are committed to paying almost $120 mil to those eight players, which makes up the vast majority of their payroll. Unless they get really creative, it would be difficult for the Cubs to make an impact acquisition. Their window for contention appears to be closing and it will be hard to change that circumstance.
The Sox on the other hand appear to be headed in the opposite direction. They have already made an impact acquisition for next year in Jake Peavy. Once he returns to the rotation, the Sox will have a formidable stable of starting pitchers that will give them considerable margin for error in other areas. They're all still young too, as Buehrle is the elder statesman of the group at 30.
They also have Gordon Beckham, who has been a strong contributor even in his rookie season. Given a season of major league experience and a full 600 at-bats next year, he could be an impact player.
The presence of Alex Rios in their outfield for a full season could also be a major boost. If nothing else, he will drastically improve their defense, and he has the potential to do far more than he has at the plate thus far.
There is also the chance that touted prospects Daniel Hudson and Tyler Flowers could make the major league roster and contribute.
The Sox also seem to be in a far better financial position because they have far fewer long-term commitments.
They will only be committed to three players that make more than $10 million next season, with Jake Peavy as their most expensive player at $16 million (Alex Rios will make $9.7 million next year). If players like Jose Contreras, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, and Octavio Dotel return, it will likely be at greatly reduced prices.
I don't think it's a stretch to say that the Sox should be the team to beat in the AL Central over the next few years, while the Cubs will probably have to find a way to cut some dead weight and replace them with cheaper, more consistently productive players.
Overall, I think that watching this season unfold has been more frustrating for Sox fans. The Cubs have simply had a bad year and I think any realist gave up hope that this would finally be the year a few months ago. The Sox on the other hand have continued to stay within a solid week of taking over first place, especially since the Tigers don't seem to want to win this division either.
That said, I'm glad that the overall position of the two teams is not reversed. The Cubs' current situation reminds of the spot the Sox were in after the 2007 season. They were coming off two solid seasons where they won 90 games, but everything fell apart on the road to a 72-win season. The Cubs have more talent than that Sox team did, but the various contract situations are far worse.
Kenny Williams had to have a lot of things go his way to reverse that downward momentum. Over the next few years he dumped Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, and Javier Vazquez rather than keep paying them to underachieve. He managed to catch lightning in a bottle by acquiring Floyd, Danks, and Quentin for what turned out to be little major league production.
The team also had a very productive 2008 draft that gave them Gordon Beckham and Daniel Hudson, and with that improved financial flexibility the team was able to acquire Peavy and Rios.
If the Cubs don't make similar drastic changes, things could get very ugly over the next couple of seasons. That is why I think that, overall, Cubs fans have far more reason to be aggravated than Sox fans.
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