Hot Streak: Is Chicago Baseball on the Verge of a Comeback?
Remember the days when Chicago was a baseball powerhouse? When the greatest pitching duels and slug fests occurred in Chicago?
Neither do I.
To be honest, no one does—it was back in the early 1900s—back when Teddy Roosevelt was brandishing his own stick to dominate the Americas with the Monroe Doctrine. So, now that we are a few games into the second half of the baseball season, is it possible that the city of Chicago can have two good baseball teams for the remainder of the baseball season?
Clearly, the Chicago White Sox are one of the hottest teams in baseball, having only lost 10 games since June 6 and winning 30; eight of their losses were by two runs or fewer. They did this after starting an abysmal 23-32.
Now, after the All-Star break, the rival Cubs have come out to a start of 5-3, which would have been 6-2 had it not been for a dropped out by Geovanny Soto. Clearly, this alone is not a very significant accomplishment, but it does merit a look to see if this is just a hot start or whether this can be a lasting accomplishment.
The White Sox have completely turned their season around. In the past month and a half, the Sox have had both a 10-game win streak and a nine-game win streak. When a team goes on a win streak of those proportions once, it's impressive, but twice in less than two months is a sign that a team is bound for the postseason.
The Sox have been finding ways to win very frequently. Whether it's through strong pitching or power hitting, the Sox are finding a way to win. The thing about the Sox is if they make it to the playoffs, can they succeed?
They shouldn't be able to because they have lost strikeout pitcher Jake Peavy. His replacement is Daniel Hudson, a pitcher who was called up at the end of the 2009 season and went 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA over 18 1/3 innings.
However, through his two starts, Hudson is 1-0 with a 5.06 ERA over 10.2 innings. Last season he came in for a team with no chance of making the playoffs. Perhaps now that there is pressure, he is pitching poorly.
If he can pitch like he did in his limited 2009 action, the Sox can make the playoffs through a strong rotation consisting of John Danks, Freddy Garcia, Gavin Floyd, and Mark Buehrle. None of these pitchers have very impressive ERAs this season, all just under the 4.00 mark—but these are still fine averages, especially because the team just finds ways to win behind the power of first baseman Paul Konerko and outfielder Carlos Quentin.
The odd thing about the Sox is that they are able to win despite not having any one player with a fantastic ERA, and only two starters who have a BA above .300. However, these stats are somewhat misleading.
Mark Buehrle's ERA is only as high as it is because he had a terrible start to the season and since has come back to his ace form. The BA is still quite low for a team that is doing so well, and this should be the team's biggest concern going into the playoffs. Teams that don't hit well in the regular season when they play pitchers of all sorts of talent typically aren't going to improve their hitting in the postseason.
Assuming the White Sox keep up their impressive record, they will make the playoffs and will only advance because of big swings and an impressive bullpen.
The Chicago Cubs are another story. The team is pathetic. They haven't been above .500 the entire season. They hired a new hitting coach in the offseason, yet some of the best hitters from seasons past are having career-low numbers.
It seems the only silver lining to this team is offseason acquisition and All-Star outfielder Marlon Byrd, as well as the prospects of Andrew Cashner, Starlin Castro, and Tyler Colvin (who hit a leadoff home run for a second consecutive game moments after I typed this).
The Cubs have been the cellar of the MLB for more than 100 years, but can they turn around their season for an improbable comeback?
The Cubs have been impressive since Aramis Ramirez decided that he wanted to actually hit the ball and return to his prior form. Because Ramirez is in the middle of the rotation and is hitting, it takes pressure off of both the batter before and after Ramirez.
Also, now that Ramirez is a lot more than an easy out, the Cubs have another opportunity to score runs and advance runners. Since July 5, Ramirez has been hitting .400 with nine home runs, 24 RBI, and 18 runs. The Cubs success revolves around Ramirez, but even when he hasn't hit, they've won.
When the Cubs played Roy Halladay, who has a 2.28 ERA, they managed to score 11 runs, while Ramirez went 0-for-4. The Cubs also defeated the red-hot Cardinals 5-0 after the Cardinals had won eight straight games before losing to the Phillies and the Cubs in consecutive games while Ramirez went 1-for-5. This is because the post-All-Star Cubs are better than the pre-All-Star Cubs.
Through the third inning of the July 24 game versus the Cardinals, the Cubs stats are quite impressive: Soriano has three home runs; Derrek Lee is hitting .457 with eight RBI, Starlin Castro is hitting .472 with six RBI, and Ramirez has a .375 average with five homers and a .938 slugging percentage.
Oh, and a guy by the name of Geovanny Soto has a .370 batting average with five home runs and .963 slugging percentage.
The Cubs also lead the majors with 30 home runs in July, followed by the Blue Jays with 28. The point is that the Cubs are picking it up for the second half. Lou Piniella's Cubs always pick it up in the second half of the season.
In 2007, Piniella led the Cubs to a 41-34 second half record; in 2008, a 40-26 record; and in 2009, a 40-33 record. Lou Piniella coaches the Cubs well in the second half.
The Cubs as a team are playing much better baseball and should have a winning record in the second half, especially because of things such as Derrek Lee's seven-game hit streak, Tyler Colvin's three home runs in his last 16 at-bats, and Tom Gorzelanny going 3-0 with a 2.38 ERA since the Zambrano suspension (and currently on his was to a fourth win).
I think the Cubs will make a serious run at the division crown or the wildcard berth. It will be difficult because the Cubs dug themselves in such a hole in the first half, but if they pull a couple of lengthy win streaks similar to those of the White Sox, then the Cubs are in prime position.
Assuming the Cubs continue to play good baseball, the only things that would prevent them from a turnaround are that the Reds and the Cardinals, who have fairly easy schedules for the remainder of the season.
Also, the Cubs will need to acquire someone in the bullpen, because outside of Marmol—who is having his typical midseason slump—Sean Marshall is the only other quality relief pitcher that the Cubs have. Marshall actually has a 0.53 ERA in his last 17 appearances.
Some people say Cashner is good, but all he has right now is a good fastball; he needs to work on his change-up or develop some other good second pitches. If he does this, he can succeed.
The Cubs relief pitching is so bad that skipper Lou Piniella often leaves starters in longer than normal, hoping that he won't need to use his relievers. This is why the Cubs lead the majors with 62 quality starts (six innings pitched by the starter).
Another concern is that Carlos Silva has been struggling in his last two starts, giving up 11 runs on 2.1 innings, having an ERA of 43.04 in those games. I don't think this will last too long, but it is still cause for concern.
Because of pitching woes, any fan who believes the rumors that Prince Fielder is coming to Chicago is wrong; don't get your hopes up. These are just rumors. If the Cubs want to make a great comeback, they will trade for a quality pitcher. Perhaps he will come to Chicago, but in a White Sox uniform, not in a Cubs uniform.
The Cubs have taken care of defense—Marlon Byrd is a defensive superstar as well as the Cubs' best offensive player. He is one of the most underrated players in all of baseball. Byrd's playmaking abilities have begun to rub off on Soriano and Colvin. The rest of the Cubs are good or decent at fielding, and Starlin Castro is starting to improve his defensive struggles.
In the end, I believe the Cubs have the potential to make a comeback and if they do make the postseason, they will make a deep run because that would mean they keep hitting through the remainder of the season. The Cubs have the ability to make the playoffs. Now will they make the moves to get there and match the accomplishments of their crosstown rivals?
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