[from The A.V. Club Chicago / August 27, 2009]
Few could have predicted this spring that, come September, the White Sox and Cubs would find themselves in nearly the same position. The Cubs’ vaunted lineup and mighty rotation seemed unstoppable, while the Sox’s geriatric bats promised to serve as comic relief while players were thrown out at first base from left field. Instead, each team found an opposite route to the same standing and nearly identical records. If you’re a Cubs fan, you want to cry; if you’re a Sox fan, you want to cry, too, but only after laughing at the crying Cubs fans. How did this happen?
Position battles becoming Pyrrhic victories
The Sox got a decent new center fielder, but it took so long and so much suffering that they might as well have kept Aaron Rowand. His meager .260 average and annual dozen home runs took four years and an albatross of a Blue Jays contract to (partially) replace. (Do they really need seven center fielders?) In the Cubs’ case, trying to upgrade the team actually set it back: They got rid of Mark DeRosa, but at the expense of having to acquire switch-hitting, poorly fielding Milton Bradley. DeRosa’s stick and glove, meanwhile, are headed back to the playoffs with the St. Louis Cardinals while notching more hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, and runs scored than his grossly underperforming replacement. Fortunately for Cubs fans, DeRosa becomes a free agent following the 2009 season; fortunately for everyone else, the Cubs have Uncle Milty under contract through 2011.
The inverse worth of injured superstars
The Cubs’ best player, Aramis Ramirez, tanked the Cubs by landing on the disabled list in May following a shoulder injury, while the Sox’s Carlos Quentin ruptured a tendon. As of this writing, the Cubs are 29-23 when Aramis Ramirez plays but 33-38 without him; the Sox are 33-36 with Carlos Quentin in the lineup and 30-26 when the Q is silent. Cubs faithfuls had pinned much of their hopes on Ramirez with good reason: Ramirez tallied up 25+ homers and 100+ RBIs in six of his past eight seasons, making him a safe bet. Unfortunately for Sox fans, Quentin followed his breakout season with a broken-down season. Yet this was somehow a surprise in spite of his low-hitting, injury-plagued 2006 and 2007 seasons with Arizona and a large part of his 2008 season on the South Side, giving Sox fans a small, bitter taste of what it must have been like waiting for all those Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Nomar Garciaparra-led championships that never came.
The Jake Peavy conspiracy
Last winter, most of the sports press had anointed the Cubs inevitable winners in the derby to land the San Diego Padres’ former ace, Jake Peavy. Yet it was the White Sox who assembled the package and will to gamble on an injured pitcher. As Peavy works through his rehab assignment in Charlotte against a backdrop of fluctuating return dates, both teams could end up claiming the same number of wins from the Sox’s new arm this season: zero. The Sox gave up a serviceable fifth starter, and the Cubs injured their pride, but those are exactly what these teams need right now. Witness the 6.91 ERA from the fourth and fifth spots in the Sox’s rotation or the Cubs’ deficit to the Cardinals approaching double digits. It’s as though the two Chicago clubs conspired in the trade to make their dog days more unbearable. Now Sox and Cubs fans are reduced to imagining how awesome it would be to finish the summer watching all those beautiful Jake Peavy sliders become grounders through the legs of Alexei Ramirez—or better yet, a barrage of lazy fly balls hitting the ground six feet in front of Alfonso Soriano.