This Week In Chicago Sports

White Sox

This time last week the White Sox were sitting at 2-0 and would have their third game in Kansas City snowed out. Now, they’re at 3-3 after losing a series in Toronto two games to one and blowing a 4 run lead late in the game to lose to the Tigers in the home opener.

One thing that is becoming clear early in the season is that the Sox are going to score plenty of runs. While 14 runs on Opening Day certainly skews things a bit, the Sox are averaging 6 runs per game, the 7th best so far this season for a team that finished 23rd in runs scored last year. The Sox also lead the league with 14 home runs (although it would be nice if we had more people on base when we hit them), are second in total bases only to the Angels, and lead the league in both slugging percentage and OPS (on base % + slugging %).

As would be expected, Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia are both of to very strong starts offensively, but the pleasant surprises so far have been Yolmer Sanchez and Matt Davidson. In my White Sox Season Preview blog I talked about how it wasn’t set in stone who’d be starting at third base, but there’s little question now that Davidson belongs as the DH.

Sanchez has 8 hits in his 24 plate-appearances so far this season, including a two triple game against the Tigers yesterday. Davidson, meanwhile has gotten 7 hits, 4 of which have left the park, tied with Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon for the early lead in the home run race.

The only real spot of concern offensively right now is Yoan Moncada, who after requesting to bat leadoff has mustered only four hits in his first 30 plate appearances. While I admire Moncada’s confidence in asking to lead off, maybe Rick Renteria ought to give Tim Anderson or Adam Engel a shot there instead.

In general you would expect a team that’s hitting this well to be better off than 3-3. The problem is, the Sox are dead last in the MLB with a team ERA of 6.45 and are third to last with just 35 strikeouts through six games. While Miguel Gonzalez did struggle a bit in his first start, allowing six runs in five innings pitched, the starting pitching has more or less been fine. Reynaldo Lopez was particularly impressive, giving up just one run in six innings. However, even that effort wasn’t good enough for the win as the lead was blown by the bullpen.

That’s been a theme, as the bullpen currently has an ERA of 9.00. There aren’t yet bullpen stats available (at least that I could find) but given that the team ERA is the league worst at 6.45 I feel pretty confident that the bullpen ERA is the worst by a wide margin.

This was highlighted Thursday when, after another stable performance from James Shields and 7 runs of offense, the bullpen allowed runs in the 8th, 9th, and 10th to blow what was at one point a 7-3 lead.

Being simultaneously the best offense in baseball and worst pitching staff in baseball will give you some crazy, high-scoring games.

Like I’ve said, if we’re gonna be bad the least we can do is be exciting.

The Sox sit at 3-3, second place in the AL Central, one game back of Minnesota

They play the Tigers twice more this weekend then host Tampa Bay for three games before starting a four game series in Minnesota on Thursday.

 

Cubs

by Logan Springgate

JUST AS WE ALL PREDICTED…

The 2018 season has not really gotten off to the start that the Cubs and Cubs fans had hoped for. With 4 games at Quad-A Miami followed by 2 more in Cincy, I was pretty sure the Cubs were looking at a 6-0 start, 4-2 at the worst. Instead they were 2-3 and have the exact same situational hitting issues as last season. It’s only the first week, but firing John Mallee and hiring Chili Davis was supposed to address this issue in particular. The Cubs are hitting .215 with men on base and a woeful .137 with RISP. At least the Cubs are record-setting, but wait they set the record for most strikeouts in the first 5 games for an NL team ever. I know they played a 17-inning and a 10-inning game already this season, but striking out 58 times in 54 innings is not a recipe for success. I haven’t cancelled The Happening yet, but Happ has been the biggest culprit since his season-opening, first-pitch homer with 14 Ks by himself. Bryant and Schwarber are really the only bright spots at the plate so far. Bryant is coming through on his goal to walk as much as he strikes out this year with 5 of each. Schwarber is a bad outfielder, which goes without saying. On the other hand, his triple slash is .278/.381/.722 so far with 2 homers. If he keeps hitting like this, he’ll keep on starting in left field. There’s an interesting argument for platooning Schwarber and Happ against righties and lefties, respectively, but I’ll save that for another time when I have less to talk about.

Remember when I talked, gushed even, about how good the Cubs rotation was going to be this year? Well, there might still be some issues to work out. With the exception of Hendricks, the starters have been shaky to start the year. Darvish gave up 5 ER in just 4 1/3. Chatwood only gave up 1 ER, but he walked 6 batters. Free passes will be the downfall of Chatwood if he’s not successful this season. Q got beat up, but he went 6 innings to give the tired bullpen a rest. Lester took a big step towards righting the ship in his second start against Milwaukee last night (6 IP, no ERs). Here’s hoping the rest of them get on track when they’re home away from home up in Milwaukee. While the starters have stumbled out of the blocks, the bullpen has been exceptional. They’ve only given up 2 ER in 29 IP (0.62 ERA). Coming into last night’s game they had thrown more innings in relief so far this season than the rotation’s total. So that’s been a big bright spot in a mostly disappointing start to the year.

I’ll close this with a 25-man roster wrap-up that I was going to write last week, but didn’t have time. Caratini vs. Gimenez for backup catcher was something of a roller coaster the Saturday before the season started. Reports started coming around noon that Gimenez would take the spot with Caratini headed back to Triple-A Iowa again. Seven hours later, it was announced that Caratini would actually be the backup. I mentioned in my Cubs preview that the 25th spot was going to be down to Peter Bourjos or Eddie Butler. Bourjos had a nice spring for the Cubs and I felt bad that he got cut, but it was an organizational decision to carry more people in the bullpen. In the long run it’s not that big of a surprise; with Happ’s spring performance, the Cubs didn’t need another centerfielder. Turns out that even if Strop wasn’t ready for the season, the Cubs were going to take an extra relief arm rather than an extra outfielder. Well Strop was apparently healthy enough and Butler threw 7 innings of scoreless relief in the 17-inning marathon, so I guess this has worked out so far.

Finally, I wrote a little song during the 16th inning of game 2:

music notes

 This is the game that never ends.

It goes on and on my friends.

Some people staaaaarted playing it not knowing what it was,

and they’ll keep on playing it forever just because

this is the game that never ends…

I won’t comment on my mental state at the time of conception…

Standing: 3-3, 4th in NL Central, 2 GB of Pittsburgh

This week: @Milwaukee (3 gms), vs. Pittsburgh (3 gms)

Blackhawks

A couple weeks ago after the Blackhawks were officially eliminated from playoff contention, I said that the least we could do to end the season was to beat the Blues the three times we would play them in the final two weeks of the season. Last week the Hawks lost in overtime to the Blues but on Wednesday night they not only beat them, but as a result of the loss the Blues are no longer in control of their own destiny in terms of making the playoffs. However, this didn’t last long as Colorado, with whom they are battling for the last playoff spot, lost to San Jose on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Andreas Martinsen and Blake Hillman both scored their first NHL goals in the win over St. Louis as the Hawks came from behind to win, with Duncan Keith scoring with 9 seconds to play. That goal was not only important in the game, but it kept Keith from having the lowest non-zero shooting percentage for a season in NHL history (before this game he had taken 183 shots and scored only 1 goal).

Unfortunately the Blackhawks did not take advantage of an opportunity to force the Blues into a must-win scenario against the Avalanche on Saturday as the Blues beat the Hawks 4-1. However, what was far more significant than the game itself is that it was likely Patrick Sharp’s final game at the United Center, saying he is “probably” retiring. It’s too bad that Sharp’s return to the team this season hasn’t been what he or the team would have hoped, but he was a key contributor in this era of historic success for the Blackhawks. As the first of the original core of players to retire, this feels like the end of an era.

The Blackhawks end their season today against the Jets, who will then face the Wild in the first round of the playoffs.

This is the first time since 2008 that the Blackhawks will miss the playoffs. While this fate has been obvious for months, the disappointment hasn’t lessened. I honestly thought the Hawks would be capable of a streak similar to the Detroit Red Wings’ 25 year streak that ended two seasons ago. However, there are more important things than playoff streaks; the Blackhawks made the playoffs 28 straight times between 1969 and 1997 and won zero Stanley Cups.

Despite the struggles this season, team president John McDonagh announced that both GM Stan Bowman and Head Coach Joel Quennville will be staying for next season. I think this is the right move; in general a season like this would prompt a team to fire its coach, but Coach Q is the best in the business and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have leading this team. As for Bowman, he’s been the architect of this most successful era in franchise history and certainly deserves the opportunity to get the team out of the Salary Cap Hell they currently find themselves in.

Unless there is really big news (i.e. trades, injuries, etc.) I won’t be writing weekly Blackhawks updates, but I might have some stuff about the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they progress, so stay tuned.

Bulls

Antonio Blakeney, who plays for the Windy City Bulls, won the G League’s Rookie of the Year award. As cool as that is, I have two questions: Why isn’t he on the real Bulls, and have any previous winners of the award amounted to anything in the NBA? He has played in 19 games for the Bulls this season for a total of 16.5 minutes, which while that isn’t a lot he still averaged 8 point per game in those limited minutes. He averaged 32 points per game in the G League this year which certainly justifies the ROTY honors. As for previous winners, not a lot of household names here:

The best success has probably been Robert Covington who has averaged at least 12 point per game for the 76ers each of the last 4 seasons. #TrustTheProcess

The bad news for Blakeney is that he broke his wrist a couple weeks ago, an injury which ended his season. Hopefully, both for the Bulls and for Blakeney personally, he makes a full recovery before the start of next sesaon.

As for the real Bulls, they are the ninth worst team in the NBA at the moment and probably can’t “move up” more than to the 7th worst spot. Thus, they will have to rely on the draft lottery for any chance at a top-five pick. Lauri Markkanen has had a phenomenal rookie season, earning comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki (#BabyDirk) but unfortunately is not in contention for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, which will almost certainly be won by redshirt rookie Ben Simmons. #TrustTheProcess

If you’re interested in the various tanking scenarios for the Bulls in their remaining four games, check out @NBCSBulls on Twitter who have it all covered:

 

Fire

The Fire picked up their first point of the season with a 2-2 draw against Portland last weekend, leaving them still in search of their first win of the season. The Fire trailed late into the game but an 84th minute header from Brandon Vincent from a cross by Bastian Schweinsteiger earned the Fire the draw.

This weekend they host the Columbus Crew, and finish this current homestand next weekend against Zlatan and the LA Galaxy. Hopefully they can pick up a W this weekend to get one on the board because I shudder to think what Zlatan could do to the Fire next weekend.

This will be the Fire’s last weekend having their games broadcast for free on MLS Live before switching to ESPN+ once it debuts next week, which will cost $5/month. I’m not going to rant again about the game not being on TV, but as a fan it does make it harder to follow the team.

 

Bears

I don’t know how, but both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper have the Bears taking Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson with the 8th pick in the NFL Draft. While I for one would be thrilled to see the Bears improve the O-Line and to have an ND guy on the team, with all the rave reviews Nelson has been getting I’m surprised he’s expected to fall that far.

If other teams want to obsess over quarterbacks and let really high quality players drop down the draft board that’s fine by me.

Also we finally have an answer to how to pronounce new head coach Matt Nagy’s name:

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