Things just don’t happen like you expect them to…
Or do they?
What you would expect is the rebuilding White Sox to lose (badly) in the Crosstown Series to the Cubs, who came into baseball’s second half with a record of 8-1, the best in baseball. But that didn’t happen. As my dad always says: “That’s Baseball.” (Clever, right?)
And here I was—with those expectations—flexing my National League rules muscles with Kyle Hendricks giving the Cubs the early lead on Monday with an RBI groundout. The Sox staff couldn’t possibly know what to do with a bat in their hands? Nor could their no-name roster handle last year’s ERA leader. Hendricks didn’t last long and threw a lot of early pitches in his first start back from the DL, unfortunately.
But no matter. The Cubs recently rejuvenated offense would soon begin their mash parade on Miguel Gonzalez. After all, he would worsen as the game went on—as his ERA has risen from 3.56 in the first three innings of his starts to close to 5.00 in the 4th or later. Surely the Cubs could handle a placehold starter? Or they’d just wait to attack the dilapidated Sox bullpen whose best members have been dealt for prospects and a chance to win on a contending team this year.
All the while, the buzz from the crosstown rivalry in the stands on a picture-perfect day at Wrigley Field didn’t inspire or spill onto the field for the home team. The Cubs simply looked scared or overwhelmed by playing their counterpart from the South side. Meanwhile, the White Sox—as it seems they typically do against the Cubs—came to play and win. “Pathetic” was the word I used to describe the Cubs performance on Monday.
Because, after all, there were some things that were not surprising in that game. As I mentioned, the Sox came to play. The Cubs left 12. men. on. base. 12. (Opportunities abound for that young Cubs offense but even last year where so many RISP were overlooked by an abundance of runs, they have had to rely on far fewer chances and an inability to capitalize on quality chances for potential runs this season.) And Joe Maddon asked for and received his death/loss wish when he called upon BOTH Justin Grimm and Koji Uehara to relieve Hendricks in the 5th and 6th. Seriously: if you send Uehara out to throw a wobbly splitter over the heart of the plate at 87mph every pitch, you’re gonna have a bad time.
In the end, give Gonzalez credit. He pitched very well and took advantage of the fact the Cubs have never seen him. Swarzak was also able to conquer the butterflies and lock down his first save, even with a patented late-inning “Fake Rally” brewing. Also- should I start calling Adam Engel (…who?) “New Spanky?”
Tuesday was a little different and a little more “fun”—for many reasons. Wilson Contreras set the tone with the 3-run homer in the first yet John Lackey did a very John Lackey thing in giving up a 2-run double to his counterpart, Carlos Rodon. (Quit complaining about the pitcher’s hitting rule—it’s not so bad when that happens, eh? Although of course I’m biased because the Cubs pitchers have been among the highest home run hitting staffs in baseball over the past 5-10 years.) When Big John also managed to plunk back-to-back batters in the 5th, once again, the sort of mindless hype given to this series reared its ugly head. (Seriously: everyone needs to chill out about these games. The moment shouldn’t be too big for the Cubs to face their “rival” from across town…and I thought the Sox wanted to tank? Just play baseball, people!) Manager Rick Renteria tried to suggest that these wayward fastballs were intentional (and later retaliated. Don’t you DARE hit our prized new rookie! There, there, Yoany…) No Ricky, he didn’t want to purposefully load the bases, even with two outs. He’s actually just that bad.
(What’s more fun—I can assure you—is seeing Kris Bryant actually argue a third strike call. I think I even saw him utter a nasty word. So he is human after all… Although if I was him I’d want to be ejected after shooting a baseball off my tibia… it was still a terrible call, but I digress…)
Still, it turned out more “as we expected” with a 7-2 win in the end for the Cubs. And that’s ok. Ever since the mighty schedule people have changed this series to a measly 4 games in a row at the end of July every year, the hype has been diminished if not snuffed out. With the current state of affairs, the Cubs should win this thing more and the Sox should sort of welcome that (with a “better draft position” at stake, according to another of my Sox fan friends.) Let the players settle it on the field with both teams trying but not taking this too seriously. My prediction of a road-team sweep on both sides is unfortunately off the table… but my non-hot take of a split of this series is still at large… That’s things as we expect, right?