Cubs in fine shape, but October a crapshoot; Sox place holders await phenoms

By on March 27, 2018

The 2018 MLB season is about to start and all the pundits come out with their predictions. Here are my thoughts for the new season. It’s hard to pick against the Cubs to win the National League Central.

And how many years have any of us had that experience of knowing the Cubs were odds-on favorites? It’s still unchartered territory and takes getting used to.

The days of having to contort mentally, if not physically, into finding a way to justify a prognostication of a Cubs division title are still too close for comfort. And maybe in the baseball, by far the most unpredictable sport of all, it’s best to never be comfortable in forecasting.

But at this juncture, the Cubs would have to fritter away an NL Central title, while the White Sox are still in a place-holding juncture for expected waves of prime prospects to build a contender in future seasons.

Even an average power and RBI output from Jason Heyward would be welcome after two mediocre seasons at the plate.

Both outcomes are satisfactory to their respective fan bases. And when has that ever been the mindset going into a new season?

With Yu Darvish aboard to elevate the Cubs into deep-rotation status, the main questions are a handful or less, and nothing ominous. Will Brandon Morrow prove to be an effective closer after promotion from setup man? Will Ian Happ’s hot spring that seemed to clinch leadoff-center field duties continue to squeeze out Albert Almora from deserved status as a regular center fielder? Will Jason Heyward ever reach the 20-homer, 75-RBI mark to go along with otherwise sterling attributes that would justify his monster contract? And will Anthony Rizzo allow himself to be rested enough to have a great finishing kick in October?

This new era of contention was decades overdue. Phil Wrigley had the finances to afford it, but would not spend them properly nor cede day-to-day control of the Cubs to a qualified, Lee MacPhail-type baseball man. Tribune Co. overseers got bit by the baseball bug and meddled too much. The Cubs had the second-smallest front-office staff in the majors.

Now the right baseball-ops people are in place and the front office is right-sized. The tradeoff is the increased corporatization of the Cubs and the sheer expense of attending just one Wrigley Field game. That’s the price of winning.

Most Cubs predictions for the 2018 MLB season this week also included post-season picks. You won’t get one here. The playoffs are an absolute crapshoot. Even a team that gets hot in October might go down in a seven-game World Series. Theo Epstein is spot-on to construct a franchise to be in position to make the post-season. What happens after a berth is clinched is totally up for grabs. Being brutally honest, the Cubs might not win another Fall Classic while Epstein is on board, through no fault of his own and his posse. That is the cruel nature of baseball, where positive outcomes depend on that day’s pitcher and lucky bounces.

The 2018 Sox season is a waiting game for the likes of Michael Kopech to make big-league debuts.

DItto with the Sox. While a successful rebuild come 2019 or 2020 is more than likely, no guarantees are possible. Prospects can get injured, never get started or flame out after a short run of success. Sox fans are willing to simply wait out this process.

James Shields is scheduled to start the season opener, but the veteran warhorse is merely holding that place for Michael Kopech, the most anticipated arrival of a young pitcher in ages. Various combinations in the outfield are marking time for the arrivals of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. Yoan Moncada now has a full season to display if he is indeed the five-tool, top-of-the line impact player for which so must has been invested.

For the baseball purist and the more casual fan looking for a low-cost, more accessible baseball alternative than the elitist Cubs, the 2018 Sox are worth their patronage just to see young players lay all out to cement their status. None of the Sox kids, present and future, can afford to dog it in the dog days. Jobs are there to be won and locked up. And, perhaps, the kind of long-term contracts teams have increasingly granted their their top young players to keep them out of arbitration and early free agency.

I have always been an advocate of the Sox counter-programming against the Cubs, now out of necessity. When national pundits and promoters look at Chicago baseball, they only think of the Cubs. The Sox simply have to try harder, as Avis did in the rental-car field against Hertz back in the day. I have yet to hear a promotional message stating how the Sox actively fight against the rising cost of attending a game, or that the team has plenty of parking. Or — how the CTA provided free rides for fans going home from the Cubs-Sox game at G-Rate Field.

Getting quality for the megabucks spent per capita at Wrigley Field is an assumed benefit for fans. But receiving value for a lesser amount out of pocket should be the lure eight miles south.

One day, the Sox hope to be in position to advocate the former, although they should never lose track of the concept of keeping a certain number of cheaper seats. Baseball grew to the national pastime on the concept of low-cost access. That, and the fact November 1 bling is never assured no matter how much a team is loaded, are history lessons that must be bronzed at all at ballparks.


Category Baseball Under Glass Blog Tags , , , , , ,