EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s still one A.L. East opponent remaining to preview, the Toronto Blue Jays. But since the Cubs are playing the White Sox today, I thought I’d run this one first. The Jays preview will run tomorrow.
The Cubs have had a better record than the White Sox each of the last five years, the Joe Maddon era in Chicago. Of course, current Sox manager Rick Renteria was the man Joe replaced. I’m happy for Rick that he landed another managing job, and he’s generally received good reviews in bringing the White Sox back to close to respectability last year.
Now, the Sox have added several veteran free agents: starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez, catcher Yasmani Grandal, DH Edwin Encarnacion, former Cubs reliever Steve Cishek and others. Not only are all those guys good players, but every one of them has postseason experience — some of them have significant postseason experience — and that matters when trying to get a young club to contention. Just ask the 2015 Cubs.
So these moves are indeed similar to the sorts of things the Cubs did before the 2015 season — adding veterans to a young core still expected to do great things: Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez. To that, the Sox add top prospect Luis Robert, who is expected to start in center field. They’ve also brought back first baseman Jose Abreu, who beyond his solid hitting and defense is a great guy in the clubhouse.
One thing the Sox did not have last year was a good rotation. It consisted of Lucas Giolito and... well, not much after that. Reynaldo Lopez had his moments, but Ivan Nova, who led the Sox in starts in 2019, is gone. 14 different pitchers started a game for the White Sox in 2019. That won’t be the case with Keuchel and Giolito at the top of the rotation and Gonzalez a solid No. 3. That moves Lopez down to No. 4 and the Sox hope former Cubs prospect Dylan Cease will fulfill the promise he had that led to them asking for him in the Jose Quintana deal.
The only real difference between the 2020 Sox and the 2015 Cubs, then, is the lack of a snazzy new manager. I had thought Renteria wouldn’t be the manager of the next Sox playoff team, that they might bring in a big-name guy like Joe Girardi. But Sox ownership and management is very, very loyal — one of their best qualities, but it can also be one of their worst. Now we’ll find out if Ricky Sunshine is good enough to manage a postseason team, because the Sox should at least be in wild-card contention.
Funny thing: The Sox and Cubs had identical records in 2014 — 73-89. With that tie, the Sox got the draft pick ahead of the Cubs because they had a worse record in 2013 (63-99 to the Cubs’ 66-96). The Sox picked Carson Fulmer, who’s been mostly a bust and is now about eleventy-seventh on the Sox rotation depth chart. The Cubs chose Ian Happ. That one worked out all right for the Cubs.
The Sox were 72-89 in 2019. Keep an eye on these guys. They’re primed to have a big leap forward in 2020.
KEY ADDITIONS: Dallas Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara, Gio Gonzalez, Steve Cishek
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Jon Jay, Ivan Nova, Hector Santiago, Welington Castillo, Josh Osich, Yolmer Sanchez
The Cubs and White Sox will meet on the South Side July 7 and 8, and at Wrigley Field July 20 and 21, all weeknight games. Honestly, I wish they wouldn’t do that — night game crowds involving these teams tend to be rowdier than day game crowds. With both clubs likely to be in contention at the time they meet, this could be an issue this year.