Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.
– William Butler Yeats
I like the White Sox.
That’s probably not a controversial take from a Cardinals fan given how often I hear the enemy/enemy/friend proverb regurgitated by other Cardinals fans with regard to the South Siders, but I feel the need to get that out of the way for this preview anyway. Mostly, I like their fans. Growing up in Central Illinois – a region almost evenly divided between the Cardinals and Cubs – it was pretty rare to come upon a White Sox fan in the wild, but the few I knew loved baseball. They knew baseball.
And they sort of had to in order to tolerate a franchise like the White Sox. This was a team who endured an incredibly long World Series drought without receiving any of the romantic cachet like the Red Sox or Cubs did. A team who came very close to leaving for Florida in the late ’80s (see assigned reading below). A team who ran second fiddle in their own hometown. And a team who built what has been called the last boring ballpark before all of the new “retro” ballparks began to arrive one year later. (Although don’t believe the hype, Guaranteed Rate Field is a perfectly fine place to watch a baseball game.) They were an easy team to pull for. Or, maybe more accurately, a team that never gave me a good reason to be angry at them.
I was living in Chicago when they won the 2005 World Series, their first title in 88 years (two years longer than it took the Red Sox to finally cash one in), and I attended the celebratory parade downtown with a friend, a lifelong White Sox fan. I wasn’t wearing Sox gear or anything but I was clapping, cheering, etc., and I didn’t even feel like an interloping jerk doing it. I was genuinely happy for my friends and felt lucky to be living in a city that was home to a World Series winner. Especially since it wasn’t the other team that calls Chicago home.
With regard to that other team, it is true that a lot of Cardinals fans hate the Cubs. Their fans, especially. And while there are some White Sox and Cubs fans who don’t have a whole lot to say about the other (they didn’t play each other until the dawn of interleague, after all), a good segment of Sox fans really hate the Cubs. It’s a type of hate that I imagine can only be felt by an overlooked child, or someone constantly being told they will never quite measure up. The day after the White Sox won it all in 2005, a few of the trolliest people you will ever see spent the afternoon driving in circles around Wrigley Field, while honking their horn with a Sox flag waving from their vehicle. I lived somewhat nearby at the time and saw it with my own eyes. It was petty, but probably therapeutic too, and man, it was beautiful.
Lastly, if interested in some worthwhile reading about this franchise, here are two pieces I highly recommend, one from a few weeks ago and one from a few years ago: The White Sox ballpark in Chicago that never was and could have changed history by Dayn Perry; and ‘If Jackie could make it, I could too’ by Christina Kahrl. The first piece covers the White Sox’ almost-move from the South side, their current stadium, what was almost a new stadium, and a whole lot more. The second focuses on the remarkable life and career of Minnie Minoso, who died less than a week after this piece was published. I learned a lot from both.
Actually, this is my last personal comment (I swear!) and then I will get to the series preview which is what this post was allegedly supposed to be about. I am currently reading Fall From Grace by Tim Hornbaker, a book about the life of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. It is good. It also reinforces the absurdity of Jackson, born to a sharecropper in rural South Carolina and who received almost no formal education, being played by a wise-crackin’ Italian from New Jersey in the movie Field of Dreams. Now I don’t hate Field of Dreams like a few in the baseball universe do, but Hollywood did pretty bad there.
Let’s see, oh yes. These White Sox fellas are in St. Louis tonight to begin a two-game series with the Cardinals. Our Cardinals. The previous six paragraphs notwithstanding, this blog’s Cardinals. The Cardinals lead the all-time series 14-11 (although the Sox have outscored the Cardinals 139-138), including a 9-5 record in St. Louis. The last time they played was in July of 2015 in Chicago. I remember that series fondly because I listened to one of the games on my headphones while trying to rest on what was barely a couch at George Washington University Hospital after my family welcomed our first child. You might remember it, too, because Matt Holliday hit a grand slam that almost landed in Wisconsin.
Taking the mound tonight is Michael Wacha and James Shields. Tomorrow, Carlos Martínez, who has been phenomenal since his Opening Day start, and Lucas Giolito. This bit of information made the rounds when Giolito first appeared with the Nationals parent club in 2016, but in the event you missed it, he is the grandson of the late actor Warren Frost, also known as Susan’s dad on Seinfeld.
FanGraphs currently gives the Cardinals a more than 66 percent chance to win both games, and that’s because while the White Sox pulled off what has been considered a successful sale of their former stars like Chris Sale, Adam Eaton (who netted Giolito), and José Quintana to jump-start their current rebuild, they are still bad.
The Cardinals are a perfect 7-0 against the other teams listed in Passan’s tweet (all seven against the Reds, of course), and it would be in their interest to hold serve against the White Sox as well. This is especially true after their playoff and division winning odds took a noticeable hit after a disappointing showing in Pittsburgh over the weekend.
Here’s the thing with all of these bad teams (and this was touched on in a recent episode of the Seeing Red podcast, if I recall): I’m not so sure it’s good for a team like the Cardinals, who seem perpetually designed to win 88 games, because on the other end of the spectrum will be a surplus of teams winning in the mid-to-high 90s. To put it another way, 88 wins might not be enough for the wild card this year. And who knows how many wins it will take to topple the Cubs, who get to play these same bad teams. To counter-act, the Cardinals need to soundly beat the bad teams. So far, so good, but it is vital they keep it going.
And they should. Today is the first day of May and the White Sox’ playoff odds sit at zero percent. One bright spot has been former top-prospect Yoán Moncada, who came over from Boston before last season in the Chris Sale trade, and currently has a 138 wRC+. He has also struck out, walked, or hit a home run in approximately 56 percent of his plate appearances this season, so even though he’s only 23, he’s blended into this league quite nicely.
And the offense hasn’t really been this team’s problem, but rather their pitching. As others have said before me, Big Game James is still Big Game James only because Game sort of rhymes with James. Otherwise, his tenure in Chicago can best be described as a disaster (6.01 ERA in about 260 innings pitched since arriving in the middle of the 2016 season). Outside of Tyler Chatwood and Lance Lynn, Giolito has the highest walk rate (17.1 percent) in baseball for pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings. And his 7.74 xFIP is the worst in the league by a pretty wide margin.
The rest of the staff hasn’t fared much better. Their 5.34 xFIP is the worst in baseball. So is their 5.8 percent K-BB%. Their 1.57 WHIP? Dead last. You get the idea. Consider this an opportune couple of days for players like Matt Carpenter, Marcell Ozuna, and Dexter Fowler to get their bats going.
So, White Sox, my good friends, I like you, but the Cardinals really should destroy you and your pitching.
The first game kicks off tonight at 7:15 pm St. Louis time. Tomorrow – 12:15 pm. Both games will be televised on Fox Sports Midwest.