SPORTS
Cubs and Sox season previews
BY ZACK HERNANDEZ

Photo by Chicago Sun-Times.

Both Cubs and Sox fans have plenty of reasons to look forward to the 2018 season.

As the weeks pass, both the Chicago Cubs and White Sox are gearing up for an exciting 2018 season.  The Chicago Cubs ended their 2017 campaign in disappointing fashion.

 

They entered the season as World Series champions with a target on their back. The team started slow out of the gate, and fell to two games under .500 at the All-Star break. However, the north-siders found their stride from that point forward, ultimately winning the NL Central Division with a 90-72 record. The Cubs’ bullpen and offense struggled in the playoffs and they fell in the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.

 

Despite the loss, the Cubs remain loaded with talent favored to take the NL Central again.

 

Though the team lost Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, free agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood present a new-looking staff. Arrieta hit the free agent market this winter, recently signing a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. If the four -time All-Star Darvish avoids the disabled list, he is fully capable of replacing Arrieta’s talent level in the rotation.

 

Outfielder Kyle Schwarber transformed his body this winter and is entering this season weighing 20 pounds lighter.

 

 “I’m training my body for 162 games times nine innings or maybe more. I want to be an MVP. I want to be a Gold Glover. I want to set my standards really high,” said Schwarber.

 

Schwarber’s defense has been a liability in the past, and an improvement in agility and mobility may allow him to reach his full potential.

 

Leading up to spring training, a major concern for the roster encompasses who will play center field and who will be the leadoff hitter. Ian Happ and Albert Almora are each making their case to earn the roles.

 

Happ is slashing .343 with five home runs during spring training, while Almora hit .342 against left-handed pitching last season. “I feel comfortable swinging the bat; I’m seeing the ball well and just having a lot of quality at-bats, feeling really comfortable in center field too,” said Happ. The two promising players may split time at the position with veteran utility man Ben Zobrist.

 

After losing All-Star relief pitcher Wade Davis, the bullpen’s reliability poses the team’s largest question mark. Offseason acquire Brandon Morrow is projected to handle the closer role. The right-hander posted a strong 2.06 ERA and 0.92 WHIP last season, but health has always been a major concern throughout his career.

 

The bullpen’s inconsistency in the postseason, specifically Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery, ended up hurting the Cubs when it mattered most. If relief pitching improves and the new additions to the team step up, the Cubs are poised for a deep playoff run.

 

On the other side of town, the Chicago White Sox finished with the fourth worst record in baseball in 2017. Despite this, the Sox are in the process of a full team rebuild; losing more games rewarded them with higher draft picks.

 

General manager Rick Hahn took no half-measures last season, trading the majority of the south-siders’ best players for prospects. The most notable names are Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. Heading into 2018 season, the rebuild is entering phase two: integrating all of the top prospects they’ve acquired onto the major league roster.

 

Second baseman Yoan Moncada got his feet wet at the MLB level last year, giving the Sox a small sample of what he brings to the table. Initially he struggled, striking out 36.1 percent over the first two months he was called up.

 

However, Moncada became a more patient hitter over the final month of the season, resulting in a serviceable .276 average. The combination of his elite speed and sheer power suggest a breakout in 2018.

 

Their rotation comprises veteran trade pieces and promising young pitchers. Former top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito could emerge as the staff’s ace in 2018, as he accumulated a 2.38 ERA over 45.1 innings last season.

 

The Sox farm system sits among the league’s best, containing seven of MLB’s top 100 prospects. Dominican outfielder Eloy Jimenez is ranked fourth overall on the list and presents the hitting ability of a potential star.

 

“His massive raw pop, generated with impressive bat speed and leverage from the right side of the plate, earns him comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton,” said an MLB Pipeline scout.

 

The power-pitching right-hander Michael Kopech slots in at 10th overall. Possessing a fastball that has reached speeds of 105 mph, Kopech’s chances of debuting this summer are quite high.

 

Teams around the league have reportedly expressed interest in first baseman Jose Abreu and right fielder Avisail Garcia. Abreu hit .304 with 33 home runs last season while Garcia hacked a robust .330. Garcia is poised for regression at the plate, but Hahn may keep him and Abreu around to mentor the team’s young players.

 

The Sox are projected to lose over 90 games this season, but fans can look forward to observing their top prospects start the foundation of the rebuild.

 

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