Windy City revival: Cubs, White Sox have MLB's best records
CHICAGO (AP) - Robin Ventura remembers the excitement in New York when the Mets and Yankees faced off in the World Series, and he can imagine what it would be like in Chicago if both teams made it.
Wait, the Cubs and White Sox playing for the championship?
Don't start planning the parade just yet, but the teams with the two best records in the game through Wednesday just happen to call Chicago home. That's quite a change in a city known more for heartbreak and failure than championship glory when it comes to baseball.
Yet here are the Cubs, dominating with a major league-leading 15-5 mark. And in the American League, the White Sox are leading the way at 16-6. The last time Chicago teams had the two best records in baseball this late in a season was May 29, 1973, and not since then had they both boasted the top marks in their leagues, according to STATS.
"You're happy for our fans that we can play a better brand of baseball and give them some hope that there can be meaningful games later in the year and hopefully make the playoffs," said Ventura, the White Sox manager who played for the Mets in the 2000 Subway Series against the Yankees. "Having played in New York where both teams made the playoffs, it's an exciting atmosphere for a city that has two teams capable of doing that."
Not since 2008 have both teams made the playoffs, but that's starting to look like a possibility. With the Bulls missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup defense ending with a first-round playoff loss to St. Louis, the timing couldn't be better for Chicago fans.
The Cubs, coming off a 97-win season and a trip to the NLCS after five straight losing years, were among the major league leaders in runs and on-base percentage. The two teams have shown a knack for scoring late, with the North Siders second in the majors in runs after the sixth inning and the South Siders fourth.
Both have also been dominating on the mound, with Jake Arrieta throwing a no-hitter for the Cubs last week and Chris Sale off to a sizzling start for the White Sox. The White Sox were also leading the majors with five shutouts while the Cubs (four) were tied for second.
"I know in New York, we fed off each other," said Cubs pitcher Adam Warren, in his first season in Chicago after a stint with the Yankees. "You wanted to be the team — and not the second-tier team. I think it does motivate you a little bit. You want to be the team of the city."
One major difference between the teams was the path they followed to this point. The Cubs spent years loading up their farm system and then filled in gaps through trades and free agency. The White Sox have continued to rebuild on the fly, sticking with that approach even after last season's collapse. A team that expected to contend after making several high-profile moves finished fourth in the AL Central at 76-86.
That didn't stop them from going for it again, trading for All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier and bringing in several other players to boost a team that ranked among the game's biggest disappointments.
So far, the results are promising. There's excitement on both sides of town.
"You can't help but hear the Cubs talk when you're in Chicago," White Sox pitcher John Danks said. "I obviously know they're doing well but shoot man, we're having a blast. We're playing good baseball. It's only April but these games matter, too."
There's plenty of motivation on both sides of town, starting with a championship drought on the North Side that dates to 1908.
The White Sox won the World Series in 2005 but have made just one trip to the playoffs since. They're coming off three straight losing seasons, and they had a quiet spring training interrupted by an unusual breakup, when Adam LaRoche decided to retire after team executive Ken Williams asked him to cut back on his teenage son Drake's access to the team.
Now, the White Sox are attracting attention because of their performance. And Cubs manager Joe Maddon is "digging" what's happening on both sides of town. He is particularly happy for Ventura, his fellow wine aficionado who is in his fifth season has an expiring contract.
"This past spring training, I went out to dinner with he and (Mike) Scioscia and Buddy Black and Ron Roenicke and Sandy Koufax — did I say Sandy Koufax?" Maddon said. "Robin digs wine. ... I'm really happy for him and their success. I think it's great for the city. If we could both sustain this kind of play, it would make for a very interesting summer."