It seemed like only yesterday when we were gearing up for baseball’s Opening Day. For the Cubs and the White Sox, it was a tale of two seasons, one of impressive success, and one of colossal failure. As the season winds down, and the World Series comes into view, here is how both of Chicago’s baseball teams fared this season.
For the Cubs, this season was seen as a success by many fans. Going into the season, the North Siders were coming off of a 74-88 season in 2022, and fans expected to see progress and improvement this season, especially with the signings of first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger, starting pitcher Jameson Taillon, and the biggest signing of the offseason, shortstop Dansby Swanson, who signed a seven-year, $177M contract. This, coupled with the continued development of second baseman Nico Hoerner, outfielders Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki, and utilityman Christopher Morel, gave vibes that there was hope for competitive baseball in Wrigleyville.
And that hope came into fruition.
The 2023 Chicago Cubs, after a slow 26-36 start to the season, played strong baseball throughout the summer, having a combined record of 47-31 from June-August. It was a great time to be a Cubs pitcher, as Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele had great early-season campaigns, at one point being one of the best pitching duos in all of baseball. Kyle Hendricks returned to the rotation after missing the beginning of the season and he pitched well down the stretch. After a rough start to the season, Jameson Taillon finished it nicely, holding a 3.70 earned run average (ERA) after the All-Star break. This success wasn’t limited to starting pitchers, as a few relief pitchers got in on the action as well. Julian Merryweather became a shutdown reliever late in the year, earning a 1.93 ERA in the month of August. Michael Fulmer also became a reliable arm after a rough start to his season, holding a 0.66 ERA in June and a 2.66 ERA in July. And of course, Adbert Alzolay rounded out into being a fantastic closer for the Cubs, racking up 22 saves out of 25 opportunities.
The offense also showed out this year too. Cody Bellinger, long seen as an afterthought and a “washed-up” player, broke out in a huge way this season. He finished the year with a .307 batting average and a fantastic .525 on base percentage (OBP), his highest since he won National League MVP in 2019. He hit 25 home runs and had an impressive 97 runs batted in (RBI). He also provided Gold Glove-level defense at both first base and the outfield. Seiya Suzuki broke out big after a slow start to the season. He finished the year with 20 homers and 74 RBI, in addition to his solid defense in right field. Dansby Swanson had a solid year, with 22 homers and 80 RBI, and Christopher Morel hit 26 home runs and had 70 RBI. And Nico Hoerner turned in a fine season, earning a .283 batting average and 68 RBI, the most in his career. He also stole 43 bases, a career-high, and most by a Cub since Juan Pierre stole 58 in 2006.
Unfortunately, once the calendar flipped to September, it seemed as though the Cubs’ fire burnt out. Injuries to key players, combined with offensive struggles, and an uber-competitive wild card race late in the year, sealed the Cubs fate. They were knocked out of the playoffs with a week left in the season. However, the future is incredibly bright for the Northsiders. They have a consensus top 10 farm system in MLB. They clinched a winning record for the first time since the 2020 shortened season, and they’re only the second team in franchise history (1968) to have a winning record after being 10 games under .500. It’s safe to say that the Cubs will be competing for an NL Central title in 2024, attempting to win it for the first time since that 2020 campaign.
Turning over to the White Sox now, and absolutely nothing went right for the Southsiders. They went an abysmal 61-101 last season. The last time they lost 100 games or more was in 2018, and it’s only happened three times before that (1932, 1948, 1970). This has been a historically bad season for the Sox. Their problems are multifaceted.
First, let’s take a look at the pitching staff. Their starting rotation consisted of Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Touki Toussaint, and Jesse Scholtens by the end of the season. Mike Clevinger, who actually pitched decently well for the Sox, got injured by the end of the year. Lance Lynn, who they acquired in December of 2020 and who had also pitched decently well for them over his short time on the South Side, was traded at the trade deadline to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lucas Giolito, a fan favorite and one of the faces of the franchise, was traded to the Los Angeles Angels.
Cease regressed in the 2023 season. After a career-best 2.20 ERA in 2022 (also earning him second place in American League Cy Young voting), he held a 4.58 ERA in 2023. Kopech regressed as well, earning a 5.43 ERA after earning a 3.54 the year prior. Touki Toussaint was claimed off of waivers by the Sox midway through June, and he pitched decently well, especially early in his tenure with them. He earned a 3.60 ERA in June and a 3.46 in July. And Jesse Scholtens actually made his major league debut with the White Sox this season, and had your typical rookie struggles. He held a 5.29 ERA and a 1-9 record in his starts. The relievers were a bit better, but Aaron Bummer had a bummer of a season, holding a 6.79 ERA. Jimmy Lambert had a 5.26 ERA and Tanner Banks had a 4.43 ERA. However, Garrett Crochet and closer Gregory Santos both had solid seasons, posting a 3.55 and a 3.39 ERA, respectively.
Offensively, it was a tough year, but it wasn’t all bad. Let’s get this out of the way quickly: Luis Robert Jr. is an elite baseball player. He had a career season with the White Sox, and quickly became their best player. He had a .246 batting average with 38 homers and 80 RBIs. He also stole 20 bases, a career-high. Andrew Vaughn also played well down the stretch, as did Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, and free-agent acquisition Andrew Benintendi. But they couldn’t keep their offensive identity consistent for a full season, which is part of why they lost 101 games.
Many fans pointed to first-year manager Pedro Grifol for the struggles this year. Others placed blame on owner Jerry Reinsdorf, former President of Baseball Operations Kenny Williams, and former general manager Rick Hahn. In reality, for a team to be this bad in a year where they expected to compete for a division title, everyone is to blame. And with the way things are trending, it may be a long time before Sox fans have anything to cheer about.
So, that’s both team’s seasons in review. One team has endless amounts of hope, with owners who seem to care about fielding a competitive team and a flourishing team structure, and another who seems to be doing everything wrong, and setting themselves up for more disappointment. It certainly was a memorable season for both clubs, and hopefully, both teams will find a way to be better in 2024.
By Jermale Dabney, Junior, Lindblom Math and Science Academy
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