Blackhawks

The Devil in the White Sox city

The Devil in the White Sox city

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Upon moving to Chicago in 1995, I was fascinated by just about everything about the city. Being a native east-coaster, I never dreamed in a million years that I would move away from the Atlantic Ocean and head to the heartland. But thats what love will do and thats also another story for another day, although I never get tired of telling it. (Ask my eye-rolling co-workers!) The thing about the city that excited me most, and this should not come as a surprise, was that it was a two-baseball team town. How cool is that? I can see every team in the Majors if I want. For a baseball geek it doesnt get any better than that. That one of the stadiums that I would get to go to was Wrigley Field made it even better, if that was possible.

Like much of the new city that I was about to inhabit, I knew about the White Sox, but there was a lot for me to learn. My eventual move to the far, far Southside would help with that and would also help balance the fact that I work in a Cubs bar. For me, it was never about drawing lines, I could enjoy both sides. In this town though, you are supposed to choose. I might have more of a rooting interest for one over the other, but since I pay attention to every game that both teams play, you could say Im a follower of both and not the typical Chicagoan. (Big shock!) And I do believe that gives me a different perspective on the two teams.

They are as different as you can get, while being very similar, kind of like brothers. From the neighborhoods they inhabit, to the feel of the ballparks and the TV and radio broadcasts that fans watch and listen to, there is a distinction between the two that is unmistakable. The common bond being the city they play in and the passion in their base fans.

But being an outsider, I realize that this should be the case, since that is the way it is with the 28 other teams in MLB. Each team and every dynamic around them are unique.
The big difference here is that they are sharing the same house.

And the even bigger difference being that while I dont think the Cubs give it a second thought, it drives the Sox crazy. Well, crazy for one specific reason: Attendance. (Some would say the dollars that go with it, but Im not that cynical, yet.)

Because of the ballpark and the location, the Northsiders have become a national treasure, albeit a non-threatening one, given the whole 104-year thing and all. This didnt always reflect in the attendance as much as it did the public consciousness. I remember when I first moved here it was always easy to get tickets. (On both sides of town, as a matter of fact). The Cubs always drew relatively well, but they werent an attendance juggernaut, they were always around the league average for years. Then in June of 1998 Hippity-Hopity hit 20 homers and it all changed. In the chicks-dig-the-long-ball age, Wrigley became a happening, a place to be. By 2003 there also came a thirst for success and everyone wanted to be a part of it, and they came oh so close. Maybe you heard about it? They didnt win but for some they became something better, a three-million-fans-a-year behemoth (8 straight years and counting.). They are the definition of a financial player.

Now consider on the Southside, they did something their Northside brethren havent in the last 104 years, well actually they did it twice but had their own drought, (Theres a new definition for that word!) and thats winning a championship in 2005. (Seems like a long time ago.) What did they get? A spike in paying customers in 2006, but then it has declined every year since, from a high in 06 of 89.9 capacity, all the way down to this years current rate of 50.9 Ouch.

This makes me understand what I thought to be a curious statement by Sox GM Kenny Williams after they won in 05. When posed a question about the Sox position in baseballs hierarchy, he felt that the Sox needed to win another title to remain relevant on a national and local scale. I guess he couldnt have been more right.

Although I will say, I wonder if this is some of his and the Sox own doing.

Kenny has never been shy about expressing the opinion that fans need to come out to support the team. Or else.

That was the message last year, when after signing Adam Dunn he said the fans need to come out or the team was going to have to start slashing its highest payroll ever by dumping players at the trade deadline. Not a white flag moment, but at least a shot across the bow.

That the season kind of turned into a circus and their competitive level was not what was expected (understatement) might have taken away from those comments, but I wondered what effect they still would have.

Is that being expressed this year? Are there other factors?

I know that a lot of fan bases take pride in showing up no matter what, take St. Louis for instance, but then I consider, they live in St. Louis, what the hell else are they going to do?

In Chicago, all summer long, people have options. And when the price of going to any game is getting out of control for most working-class folks, things have to be considered before you drop a couple hundred going out to a game.

But it still surprises me a bit that people arent going out to watch this team play. In my post last week, I mentioned that I was hopeful that they could capture the public's attention. All theyve done since then is sweep Cleveland and Tampa Bay to extend their win streak to eight and take over first place in the Central.

And I still dont hear a buzz. All I hear is the GM playing chicken with the fans by calling them out in public.

Kenny Williams: Every day that you dont fill the seats at least to a greater degree than we are, it hurts.

Meaning: If you want the team to compete, and you want me to buy at the trade deadline, get your but in a seat so I can pay for it.

Again, I am fascinated and entertained by Williams to no end. He is one guy that I would love to see pull up a stool at the bar to talk baseball.

But I dont know if everyone else feels that way, and by everyone I mean paying customers, since for six years in a row now, there are less of them coming out.

Even worse, and this has to gnaw at him, is that he has a first place club, yet a team 8.25 miles to the north, that doesnt have a prayer, is outdrawing his by 16,500 a game. (Figure the real math)

I guess I would call my fans too if I had a team in 1st and they were playing in front of 50 of capacity.

I cant wait to see how this plays out. I know Ill be watching and rooting on TV and going to U.S. Cellular Field on at least two planned occasions. And now thanks to Kenny, maybe Ill have to plan a third trip. Every little bit helps I guess.

Oh, and about the title. Its just a play on words, nothing sinister, but feel free to have your own interpretation. In my eternal quest to learn more about Chicago, Im currently listening to the audio version of the book that details the Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. Its about the Worlds Columbian Exposition hosted by Chicago in 1893. It is a great listen, almost as good as Kenny, and makes my trip home from work fly by.

Only a smart aleck like me would point out that a lot of folks that went to that once-in-a-lifetime event also saw the Cubs play in 1908.

Ill play nice and leave it at that.

Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Saturday afternoon, after eliminating the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in Game 4 on Friday night, the Blackhawks learned they'll be facing the Vegas Golden Knights and very likely a certain former Hawks goalie in Round One.

Robin Lehner was in net for the Knights in their overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche to help Vegas grab the No. 1 seed in the West for Round One, pitting them against the Blackhawks, who were the No. 12 seed in the qualifying round.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner unveils new pads

Lehner has seen the majority of the starts in net for the Knights at the beginning of the postseason tournament over three-time Stanley Cup champ Marc-Andre Fleury.

The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist was traded from Chicago to Vegas ahead of Feb. 24's trade deadline. He was 16-10-5 as a Hawk during the 2019-20 regular season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage prior to the move.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner's birthday cake is unreal

Following Saturday's game, Lehner was asked about facing the Blackhawks and his former goalie partner Corey Crawford in Round One and if playing with them earlier this season carries an advantage.

"I don't know. All I know is it's going to be fun playing them," Lehner said. "They're a very good hockey team and I have a lot of respect for them, the whole organization... but I think I really like it here (with Vegas), we're a great hockey team."

The 29-year-old netminder got off to a hot start with Vegas ahead of the NHL pause on March 12 going 3-0-0 with 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. 

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AL Central race: For White Sox, solving Indians pitching a tall task but a must

AL Central race: For White Sox, solving Indians pitching a tall task but a must

The Cleveland Indians have the best starting rotation in baseball.

And while that might have been an opinion back before the abbreviated 2020 campaign got underway, it’s a fact at the moment. The Indians’ starting staff leads baseball with a 2.09 ERA and 124 strikeouts. Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale — not to mention Adam Plutko, who’s also made one nice start — have dominated opposing lineups.


Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest White Sox news and analysis.

Often, they’ve dominated the White Sox lineup.

The South Siders have seen Cleveland’s starting pitchers five times in their first 15 games of the season, and an offense that was talked up as so capable before and since Opening Day has done very little against this superb collection of hurlers. A 2-3 record against the Indians following Saturday’s 7-1 defeat could certainly be much worse. But in five games against them, the White Sox have scored a total of 13 runs. And only five of those came against the starting pitchers.

The first two games of this weekend series at Guaranteed Rate Field have featured more exemplary starting-pitching performances by the Indians. Civale threw seven one-run innings Friday night, and Plesac was again excellent with six shutout innings Saturday afternoon. Neither performance matched what they did against this same White Sox team a little more than a week ago in Cleveland. But it certainly was enough to keep the White Sox bats quiet.

And Bieber, currently running away with the AL Cy Young Award — he’s got an 0.83 ERA and 35 strikeouts in three starts — awaits in Sunday night's nationally televised showdown.

If the White Sox are going to keep pace in the race for the AL Central crown, they’ll need to figure out a way to solve these Indians pitchers.

“These are the types of guys we have to get after,” manager Rick Renteria said after Saturday’s game. “To win, you have to put together the focus, the concentration. It’s not easy, trust me, when you’re facing guys like this. But you have to put things together enough to start a line and keep it moving and scratch away and claw and score a run or two here and there.”

RELATED: White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

The much discussed White Sox lineup, remade during the offseason with the additions of Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara and the promotion of Luis Robert, has certainly showed what it’s capable of this season. In the second game of the year, it hung 10 runs on the Minnesota Twins. In back-to-back wins over the Kansas City Royals last weekend, the White Sox exploded for a combined 20 runs on 35 hits.

And granted, this lineup has not been at full strength for even one game this season. The injury bug has chomped down on the White Sox and not let go. Mazara, the team's starting right fielder, started the season on the injured list. Currently, starting shortstop Tim Anderson and starting second baseman Nick Madrigal are on the IL. Encarnación is sidelined, too.

But the White Sox bats have been cool for a bit now, with just nine runs scored in the last five games against the Indians and Milwaukee Brewers. That hasn’t always equaled losses, and they’re 2-3 in those five games, with the pitching coming through to carry the day in certain spots.

Unfortunately for the White Sox, though, a cold snap, a growing list of injuries, three games against Cleveland’s elite pitching and, as Renteria pointed out Saturday, a little fatigue in this most unusual of seasons makes for an unproductive recipe.

“We are facing a club that has solid pitching, really good pitching. And we have to bring our game up,” Renteria said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a little fatigued or tired. Nobody cares about that. The reality is you have to be able to put together and string together really good at-bats, which is not easy to do, but it’s what we have to do.

“I think that maybe today’s game will be a great learning tool for us to understand. No one is going to give us anything. You don’t just turn on and turn off offenses. They are grown through a process, focus, concentration and a prepared attack. When we do that, we are really good.

“For me it’s just a blip. We have to keep playing and keep fighting. There’s not a whole lot of time left, and we are going to try to do the best we possibly can and keep moving forward in a positive direction.”

RELATED: Aaron Bummer latest to join big White Sox contingent on injured list

Since they reported to the South Side in early July for “Summer Camp,” the players have talked about this odd season, how in a 60-game sprint to October every game matters and means a lot. Modest winning streaks and losing streaks can tug an entire season in any direction. Games against division foes mean even more, with each set of 10 games against division rivals representing a full sixth of the schedule.

The White Sox seemed capable of going toe to toe with the Twins and Indians when the season began, though the task was always going to be a tall one. The Twins have one of baseball’s most dangerous lineups, and the White Sox can attest after a pair of opening-weekend thumpings those bats delivered. The Indians have the game’s finest rotation, and the White Sox know that well, too, after five games against their top-flight chuckers.

Despite the dominance of the Cleveland rotation, the two teams have taken turns in second place in the division standings over the first two games of this series. It's not like the AL Central has slipped away from the White Sox just yet.

Indeed, they have the potential to be the most balanced among the group of division contenders, with a potentially potent lineup and a potentially fearsome pitching staff. Injuries are no excuse, especially when the whole league’s going through the same thing, but it’s difficult to live up to that full potential when so many key cogs are on the injured list.

The White Sox won’t use that to wriggle free of any responsibility, of course, and they’ll keep on trying to solve the Twins’ lineup and the Indians’ rotation. If they want to live up to the high expectations they set for themselves before the season started, they’ll have to. There's no other option.

“We’ll have to regroup and go back after them,” Renteria said. “These are the type teams we’ll have to beat. We have to string things together and pull out some victories.”


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