There’s nothing fun about losing, as the White Sox are finding out first hand.
Wednesday night featured another defeat, this one coming at the hands of the visiting Cubs, the North Siders taking Game 3 of this edition of the Crosstown series by an 8-3 final score.
But should the White Sox need commiserators — and inspiration — they need look no further than the team across the field.
See, the Cubs have been where the White Sox are right now. Last season’s curse-smashing World Series championship was the fruit yielded by a lengthy rebuild on the North Side, one with a similar level of minor league focus and future expectations as the one currently underway on the South Side.
And as the Cubs and their fans well know, major league losing is a part of the process.
The White Sox dropped to 39-59 on Wednesday night, mired in last place in the American League Central. The Cubs spent five straight seasons in fifth place in the National League Central, methodically accruing top prospects with top draft picks.
The kind of nasty outing James Shields turned in Wednesday? The Cubs have seen that before, too. Wearing blue at the time were the likes of Rodrigo Lopez and Chris Volstad and Carlos Silva, the precursors to Shields, who hasn’t made it out of the fifth inning in four of his last six starts. The stories aren’t much different for the rest of the White Sox current rotation, with veterans like Derek Holland and Mike Pelfrey struggling most times out.
The White Sox bats did a whole lot of nothing against Jake Arrieta on Wednesday, silenced offensively the same way the Cubs were repeatedly a few years back, in seasons when guys like Marlon Byrd and Darwin Barney led the North Siders in Wins Above Replacement.
Heck, they even had the same manager. Rick Renteria skippered the Cubs in 2014, the final fifth-place finish before Joe Maddon took over.
“We’re just going to have to keep going,” Renteria said Wednesday night, sounding like an echo of himself when he used to helm the Cubs. “There’s no lamenting or anything. This is the situation we’re in, and I think the guys want the ball every time I give it to them and they want to do a good job. We’re going to try to keep it respectable as much as we can, and in some cases win some ballgames.”
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Thing is, a look across the diamond Wednesday and once more Thursday in the Crosstown finale at Guaranteed Rate Field will allow the White Sox to see something else they share with those Cubs teams of the recent past: hope.
In the same way White Sox fans are currently gobbling up minor league reports on the organization’s fleet of highly ranked prospects, Cubs fans did that, too. They did it with Kris Bryant and Addison Russell. White Sox fans are doing it with Michael Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez. They’ll soon do it with Luis Robert and, a former Cubs prospect, Eloy Jimenez.
Yoan Moncada, the No. 1 prospect in baseball bringing Bryant-like hype to the South Side, gave White Sox fans plenty to smile about Wednesday night, smoking a 0-2 pitch from Arrieta over the center-field fence for his first career home run.
If you need a glimpse into the future of the White Sox, at what things should look like when the rebuild reaches its apex, go watch Moncada’s home run again. And again.
While the Cubs and their World Series rings own bragging rights that stand above all others, the White Sox can also look into the third-base dugout and know they’re going about things differently — and perhaps even better — than their North Side counterparts did.
While Theo Epstein built his farm system with much-hyped draft picks (in addition to a couple extremely meaningful trades) over the years, Rick Hahn has built his in what has seemed like one fell swoop. The lightning-fast pace of the White Sox rebuild could make the five years of fifth-place finishes the Cubs experienced a non-factor on the South Side. Hahn has built arguably baseball’s best farm system in a matter of months, trading All-Star caliber big leaguers to stockpile highly touted minor leaguers and acquiring other prospects through trades and the draft who provide depth to the system.
“It’s improved,” Hahn said of the depth of his farm system before Wednesday’s game. “It has absolutely been a goal from the start, not just a matter of getting as much potential impact talent as we can but trying to set up layer upon layer of that talent, trying to get to the point when inevitably some of these guys don’t develop the way everyone has projected them to develop or an injury occurs that we have other options, that we have guys that perhaps developed a little more quickly or improved beyond what we projected as their ceiling. And the only way you get there is by having a critical mass of prospect depth.
“I would say that while we are pleased with the strides we’ve made in the last year or nine months, however long you want to draw the line, we know we still have work to do. We know we’re going to have a really important draft in 2018 and before that, another few days before this (trade) deadline and then some offseason maneuvering to take place.”
The Cubs have forever been a symbol of hope for their fans, a team that no matter how sorry the finish would always have expectations and a new chance every spring.
Though White Sox fans are unlikely to embrace the team on the other side of town, they’d be well served to take a step back and look at what has happened there. Because the Cubs’ successful rebuild, one that ended in a World Series title, could provide hope for White Sox fans, too.