Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune
Thankfully (and mercifully), Chicago's baseball season is almost over. Soon, no one will have to think about the city's teams, two of the worst in the majors. As of now, with a dozen or so games left in the season, the Cubs are 24 games out of first place, and the White Sox are 28 out. The pair are, respectively, 24 and 32 games under .500.
For baseball in Chicago, this was a summer filled with errors, strikeouts, losses, shutouts, more losses, missed opportunities, runners stranded, and disappointing players by the dozen.
But even when you seem to spend all your time pointing and laughing, there really are a pretty distinct set of moments that define the course of the season. Here are the 25 lowest points for the teams this year:
1. No, Carlos, nooooo!
The disappointment for the Cubs started early. On April 6, the fifth game of the season, Carlos Marmol came on to pitch the ninth inning with one-run lead against the Atlanta Braves. Within 13 pitches, both Upton brothers, Justin and B.J., homered for the Braves. Cubs lose. Get used to that phrase.
2. And the Marmol trainwreck didn't stop.
Over the next three months, Marmol blew two more saves, collected three more losses, and watched his ERA balloon to 5.86 before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, completing his fall from Cubs fans’ good graces.
3. In fact, the whole bullpen just stunk.
To Marmol’s defense, the rest of the Cubs' bullpen was just as awful in the first few months. Shawn Camp, Michael Bowden, Hector Rondon—all bad, all the time.
4. The Fujikawa disaster.
The Cubs attempted to shore up their bullpen in the offseason when they signed 32-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa, considered the greatest Japanese relief pitcher of all time. Of course, this plan completely backfired as Fujikawa allowed seven runs in his first 12 innings, before blowing out his arm—the first serious injury of his career—and missing the remainder of the season.
5. Castro criticism peaks.
On August 17, a year defined by Castro criticism (and just losing in general) reached its apex. After catching an infield fly, Castro forgot the ball was live. St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Jon Jay tagged from third base to score an inexcusable run, and Starlin was subsequently benched by manager Dale Sveum.
6. Please, Cubs, crush that little glimmer of hope.
After completing a three-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants on July 28th, the Cubs were nine games back in the Wild Card race—a conceivably surmountable deficit! Improbable, but, you know, maybe! No. The Cubs went on to lose eight of their next nine games, and 22 of their next 30, effectively ending the season.
7. The shutout streak.
The season was not without notable statistics. The Cubs were shutout five times in the period of two weeks, from August 3 to August 17. Five times. A truly remarkable accomplishment, considering the Baltimore Orioles have only been shutout six times all season.
8. Soriano soars in New York.
After six and a half up-and-down (but mostly down) years, Alfonso Soriano, the $136 million albatross, was traded to the New York Yankees for essentially nothing but cash. He then goes on an unbelievable tear of clutch home runs, game-saving catches, and all sorts of things he never did in Chicago.
9. The stars don't show up.
The Cubs’ most promising hitter—Castro—and most promising pitcher—Jeff Samardzija—have both had terrible seasons. Castro is batting .240 with 18 errors, by far the most on the team, and Samardzija is carrying a dissappointing 4.44 ERA.
10. Rizzo doesn't register.
Anthony Rizzo, portrayed in a certain major magazine feature as the Cubs most dangerous hitter, does not rank in the top 30 of any major hitting category. He is, of course, the best batter on this bad lineup.
11. Our All-Star is in on a technicality.
If there wasn't a rule in place guaranteeing that every team has at least one All-Star, then the Cubs would have no All-Stars. Just look at team's "All-Star" pitcher Travis Wood: He has only nine wins, ranking 60th in the majors among starting pitchers; a 3.05 ERA, ranking 21st; and 132 strikeouts, ranking 53rd. He's an Above-Average-Star. And he’s the Cubs’ best starter.
12. The most pitiful game of the season.
The pièce de résistance of the 2013 season had to be August 25th against the San Diego Padres. Neither team can muster even one run across the plate. It drags on to the top of the 13th inning, when the Cubs' Nate Schierholtz slips out of the batter box, gets hit in the face by a throw to the plate, and the runner on third comes home to score the game’s first run. The Cubs take the lead—and score again, too! But then, in the bottom half of the inning, Chicago promptly commits several boneheaded mistakes. San Diego scores two runs to tie it. In the 15th, San Diego drives in a run and the Cubs finally lose, 3-2, in what has to be the most embarrassing game of the entire sorry season.
Photo: Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune
The White Sox
1. The instant losing streak.
The Sox looked okay for a few games. They started the season 4-2. But then lost 10 of the next 13.
2. Redemption. Then another skid.
After suffering a Cubs-sized share of early season criticism, the Sox fought their way to a .500 record on May 26. They then lost eight in a row and 17 of 22 games.
3. Swept by the Cubs.
You knew things were truly bad for the Sox in a late May series with the Cubs—the Northsiders swept the Sox in the season series for the first time since 1998. The Cubs did it in dominant fashion, too, outscoring the Sox 32-8 in the three May games. One game was postponed to July. The Sox lost it.
4. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse.
After falling to a season-worst 20 games below .500 on July 26, the Sox actually reached new lows—the team lost its next nine games. A month later, the Sox lost another nine consecutive games.
5. After four months, an RBI.
Jeff Kepinger’s two-run go-ahead single on July 31st marked the White Sox first pinch-hit RBIs all season. It took four months. And Chicago lost the game.
6. No one on the White Sox can hit.
Due to Paul Konerko’s injuries and age, the trade of Alex Rios, and the struggles of pretty much everyone else, the Sox have the second-least productive offense in the majors.
7. All season, Hawk Harrelson just couldn't believe it.
No one can better depict the Sox’s struggles this season than announcer Hawk Harrelson. Hawk outspokenly, and often obnoxiously, lives and dies with the White Sox. And when those pathetic Chicago baseball moments happen, he does one of two things: Yells angrily or goes completely silent.
8. “Oh no. No! NO!”
Harrelson screams into the microphone as the Sox, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th, fail to get a run across the plate against the (also terrible) Miami Marlins. The Sox actually pull this one out.
9. "Loooord have mercy."
A routine game-winning infield fly ball is completely, comically botched on June 26 (below). The crowd at US Cellular sounds absolutely disgusted, and Harrelson is right there with them. "Looord have mercy. Unbelievable. Un. Believable … You have got to be kidding me. You have got to be kidding me!"
10. Sometimes you just can't even yell about it.
On the other end of the Hawk spectrum, there's silence—as in this game-tying Grand Slam, which blew a 5-1 Sox lead in the bottom of the 14th. Or a walk-off home run by the Indians that just sounds like pure sorrow.
11. Even the basic pickle play was impossible.
The pickle, a defensive situation where the runner is caught between bases, is usually mastered by infielders around the sophomore year of high school. Pro teams execute this play every time with ease. But not in Chicago. Not this season.
12. They were so bad, and yet, so boring.
As Whet put it in early August, when things were already squarely down the drain: "This year was an atrocious combination: immovable contracts, disappointing prospects, and the complete collapse of Konerko and Keppinger mean a team that's not going anywhere, and can't really do anything about it for the rest of the season."
13. That's why we just had a game that nobody went to.
The stands at US Cellular field were so empty against the Indians on Sunday, September 15, that you could look into the outfield and wonder if someone just accidentally left the stadium's lights on. The official attendance figure was 18,631—a number that's likely about 18,000 too high.
On an unusually dark afternoon, with the Bears playing across town, even the most diehard Sox fans weren't sitting in the rain to watch this game. The final score was 7 to 1—you guessed it, the Sox lost.