As the White Sox get a glimpse of their future, the present-day Cubs push for playoff dominance
Tuesday August 21st, 2018 could go down as a memorable day in Chicago sports history. On the day the White Sox unleash one of the stars of their very bright future, the hard-throwing right-hander Michael Kopech, the Cubs - always looking to steal the spotlight from their south side cousins - trade for Washington Nationals infielder Daniel Murphy, better known in Wrigleyville as the 'Cub Killer'.
If the hype around the Sox top pitching prospect is real, then tonight is the dawning of a new era of White Sox baseball. Kopech, ranked 13th among prospects by MLB Pipeline (fourth among pitchers), was the prize beside Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale deal to Boston more than a year ago. The 22-year-old flamethrower is reminiscent of other Texans before him, like strikeout king Nolan Ryan, the great Roger Clemens, and Cubs fan favorite Kerry Wood.
On Monday, Kopech received a ringing endorsement from a Hall-of-Famer who knew how to get a K; Pedro Martinez. “I believe Kopech has the biggest up and coming arm in baseball," Pedro said. "Excited to watch his debut with the White Sox.”
And Pedro isn't the only one. Attendance at Guaranteed Rate Field - the butt of Cub fans jokes for years - is expected to be plentiful for Kopech's debut against the Minnesota Twins tonight. The Sox have averaged just over 19,000 fans a game this year, ahead of only Oakland (a playoff team playing in cavernous stadium with a fan base tormented by fire sale after fire sale), Tampa Bay (a mediocre team with sporadic fan interest and a dud of a dome) and Miami (see Dan Lebatard, Stugotz and the Shipping Container for all the problems they have).
Sox fans have gotten a bad wrap for showing up for games, a long-standing belief that's accurate in numbers, but if you did deeper than the attendance report you'll find a fan base that's simply tired of being 78-84, and the distant second team in the second city. The Cubs championship win in 2016 - whether or not they want to admit it - lit a fire under the Sox ass, front office and fan alike. Thus the rebuild began, and there have been some very lean years in the Bronzeville/Armour Square community.
Be honest, would you come out to watch the 2017 White Sox? Or even the club this season up until this point? $6 Stubhub tickets be damned! Chicago is too gorgeous to be spending my summer watching a bad ballclub. I'd know. I watched sorry ass Cub team after sorry ass Cub team.
Tonight's game signals the true beginning of a new hope on 35th and Shields, and if Kopech delivers and Eloy Jimenez - the 'other' prospect at the top of the chain - gets called up before the season is over as well, the sights, sounds and feelings of old White Sox baseball could be reinvigorated sooner than we think.
As the Pale Hose usher in the ace of their future, the Chicago Cubs, née White Stockings, look to extend their championship hopes in the present-day.
When the fruits of the Cubs rebuild started to show in their magical 2015 playoff run, it was Daniel Murphy who reminded Cubs fans just who they were. Then with the New York Mets, Murphy was the Billy Goat, Black Cat and Bartman all rolled into one as the Metropolitans steamrolled the Cubs in the 2015 NLCS.
Three years and a Chicago World Series title later, Daniel Murphy, the 'Cub Killer', is now a Cub.
The Nationals finally gave in and started their yard sell, trading Murphy to the north side for a minor-leaguer and a player to be named later. President Theo Epstein and the Cubs will almost certainly have to answer questions on their decision to add a man who doesn't believe in the "gay lifestyle" to their supposedly tight brood, but they made the same decision with Aroldis Chapman in 2016 after his domestic violence suspension, and Addison Russell (accused of DV in the alleged cheating scandal last year) remains on the team. The Cubs organization can paint it however you want, but the ugly truth is Theo, GM Jed Hoyer and the baseball operations are focused not on winning PR battles, but World Series' instead.
As for the player they're getting, Daniel Murphy is a machine with a bat in his hand. He missed the first two months of the season following right knee surgery. Since the All-Star break, Murphy has shined as the Nationals faded out of the playing picture, hitting .340 with a .904 OPS post-break. Not only is he a strong lefty bat to insert into the lineup, it takes away a potential bat that could kill the Cubs on the road to another title.
Acquiring Murphy could be the Cubs adding to their embarrassment of riches, or it could be a sign of deeper problems within the 25-man roster. Russell has been playing with a hand injury for a while that's "been bothering him more than he's saying" according to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, and he hasn't hit well when in the lineup. Former NL MVP Kris Bryant is dealing with a shoulder injury that's kept him on the shelf for significant portions of the season. Murphy, a second-baseman who can spell Anthony Rizzo at first base during the September stretch, gives them room to move MVP candidate Javy Baez around to short (for Russell) or third (for Bryant). But it does create one hell of a logjam that any team would kill to have.
The Cubs, holders of the best record in the National League, have had their ups and downs throughout the rollercoaster baseball season, but Murphy gives them a murderers row and a proven postseason warrior, necessary for a proven team themselves who happen to go cold at times. The insurance of adding Murphy makes the Cubs, at full strength, the team to beat in the National League. In a few months, we could be looking back on this day as the day the Cubs stamped their ticket to the World Series.
And years down the line, we could look back on this day as the day a legend was born in Chicago.
What a time to be a baseball fan in Chicago. Any tickets left for the Crosstown Classic next month?