By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Another Opening Day is upon us. I could get poetic here and do the pastoral/aesthetic thing, what with the Whitman-esque Rockwellian sap and all, but I’ll spare you. It’s too cold literally and figuratively in Chicago baseball land. The dawn of new sports seasons always has writers like waiters trying to fill you up on bread until you no longer have the stomach for the real meal. Not me. I’m bringing you your steak right off the bat. Hope you like it rare as hell.
Here are three reasons each to love and hate the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs respectively in 2013:
Loving the White Sox
1. Hopefully one more solid year out of the beloved Paul Konerko. We seem to say it every year of late. “This has to be the year Paulie shows his age.” And each year he answers us quietly yet defiantly. Baseball Prospectus projects him at .276/.361/.482 with 27 homers and 90 RBI. All 37-year-old hitters would love such a forecast.
2. Dayan Viciedo is good and should get even better. He’s mixed in a leg lift at the plate to hopefully cut down on his strikeouts. I look forward to seeing what another full season of MLB pitching will do for his maturation.
3. The likely improvement of Robin Ventura as manager. That’s not to say he did a bad job last year—he was third in AL Manager of the Year voting. But he certainly wasn’t perfect. “Any time you go into something and you think you know it all or are done learning, you’re going backwards,” Ventura said. “Getting better with in-game stuff, in-between game stuff and even after-game stuff with you guys would hopefully be what I get better at. And hopefully it’s good for you guys, too.” You have to like a guy acknowledging such things.
Loving the Cubs
2. Somehow it’s possible to be the less sexy manager in this town, but like Ventura, Dale Sveum is also growing as a skipper. To grade Sveum after one year where he had very little to work with would be unfair, though some in-game choices were puzzling. He’s the choice of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to command what is hopefully a team slowly piecing together a champion in a few years, so if you have faith in the front office, you have to (for now) have faith in Sveum to become a solid manager.
3. Len Kasper and his new broadcast partner Jim Deshaies. Kasper is as good as they get when it comes to not just calling the play-by-play but also filling the voids in excitement during Cubs games. And there will be a lot of those voids in 2013. Deshaies comes from the Houston Astros where he was half of the No. 4 ranked broadcast duo in baseball by Fangraphs and noted particularly for his entertainment value. With Cub fans lamenting the departure of Bob Brenly for Arizona, it should be interesting to see how the new TV team meshes and again becomes what I expect to be the best broadcast team in any sport in the city
Hating the White Sox
1. The unlikelihood of avoiding a serious injury bug. The Sox are a veteran team, which means leadership, cool-headedness, and older bodies betraying them. John Danks is already beginning the season on the Disabled List. Jake Peavy started 30 games last season for the first time since 2007, and to expect that to happen again is a risky roll of the dice. Key guys like Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, and Alexei Ramirez join Konerko in the 30+ Years Old Club.
2. Jeff Keppinger is not a hot corner on a championship team. The guy almost never strikes out and is often described as a “reliable” option, and you’d think that would translate into serious run opportunities hitting in the two hole. But he doesn’t do anything exceptionally well at the plate, and picking a 32 year old who has started 100 games in a season just twice (and neither of those as a third baseman, a supposed key production position) has me glass-half-empty.
3. Another year of Gordon Beckham frustration. As Chris Cwik writes, “The 26-year-old hasn’t lived up to expectations he set during his rookie season, when he hit .270/.347/.460 in 430 plate appearances. He’s been really bad over the past two years, posting sub-.300 wOBAs in each year, and there’s no real sign he’s on the verge of a breakout.” Get ready to be somewhere between sighing and swearing yet again with Beckham, who may not find himself on the South Side in 2014.
Hating the Cubs
1. No Hollywood hope here. There is zero chance of playoff baseball on the North Side, despite what the savages on the Cubs Facebook page say (their words I’m only aware of because of one of my favorite Twitter accounts).
2. While this year is about observing progress, there should be more to observe than what you’ll get. The failed trade of Ryan Dempster to Atlanta in 2012 still stings the Cubs, with prospect Randall Delgado, the prize that would have come to Chicago from the Braves, likely in the Diamondbacks starting rotation. Instead Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva were sent over by the Rangers for Dempster, and neither looks to be a Cubs contributor any time soon. A young, talented arm like Delgado’s would have been an intriguing watch at Wrigley and likely a key piece of the future, but that won’t happen because of a guy pouting.
3. The best part about Cubs baseball may just be Len and JD, and while entertaining an audience despite an otherwise poor product on the screen would be a testament to their skills as broadcasters, Cubs fans would take an orangutan and Chewbacca calling games if it meant a World Series. Just as Vin Scully shouldn’t be the most recognizable facet of the Dodgers, the Cubs having a great broadcast team is a sad consolation prize for inevitable futile baseball.
I said three of each, but I lied. There’s one more that goes in the “love” column, and it isn’t team specific. It’s possibly the least complex of all, but it’s also perhaps the most important. It is…
We love baseball. Definitely the good kind, but even the bad kind is still baseball, and in April we will certainly take even that. Sit back and enjoy it, even if a lack of playoffs is fait accompli.
The existence of baseball in the spring is better than the alternative. Enjoy.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.