By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) I get paid to grade things, even though I tell students that they earn grades rather than get them subjectively.
Sometimes, I sit back and consider how much power I actually have, though. The letter grade I submit to my superiors that then gets printed on a report card of a ninth grader could be the difference between an Ivy League and directional school three years later. Or no school at all.
Holding a child’s future in my hands is something I don’t take lightly, and it keeps me from completely condemning foreign dictators. Unfortunately, I can’t crush the futures of some Chicago Cubs and White Sox like so many underachieving teens. That’s not going to stop me from wielding my blood red pen regarding Chicago baseball anyway.
Here are the midseason grades for the Cubs and Sox. If we’re lucky, some of their parents will ground them after reading.
Cubs: In typical Cubs nonsense fashion, the backup catcher, Dioner Navarro, has quadrupled the home runs of the starter, Welington Castillo. Castillo isn’t really hurting the team and throws out the league average of 29% of base stealers, but he does have fewer walks than Navarro with 122 more plate appearances. Navarro’s production has been a pleasant surprise (.874 OPS) and gotten him more starts to where the line between starter and backup has been blurred (he’s started 6 of the team’s last 14 games at catcher, 3 at DH). He’s also very fat and happy, which is fun to watch. Grade: B
White Sox: Josh Phegley going to the Hall of Fame after a week makes up for the awfulness that came from behind the dish before him and saves Tyler Flowers from having to go to summer school. Grade: D+
Cubs: A .770 OPS isn’t bad, but it leaves a bit to be desired from a cornerstone of the future and is a regression from the similar amount of games Anthony Rizzo played last season, and there have been patches of the season where he has looked lost at the plate. He was at .282/.350/.890 on May 18, and today he is .241/.328/.770. Despite the WTF play of cutting off a throw to the plate for no reason Sunday night, he’s a really good defensive player. Grade: C-
White Sox: Paul Konerko is old and ouchy. Many Sox fans want Adam Dunn to get the Brazilian referee treatment, even though his 24 home runs and 60 RBI at the break is very Dunnish (but still a sub-zero WAR). It’s a tough watch right now. Grade: D+
Cubs: Darwin Barney is a tremendous fielder whose two errors on the year only came recently. Darwin Barney also can’t get on base this season. Grade: D
White Sox: Gordon Beckham’s limited play has been quite good, and maybe finally he’s the guy the Sox thought they drafted. As his injury replacement, Jeff Keppinger was about as cool as child trafficking. Grade: C- that I expect to improve
Cubs: Just keep telling yourself that the last few weeks are showing that Starlin Castro has removed his head from his culo because otherwise he is one of the biggest horror stories of 2013 Major League Baseball. Grade: F
White Sox: One home run. One home run? The hell, Alexei Ramirez? His 20 stolen bases have already tied a career high, which for a team that isn’t designed for small ball is a stat that rings of a loud fart. He’s on pace to shatter his career high of 20 errors with 14 already. If you’re going to be a freakishly ugly person, I need more on the field. Grade: D
Cubs: On a team not expected to have much success, any bright spots are welcome. Luis Valbuena is another one of them. His .236 batting average ain’t pretty, but he makes up for it with walks, and he’s tied for fifth on the team in homers. I was frightened of what would come out of the hot corner this season on the North Side, but right now I can’t complain too much. Grade: B
White Sox: Conor Gillaspie isn’t a starter on a contending team, though he wasn’t planned to be going into the season. What’s amazing is that his paltry .693 OPS is what’s elevating the .606 OPS of the entire position this year, and while seven homers from a corner infield guy at the break is not a good thing, everybody else who has played third this year otherwise has combined for one homer. Grade: D
Cubs: Oh, hello, team leader in OPS, Nate Schierholtz. Goodbye, eight home runs from the backup, Scott Hairston. Grade: A-
White Sox: After a white hot start he’s cooled off, but Alex Rios has still played fine baseball in 2013. Grade: B+
Cubs: David DeJesus was probably a pretty decent trade piece before he got injured. The MASH unit in his stead has done little to be proud of. Grade: D
White Sox: Alejandro De Aza has been the best all-around offensive player on the team (team best 1.6 oWAR), which is actually quite sad. Grade: B+
Cubs: The All-Star break puts a halt to one of Alfonso Soriano’s kill everything streaks. Yes, the contract is still an albatross, but Soriano continues to produce pretty well for a 37 year old. Maybe this is the year he’s finally traded. Grade: B-
White Sox: Dayan Viciedo’s regression is maybe the most troubling thing about this Sox team. What looked to be a danger to opponents for years to come is all of a sudden mosquito-like at best. If not for Starlin Castro, he’d be the city’s saddest baseball story so far. Grade: D-
Cubs: Other than Edwin Jackson this staff has been damn good. Travis Wood is an All-Star who leads the game in quality starts with 17. Scott Feldman was exactly what the front office hoped he’d be in order to get traded. Matt Garza has been filthy in becoming the top trade piece in baseball. Jeff Samardzija is spotty but continues to show that the bonus money Jim Hendry gave him wasn’t completely insane (the no-trade clause very much is, though). Grade: A-
White Sox: They, too, have a fine staff. Unfortunately it has been betrayed by its offense all season. Chris Sale is one of the best in the game. Jake Peavy is Jake Peavy—good when healthy. Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago have done their best to hold down the fort, and John Danks has returned pretty nicely from shoulder surgery that kept him out of MLB games for over a year. Grade: A-
Cubs: 2013 will go down as the year of jettisoning Carlos “Tire Fire” Marmol, but the rest of the pen has been pretty solid. The best story, of course, is the renaissance of Kevin “Trade Him Before He Remembers Who He Is” Gregg, who has been one of the league’s best closers. Shawn Camp was bad and is now also gone, and Hector Rondon hasn’t been good, but guys like Blake Parker, James Russell, and Carlos Villanueva have helped offset the bad. Grade: B-
White Sox: Matt Thornton was irrationally hated by postgame show callers and is now gone. Jess Crain has been lights out. Matt Lindstrom has been very solid. Addison Reed has 24 saves at the break and has only blown two opportunities. The night and day of this team’s pitching vs. hitting is so sad. Grade: B
Cubs: Dale Sveum’s job is to pretty much not have a nervous breakdown this year, which is tough because the guy understands this isn’t a good team, yet they really do play hard and don’t get blown out very often, so you can tell he still lets tough losses remove what little hair he still has. He also has to play babysitter to Castro’s ADHD, and sitting the shortstop down for a game a few weeks ago seems for now to have had a positive effect. That Sveum seems to be squeezing so much blood out of this turnip of a team—the Cubs are not as bad as many expected them to be—warrants his critics thinking twice. Grade: C+
White Sox: Robin Ventura did not sign up for this. While it’s not his fault the offense has decided to go completely down the toilet, he is still the guy who has to take the responsibility. He also makes some bad situational decisions that make you wonder if he’s Rick Hahn’s guy. I wouldn’t bet on the axe falling on Ventura neck in 2013, but I’m not sure if he’s the manager when this team is good again… which could be a few years down the road. Grade: D+
Keep in mind that neither of these teams walked in the season as striking fear into the hearts of their respective opponents. There will be no playoff baseball in Chicago this year, but these dog days do provide an opportunity to examine what future years may hold, and that includes more roster moves that both teams will be making before the July 31 trade deadline. This is a progress report, and as I tell frustrated parents who see poor grades halfway through a term, there is a lot of time left to improve, and there is a lot of time left for the positives of this season to do a 180 as well.
And remember—Bears training camp is 10 days away.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from 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.