By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) In this cutthroat world of media in which everyone is trying to be “first” with a story no matter how flimsy, I’m getting out ahead of the pack and giving you the 2020 World Series preview between the White Sox and Cubs that you need and before anyone else.
With their well-established core, the Cubs seek to win their third championship in five years, something once unthinkable during the days of the Lovable Losers that seem decades ago. The White Sox may have won the race to win Chicago’s first World Series in generations when they took home the crown in 2005, but an entire generation of fans knows that championship as mere knickknacks in their parents’ basements. And nothing would be sweeter than thwarting the North Siders in for what on the South Side is forever an imaginary Civil War.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn’s rebuild that began in 2017 in the style of the Cubs earlier that decade built a farm system that has exploded onto the big league scene, propelling the White Sox to their first postseason since 2008 after falling short of a 2019 wild-card berth by just two games. After more than a century of having the privilege of two Major League Baseball teams in this town without the luck of both being great at the same time, the stars — cosmic and prospective — of both clubs have finally aligned to create a destined Red Line Series.
Second-year Cubs manager David Ross is looking to legitimize his place in the non-player side of Cubdom after taking over for the retired Joe Maddon following the 2018 title. 2019 saw the Cubs unceremoniously swept in the divisional series by the Colorado Rockies, leaving Ross answering questions from a fan base now used to nothing less than perfection.
“Hey, these fans should expect nothing short of a championship,” Ross said. “I’m proud that I was part of the team that gave them their first taste of a title, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The postseason is largely a crapshoot, though, and Ross’s handling of his lineups and staff this postseason have gotten the Cubs this far.
The no-brainer “decision” he’ll make in Game 1 is starting the Cubs’ biggest offseason free-agent signing and juiciest narrative tidbit in this series, Chris Sale. While Sox fans will surely be making cut-up jersey jokes, while Sale will look to parlay his MLB lead in strikeouts into carving up hitters for two victories on the mound over his old team. He’ll likely square off against White Sox right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, giving veteran Carlos Rodon a full rest following his victory in Game 6 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees.
Game 2 may be the craftiest on pitching matchups between Rodon and Kyle Hendricks, who may be making his final appearance(s) as the heir to Greg Maddux at Wrigley Field before heading into free agency. Games 3 and 4 will feature Old Schoolers and then New Schoolers respectively, as Jose Quintana — someone who most were positive would be traded in the rebuild — will go against Jon Lester, then fireballer Michael Kopech will take on Dylan Cease.
Obviously, baseball’s biggest stage is old hat for Cubs hitters who years ago faced questions as to whether they could handle the pressure of sports’ most historic drought. That same skepticism now shifts to the South Side youngsters, who have grown together into a force with a lot of swagger. Credit White Sox manager Rick Renteria for his paternal workings in keeping these kids loose while demanding their best at all times, even when that meant sitting Micker Adolfo in September after the frustrated outfielder failed to hustle out an infield popup in Minnesota that was dropped.
(Sidenote: Credit also goes to the rest of Chicago media for avoiding the easy bait of forcing the Renteria-as-former-Cubs-manager narrative; although, maybe most of us just forgot about those B.C. — Before Championship — years.)
“We’re focused,” White Sox outfielder Luis Robert said. “Ricky has talked to us about focusing on the fun of this more than anything about pressure.”
Yoan Moncada and Zack Collins are both ready to go after both playing through minor injuries this postseason, Renteria said, and they will have to be if the White Sox expect to match the relentless Cubs lineup featuring usual suspects Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and reigning MVP Addison Russell, not to mention the leader among second basemen in home runs in Ian Happ.
This series ultimately has the feel of whose bullpen locks the other team down best. The Cubs bullpen led the NL in ERA this regular season, but if games get to White Sox closer Zack Burdi, they’re basically fait accompli — except for his blown save in June when Willson Contreras hit a walk-off three-run homer off him. Wonder if that sticks in the back of Burdi’s brain.
Seven games only seems fitting for this series that Chicago has waited forever for. And it feels like it’s finally time for the White Sox, who I predict take Game 7 for bragging rights until a potential rematch in 2021.
Remember that you got this preview here first, people.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.