By Norm Elrod
(CBS Chicago/CBS Local) — Does Chicago realize they have two baseball teams, or do they just not care? The answer isn’t clear.
The White Sox drew a little over 1.6 million fans to home games last season, which averages out to under 20,000 per game. The Cubs, on the other hand, packed in close to 3.2 million fans, or over 39,000 per game.
Recent success explains some of it. The Cubs have won two NL Central titles in three years and are just a couple of seasons removed from a World Series championship. The White Sox haven’t posted a winning record since 2012.
While the Cubs should contend this season — and the White Sox absolutely should not — Chicago’s best player doesn’t play his home games at Wrigley Field. Sorry, Kris Bryant, but Jose Abreu is the player to watch in Chicago.
The White Sox first baseman is coming off an injury-shortened 2018 campaign that, not surprisingly, saw a dip in his numbers. Despite hitting .265 during his 499 at-bats last season, Abreu is still a career .295 hitter, who will slug over .500 and put up 30+ home runs and 100+ RBIs. He’s healthy now, and his Spring Training numbers show it: .323 BA, .600 BA, 4 HRs, 19 RBIs in 65 ABs.
Abreu also bats third in a lineup that hardly scares pitchers. Just look at the White Sox’s platoon of cleanup hitters from last season: Matt Davidson, Nicky Delmonico, Avisaíl García, Daniel Palka, etc. Opposing pitchers certainly weren’t pitching to Abreu in order to avoid those guys. While the slugger doesn’t walk much, he also doesn’t get the best stuff to swing at.
Abreu puts up numbers and helps his team win, in so far as that’s possible. And with a little help in the lineup, he could be among MLB’s top hitters. Of course, he probably won’t get it this season, but that’s not his fault.
Bryant, of course, is no slouch. His numbers are actually almost comparable to Abreu’s over the last four seasons, even if they also slipped some in 2018. He’s a career .285 hitter, who’s good for 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in a full season. That said, Bryant has only done it once in his four years with the Cubs, and he may not get there in 2019 either. This year’s Spring Training numbers — .200 in 40 ABs, while slugging .375 with 2 HRs, 6 RBIs — don’t portend good things to come.