Cubs still setting the pace; Sox drift further away

By Cat Garcia 
Contributor

Things are still looking quite rosy on the North side of Chicago, as the Cubs began a nine-game road trip in Philly Monday night after coming off an shining 8-2 homestand at Wrigley Field.

The starting pitching staff for the Cubs has been exceptional thus far, posting the lowest ERA in the National League at just 2.60. They may not have the best batting average or slugging percentage as a staff, though they are among the top 10 in the NL, but they continue to hold onto a steady OBP and walk rate, good for the second in the league and first in the league, respectively.

Having suffered a slight bump in the road offensively, first-baseman Anthony Rizzo found his groove over the last homestand at Wrigley Field. Over the last week, Rizzo has posted a slash line of .450/.542/.800. Rizzo’s hot streak was unrelenting to begin the Cubs road trip, as he went 3-5 with 2 RBIs against the Phillies on Monday night.

The Cubs did have another slight injury scare Monday at Citizen’s Bank Park when outfielder Jorge Soler exited the game in the third inning due to a left hamstring injury. The Cubs recalled outfield prospect Albert Almora Jr. from Triple-A Iowa Tuesday after Soler hit the DL.

Almora has posted an impressive .318/.335/.444 line through his 55 games at Triple-A Iowa this season. Almora currently only holds a walk rate of 3.7 percent in Triple-A, giving rise to the conversation about his plate discipline. However, Almora has only posted a 12.7 percent strikeout rate which is not extremely poor considering how low his walk rate is.

The Cubs will continue their series against the Phillies before heading down to Atlanta to take on the Braves for a three-game set at Turner Field this weekend.

On the South side of town, the White Sox are currently coming off a road trip in which they were swept by the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park this weekend. White Sox starters Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon all made starts during the series, leaving White Sox fans a bit unsettled as the state of the starting rotation on the South side has been in question as of late.

But the cry for help was not in vain, as White Sox GM Rick Hahn closed a deal with the San Diego Padres on Saturday afternoon that sent starting pitcher Erik Johnson and White Sox infield prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. to San Diego in return for veteran starter James Shields.

Shields looks to be the strong presence that will bolster the shaky back end of this White Sox rotation. The 34-year-old currently has a 4.28 ERA in 11 starts in San Diego. The major concern with Shields is his tendency to give up home runs while moving to a hitter friendly ballpark. Shields is currently posting a HR/FB rate of nearly 15 percent – the second-highest total of his career (last year his total was 17 percent).

However, Shields has also been keeping the ball on the ground at a 48 percent clip this season, making him a heavy ground ball pitcher. He has a strikeout rate of nearly 20 percent, which is in-line with his career average, and a walk rate of just under 10 percent this season, which is around the total he posted last season though it is up from his career norms. Shields is set to make his White Sox debut on Wednesday night against Max Scherzer and the Nationals.

The White Sox are currently third place in the AL Central, hovering just around the .500 mark, and beginning a homestand that will have them facing the Washington Nationals for three games before taking on the Kansas City Royals this weekend. The Royals stand in second place in the division after a brutal four-game sweep this weekend by the Indians at Progressive Field. Chris Sale will make the start on Friday night to begin the series against the Royals at U.S. Cellular Field.

Cat is a Staff Writer for BP Wrigleyville and BP Southside, Baseball Prospectus’ blogs covering Chicago baseball, and a Contributor for Hardballtimes.com. Follow her on Twitter: @TheBaseballGirl.

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