The city of Chicago needs something to cheer for.
It's been 20 years since Michael Jordan led the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls squad to a 72-10 record and the title. The Bulls reached the playoffs the past four years before this season, but were knocked out in either the first or second round. This season, the Bulls missed the playoffs all together.
The same can be said for the Chicago Bears, who have been less than mediocre over the last five years. Since last making the playoffs in 2010, the Bears have gone 37-43 with three straight non-winning seasons.
The Chicago Blackhawks have been the recent pride of the city. After winning two titles in the last four years, the Blackhawks were sent home by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of this year's playoffs, despite forcing a game seven after trailing 3-1 in the series.
This year, it could be baseball, of all things, that restores hope to the Chicago faithful. And it could be two pitchers that carry the hope of a city.
Two of the Best, Just Down the Road
Chicago Cubs' Jake Arrieta and the Chicago White Sox's Chris Sale have lifted their respected clubs to the top of Major League Baseball and have fans dreaming of a Cubs-White Sox Fall Classic. It has been 108 years since the Cubs won the World Series and they have yet to reach the series since 1945. The White Sox have had slightly better luck. The Sox won it all over the Houston Astros in 2005, but have failed to return to the postseason since that magical run.
The Cubs and White Sox have never reached to postseason in the same year. The closest the two have been recently was 1983 when the Sox reached the postseason, but the Cubs missed out. Then the following year, the Cubs made it, but the Sox failed to follow.
The talent and skill set that Arrieta and Sale bring to the ballpark is nothing new. Arrieta, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, has picked up right where he left off last season. Through four starts, Arrieta is 4-0 with a microscopic 0.87 ERA in 31 innings pitched. He has allowed just six free passes while striking out 26 batters. Of his three earned runs he's allowed so far, two of them have been via the long ball.
A key factor to what makes Arrieta so dominate is his ability to stay in games and wear hitters down. Last season, he pitched in 229 innings, ranking second in the national league and third in the majors. He's already notched a complete game under his belt this year, which also turned out to be the first no-hitter of the 2016 season.
On the other side of Chicago is another pitcher who is just as dominate, wears the same number 49 on his jersey and even comes from a college in the South. Unlike Arrieta however, this pitcher is looking for his own Cy Young Award this year. And he's got a good case so far.
Chris Sale, the left handed-sidearm hurler from Florida Gulf Coast is off to as good of a start to a season as you can have. He leads the league with five wins and 38 innings of work while giving up just a 1.66 ERA though five starts. After going 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA two years ago, Sale was dealt several hard-luck losses en route to a 13-11, 3.41 ERA season in 2015. This year, he's out to prove his absolute dominance.
In his last three outings, he has given up just one earned run, while striking out 18 batters and walking two. Against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 15, Sale was near perfect. He went the distance, recording a complete game shutout in which he allowed two hits and struck out nine batters in the White Sox 1-0 win.
An Overall Team Effort
Both Arrieta and Sale have led their teams to the top of their respected leagues. At 15-5, the Cubs have proven that the moves made in the offseason have more than paid dividends to the people of Chicago. But as great as the offense has been (+69 run differential), the strength of this team has come from the pitching staff.
The Cubs own a 2.58 ERA which is third in the majors and are tied with their cross-town rival with 15 wins as a staff, tops in all of baseball. The Cubs have in addition allowed just 54 runs through 20 games which ranks second in the National League, right behind the Washington Nationals.
The White Sox are not far behind Cubs when it comes to a dominate pitching staff. If anything the numbers show they might be better. The Sox have a staff ERA of 2.35, second in the league, and their 53 runs allowed are first in the American League. They are also tops in the A.L with a 16-6 slate, and like the Cubs, the White Sox have been proven to be road warriors early and often.
Both Chicago teams have combined to go 19-6 when playing on the road and are also a combined 11-5 when playing in front of the ecstatic Chicago crowds.
Strength of the Staff
As great as these two aces have been, they haven't been able to lift Chicago to new heights on their own.
For the Cubs, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have been incredible to start the season. Lester has gone 2-1 in four starts with an ERA of just under two at 1.98 through 27.1 innings pitched. His 0.84 WHIP rivals that of Arrieta's 0.68, which is tied for best in the majors with, who else, Chris Sale.
Hammel is pitching some of his best baseball of his career. At 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA, he's allowed just two earned runs through 24 innings of work, ranking third among pitchers who have pitched at least 20 innings this season.
Mat Latos has begun to shown glimpses of his old, dominate self that fans used to see from his days with the Cincinnati Reds three to four years ago. Latos has proven to be a valuable pick up for the White Sox, as he owns a 0.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP earning him a 4-0 start. Through his first 18.1 innings of the 2016 campaign, he allowed just six hits and one earned run.
The White Sox are also aided by the outstanding pitching of Jose Quintana. After a shutout win over the Toronto Blue Jays, in which he gave up just four hits and struck out 10, Quintana moved to 3-1 in five starts with a 1.47 ERA. Neither team is shy to the top of the earned run category, as Latos (third), Quintana (ninth) and Sale (tenth) all rank in the top 10, while Hammel (fourth) and Arrieta (fifth) represent the Cubs in the ERA race.
Much to Look Forward to
With only a month of baseball into the season, a lot is still speculation. Injuries happen, players slump and get hot, and unpredictable events are sure to take place over the next five months. But for a moment, the city of Chicago sees not one, but both their teams are at the top in Major League Baseball. For a moment, there is a hope that this could be the year the Fall Classic returns to the windy city.