Powered by the steady presence of José Abreu, the White Sox revival is roaring on the South Side.
On the North Side, Yu Darvish is pitching like an ace again, and the Cubs are eyeing another October run.
Chicago's major league teams are linked by more than just geography these days. They also share a most enviable position this time of year — first place.
"I think that every time we take the field, we feel invincible,” White Sox rookie Luis Robert said through a translator.
Sure looks that way. The playoff-bound White Sox have won 24 of 31 to rise to the top of the AL Central. Heading into Sunday's game at Cincinnati, they had a magic number of four for clinching their first division title since their last postseason appearance in 2008.
Under first-year manager David Ross, the Cubs jumped out to a 13-3 start and then faltered before picking up their play as the pandemic-shortened season barreled toward the finish. They are closing in on their first NL Central championship since they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 NL Championship Series.
Chicago's baseball teams have the year's only no-hitters, Lucas Giolito for the White Sox and Alec Mills for the Cubs, and they are making a play for some individual honors, too. Abreu and flashy shortstop Tim Anderson are among the favorites for the AL MVP award, and Robert is in the mix for AL Rookie of the Year. Darvish is making a bid for his first Cy Young Award.
Since the White Sox beat the Cubs in the 1906 World Series, the only other time each team reached the playoffs in the same year was in 2008. They both lost in the division series that year.
Deep dish pizza and hot dogs all around. No ketchup, of course.
“I don't mean this with any disrespect, but I didn't realize it was since ‘08 since they made the playoffs the last time,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "They have a team that’s very, watching them, similar to us in 2015 that started off with a lot of talent and has found ways to win and now they're a powerhouse team. Over here, we have guys that have won and know what the playoffs are like.”
It looked as if the Cubs' window might have closed after they faded last September and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Facing some financial constraints, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein entertained trade possibilities for much of the winter before staying with largely the same group — with Ross replacing Joe Maddon in the dugout.
The Cubs appear to have benefited from the new voice at manager. Well, a new old voice, after Ross helped them win the World Series in 2016. While some of their best hitters have struggled, Ian Happ has helped solidify the lineup, and Jason Heyward has put together perhaps his best year with the team.
“We're happy where we're at,” Rizzo said, “and we're looking forward to the postseason and getting rolling.”
Same for the White Sox, who snapped a string of seven consecutive losing seasons. And it sure looks as if they are just getting started.
Anderson, 27, is in the mix for his second straight AL batting title. Robert, one of baseball's bright young stars, sweet-swinging Eloy Jiménez and promising second baseman Nick Madrigal are just 23. Yoán Moncada, who hit .315 with 25 homers last year, turned 25 in May.
“These guys are very talented, and they're playing with confidence. They're trusting themselves,” manager Rick Renteria said. “They're still growing. They're still learning. I think from a standpoint of which, you're looking for sustained performance. Consistency is going to be the key in the long run for all of them.”
While the development of Chicago's young prospects has been a key part of its season, it wouldn't have the AL's second-best record without Abreu's big bat in the middle of its lineup. The Cuban first baseman leads the majors with 52 RBIs in 52 games.
The 33-year-old Abreu had experienced years of losing since he arrived in Chicago before the 2014 season. But he agreed to a new contract with the White Sox in November, hoping to see the other side of the team's rebuilding project.
Looks like he finally got there.
“I knew all the way through that this will happen,” Abreu said through a translator. “I mean I didn't have any doubt in my mind because I knew what we've been building during the last couple of years and I knew that this year we would be in a very good position to compete and to show the people that we have the pieces here to contend and to be a very good team for a long time.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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