The outsized expectations for the Cubs and White Sox got a heavy dose of reality Monday from ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney.
The well known commentator published his preseason Major League baseball rankings, placing the White Sox 15th and the Cubs 19th out of the 30 teams.
Olney has the White Sox behind the Indians (eighth), Tigers (ninth) and Royals (13th) in the American League Central.
“The White Sox lineup looks like it will be much deeper,” Olney wrote, “and given that Avisail Garcia should get a ton of opportunities with runners on base, as he hits behind Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche, the fact that he’s been more patient this spring in his plate appearances is a good sign he could do major damage.”
Cabrera and LaRoche are among the new players general manager Rick Hahn brought in this offseason, along with pitchers Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson.
Olney put the Cubs behind the Pirates (fourth) and Cardinals (fifth) by ranking them at No. 19. That would be an improvement from their last-place finish a season ago.
“On one hand, the Cubs’ young team is bound to make some mistakes and have some really awful days,” Olney wrote. “But the potential in the everyday lineup, from Anthony Rizzo to Starlin Castro to Dexter Fowler to Jorge Soler to Kris Bryant, makes this a very dangerous team if Jon Lester can stay healthy and the rotation performs as expected.”
The Cubs signed Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract this offseason. They also hired Joe Maddon, who is widely believed to be the best manager in the game.
The Washington Nationals are the top team in baseball, according to Olney. The Dodgers, Mariners, Pirates and Cardinals round out the top five.
For what it’s worth, Las Vegas oddsmakers are a bit more optimistic about the potential for Chicago baseball.
Bovada lists the White Sox at 15-to-2 to win the AL pennant, trailing only the Red Sox, Mariners and Angels.
The Cubs are 7-to-1 to win the National League, sitting behind the Nationals, Dodgers and Cardinals.
Olney ranked the defending champion Giants 20th and quoted a rival evaluator who said San Francisco has looked “terrible” this spring.
Read Olney’s full story and rankings here (subscription required).