For Cubs, White Sox, there’s no benefit of the drought

Chicago didn’t host a World Series — or a playoff game, for that matter — in 2022, but a new season provides fresh hope.

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Are the Cubs and White Sox on a collision course to meet in the World Series? Well, they’ll definitely meet in the regular season.

Matt York/AP

One way to look at baseball starting up for 2023 is that the Cubs are entering Year Seven of their new World Series drought.

OK, that’s not fair. Nor is it fair to say the White Sox are entering Year 18 of their own World Series drought.

But it’s true. Time rolls swiftly by. And the Cubs’ 2016 and White Sox’ 2005 championships recede into the distance like oases behind chugging desert trains, now headed to places we know not.

In fact, last year seemed like the year for the White Sox to explode. They had all those young guys with speed and power, and they’d won the AL Central division in 2021, and they were finally ready to roll.

But they didn’t even win the division last year. They finished 81-81, which is .500, the perfect description of average. The season was weird in several ways, including the White Sox finishing 11 games behind a team abruptly named the Guardians.

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There had been a management lockout that started on Dec. 2, 2021, and lasted a little more than three months, making spring ball a hurried affair and pushing Opening Day to April 7. Maybe that factored in. Almost all the starters missed significant time with injuries, from catcher Yasmani Grandal to infielders Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson to pitchers Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease.

Who knows why? But you can’t win when your big boys don’t play.

The Sox have star players again this year, plus a new manager, Pedro Grifol. And if the team exploded from the gate and contended for everything in October you couldn’t say it was a total shock. But then too, you almost expect something bad to happen to derail the Sox before they get to the postseason.

One of the toughest things happened in January when fiery closer Liam Hendriks announced he’s battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma. So the struggle will be to see how the pieces that are able to play fit together. Because if they do, the Sox could be very good.

One thing you notice each year is that some players come to camp overjoyed because they’ve put on or shed weight. One remembers chunky Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber showing up for 2018 spring training 30 pounds lighter than the previous fall.

The weight loss might’ve helped Schwarber, but not every player benefits from resculpting his body. So we’ll withhold judgment about Sox slugger Eloy Jimenez who came to camp 25-30 pounds lighter than last season, apparently thrilled with the way he can run instead of lumber. He’s still a big 6-4 dude, and White Sox hitting coach Jose Castro says the lost meat won’t affect Jimenez’s power but might enable him to avoid serious injury. “If he can put in 150 games, he’s got 30, 40 bombs in his offense,” said the coach.

It’s the Cubs that had that longest World Series dry stretch of all — 108 years. And the beauty of their 2016 crown is we no longer have to talk about ghosts and curses and goats and watch the infamous “Bartman ball’’ be blown to smithereens. Indeed, we don’t have to talk about poor Steve Bartman at all, except to hope he’s enjoying life and, if he can stomach it, still a Cubs fan.

What does come to mind is the question of whether the Cubs will be an elite team again anytime soon. Since 2019 and the fadeaway from the World Series talent, the Cubs have seemed to drift unsurely through the ever-changing waters of the rebuild process. When former team president Theo Epstein came to town in 2011 the Cubs had become a joke, whether it was from lovably losing or just plain losing enough to never get back to the World Series. Epstein should have a statue of himself at Wrigley Field — remember, the Cubs have Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray statues there — because whatever he did, whether good or bad, he was the engineer who put an end to that overwhelming, maddening, goat-head-soup curse nonsense.

The only bad thing Epstein did was not keep the champion Cubs flowing toward a dynasty. But he won once, so God love him.

Now? The Cubs had a lineup in spring training that looked nice — with new guys like Eric Hosmer and Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson added to standbys like Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner. How the pitching will go is anybody’s guess. But the time does seem about right for the Ricketts family ownership to spend whatever is needed and demand general manager Jed Hoyer get back to the top where his predecessor and pal, Epstein, once led them.

One thing the Cubs always have that the White Sox don’t is a huge, fawning, show-up-through-thick-and-thin fan base. New man Swanson, late of the Braves, noticed it right off. Pro sports in Chicago, he said, “are a massive deal. Pro sports in Atlanta are like, well, kind of a deal.” He added, “Cubs fans, Cubs everything, is just a little bit different.’’

He’s right about that. And he also should notice that both the Cubs and Sox have quality players. Do they have enough? We won’t know for sure until the games have reached a steady pace, say by mid-May.

Sox general manager Rick Hahn needs a big season to justify the rebuild road he took his team on. Hahn’s a smart guy — degrees from Michigan, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, and Harvard Law School attest to it. But injuries and strange bounces will trump genius any day.

The Cubs’ Hoyer could use some success, too. The former Division III pitcher and career saves record holder at Wesleyan University knows baseball, but does he know that odd thing called Cubdom? He has been around long enough to have seen the shifting strategies for building teams, from ‘‘moneyball’’ to outspending everybody, to going by old-fashioned feel.

And both team architects have to deal with new rules about defensive shifts, base sizes, pitch timers, and the designated hitters that came to the National League last year.

It’s time for Chicago to get some answers. It’s time for the little droughts to end.

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