This week’s spotlight is on the new arms race that has formed in the city of Chicago this year. This off-season, both the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs went for it in a big way by adding premier, front-line starters to their respective staffs. The Cubs signed Jon Lester to a six-year deal and the largest contract in the long and storied history of the franchise. The White Sox went out and made a trade for Jeff Samardzija to be their right-handed ace, backing Chris Sale. In a way, the cross-town rivals tried to one-up each other during the winter, which should make for an exciting summer in Chicago with the two clubs now trying to out duel each other on the field.
It’s no surprise that Lester has already been announced as the Cubs’ Opening Day starter for the opening night of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals. In his Cubs Spring Training debut, Lester was nearly perfect in his two innings of work. Lester will be the anchor of this improved Cubs’ roster that is now all-in to make a run at a World Series title. The winds are changing on the North side of Chicago as the Cubs are now a contender to end their championship drought in the very near future.
With a resume that includes a no-hitter and two championships, Lester is the ace that the Cubs were seeking to help lead this young team. He will be one of the handful of pitchers that are jumping from the American League to the National League this year for the first time. Opening night will be just the second career start at Wrigley Field for Lester. In his lone start, he holds a victory with 6.2 innings pitched, allowing seven hits and three runs with eight strikeouts. But Cub fans will also welcome in the lefty for his work against the arch rival Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, when he tossed 15.1 innings, giving up just one run on one walk and nine hits. Lester struck out 15 batters while posting two wins.
While Samardzija is not exactly jumping leagues, he will be jumping to the other side of Chicago in 2015. After having spent his first six and half years in the league with the Cubs, and a brief stint in Oakland, Samardzija is one of the many new faces brought in by the White Sox this winter. However, for the White Sox there is more of a risk with Samardzija because he is only under contract for one year. One of the story lines for the Sox this year is if they are able to sign the workhorse right-hander to a long-term deal. If they are, suddenly a trio of Sale, Samardzija, and Carols Rodon will be a formidable group over the next few seasons.
From the White Sox perspective, a case can be made for the adage “If you cannot beat them, join them,” or have them join you in Samardzija’s case. Samardzija has went head-to-head with the Sox in four career starts. In the last three games, the “Shark” had a feeding frenzy to the tune of 25 innings, nine hits, 21 strikeouts, and no earned runs allowed. At what will be his new home of U.S. Cellular Field, Samardzija owns a 0.47 ERA and a complete game shutout. For at least one season, the White Sox offense will be happy to have the Shark on their side.
What makes these two moves special is that they are the perfect fit for each team at this moment. Both guys are leaders in their own right, and bring with them an attitude that will make their teammates better in the process. Lester will carry with him the expectations of an ace, while Samardzija will be in a complimentary role as a number two starter which the White Sox needed to lend support to Sale. Both guys will make the cross-town rivalry a little extra special in 2015, and make the summer spotlight in Chicago very exciting on both sides of town.