Why is Memorial Day an important benchmark in MLB? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
When discussing MLB’s calendar, Memorial Day serves as a valuable benchmark to check in with your team.
Well, for starters, it marks nearly 1/3 of the season completed. It’s sort of the big test before the midterm, before the final exam. There’s a long way to go, but early signals can define how each team needs to improve through the rest of the season.
On the subject of Memorial Day, ironically, three years ago MLB didn’t play on Memorial Day for the first time in 140 years because of Covid-19.
Back to the subject at hand, The Athletic summoned their respective beat writers to culminate season grades for each MLB team to start the season. As Memorial Day lives around the corner, it serves as a fair benchmark to assess each team’s respective starts to the season.
Let’s break down the Chicago teams’ grades.
The Athletic’s White Sox grade: D-
“Chances are this team is closer to OK than awful,” James Fegan wrote. “But a miserable April in all facets of the game for a franchise purportedly in the middle of their contention window has put the White Sox in a far greater hole than any element of the offseason (which I maligned) ever could.”
While the White Sox have seen more May flowers than April showers this month, they’re still behind. Luckily, the forgiving AL Central makes for a doable recovery looking towards the next 100-something games.
They hold the 18th-best offense this season and the 26th-best defense. Their defense has not improved, standing in the middle of the pack in errors. But their pitching has drastically improved in May. They have the third-best ERA this month, thanks to outstanding outings from Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease.
As of this writing, the White Sox are 6.0 games back on the division-leading Minnesota Twins; 4.0 games back on the Detroit Tigers; 2.0 games back on the Cleveland Guardians.
They’ve won three straight series, conveniently, all against divisional opponents (Guardians twice, Royals once). They dropped the first of four games against the Tigers on Thursday but still have the chance to win the series and mark their fourth straight, which would narrow the division standings even more.
The Sox still have a long way to go. Although, the returns of Eloy Jiménez (appendectomy), Elvis Andrus (oblique strain), Mike Clevinger (wrist inflammation) and Liam Hendriks — who has been working aggressively to return despite undergoing cancer treatment since December — should inject some life into the lineup.
The Athletic’s Cubs grade: D+
“Results matter,” Patrick Mooney writes. “The Cubs can point to reasons for optimism — run differential, underlying metrics, better luck in one-run games, the length of the season — and try to convince themselves that a turnaround is possible.
“But unless that actually happens, this looks like a wasted opportunity, failing to capitalize on strong individual performances and an epically bad start by the Cardinals. For a big-market franchise that undertook two full-scale rebuilds within a decade — and then spent more than $300 million on free agents this past winter — this season already appears to be close to going off the rails.”
There was a lot of excitement surrounding the Cubs’ chances of heading back to the NL playoffs and reclaiming the division. And for the same reasons as the White Sox, their underperforming NL Central division gives them hope to recover, too.
“Thank goodness for the sh-tty play of everybody in the division,” Cubs skipper David Ross said after a win over the New York Mets.
MORE: David Ross grateful for equally bad division play amid slump
The Cubs are currently 4.5 games back on the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers and 3.0 games back on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Luckily, the implosion of the St. Louis Cardinals has given the Cubs some breathing room to hawk down the leaders.
That might not last long, however. The Cardinals own the best offense in May and hold a 13-7 record over their last 20 games. They are 0.5 games back on the Cubs.
The North Side has the 24th-best offense in May, scoring a whopping 54 fewer runs than their division counterparts in the Cardinals.
They held a scorching hot pitching staff in April, recording the 10th-best ERA of the month. Thanks to a steady rock in Marcus Stroman and arguably the league’s best pitcher — at the time — Justin Steele, the Cubs were dominating on the mound.
In May, however, they’ve dropped down to the sixth-worst team ERA in the league. Everyone’s cooled off and their bullpen continues to struggle. This season they have the 10th-worst bullpen ERA.
Like the White Sox, the Cubs have a lot of games left to play without reason to smash the panic button yet. The injections of youngsters Matt Mervis and Christopher Morel have given the Cubs some life at the plate. But there’s still plenty of work left to be done.
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