All-City team: Cubs, Sox starting pitchers outshine hitters

Sale, Wood, Feldman, Peavy stellar; lineups have plenty of holes

Starting pitching is everything, right?

After all, the 10 major league teams that had the lowest starters' earned-run average averaged 91 wins last season. This year, eight of the top 10 teams in ERA are winning almost 60 percent of their games, easily on pace to average 90-plus wins.

Then there's the Chicago Conundrum.

As they head into the 17th City Series, the White Sox and Cubs are outliers to the equation. They are the exceptions to the truism, showing that you can have strong starting pitching and still struggle.

Through Saturday, the White Sox ranked fourth in the majors with a 3.39 rotation ERA; the Cubs were 10th at 3.63.

The last time they made the playoffs, in 2008, the Cubs were second at 3.75 while the White Sox were ninth at 4.09. But the pitchers on those staffs had run support their 2013 brethren can only dream about. The '08 Cubs were second overall with 855 runs, the '08 Sox were sixth with 811.

Different story this time around, as both are near the bottom, which is why they are a combined 43-54.

It is as tough to find a deserving regular at some positions as it is to narrow the All-City rotation to four guys. For starters, we'll take Chris Sale, Travis Wood, Scott Feldman and Jake Peavy, and feel badly that we don't have room for Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana.

Sale and Wood have been brilliant. They're among 12 qualifiers who are allowing one baserunner or fewer per nine innings — a list that also includes Clayton Kershaw, Jordan Zimmermann, Yu Darvish, Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and Matt Harvey. That's impressive.

Feldman, signed to a one-year contract with a promise he would be in the rotation after shuttling in and out of the Rangers' bullpen in 2012, failed to last five innings in his first two starts but has been a horse in May. Peavy (6-2, 2.97) gets the last spot over Samardzija (2-6, 3.25) because he works in the DH league and has a lower WHIP than Samardzija, but one could just as easily take Samardzija, whose record means only that he has been the least lucky pitcher in a town full of starting pitchers who have deserved better.

First base: Anthony Rizzo

Paul Konerko has been a staple on this team, but it might be awhile until the White Sox regain the first base edge. Rizzo, 23, looks like he'll be a fixture, which is why the Cubs just gave him a seven-year, $41 million contract. Rizzo is the left-handed power hitter the Cubs have long coveted, projecting to hit 33 homers and drive in 109 runs. His batting average is better than you think considering he was hitting .173 on April 24. Konerko hit .263 with a .770 OPS after the All-Star break last year, which makes his slow start this year more troubling than it would be otherwise.

Second base: Darwin Barney

He started his season late because of a gash he suffered in his knee during the preseason trip to Houston and then tried to knock himself silly by going face-first into the bench and wall at Wrigley Field earlier in May, yet somehow he's still standing. He's as smart and determined as any player in the big leagues but may always seem replaceable because of his bat. It's to his credit that he has added almost 100 points to his on-base percentage because he's willing to walk. Gordon Beckham got off to a fast start for the Sox but was derailed after seven games by a broken hamate bone in his left hand.

Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez

Where has Starlin Castro gone as an impact player? He's becoming harder to walk every year he plays, yet none of his other totals is jumping. That's a poor trend. Castro's on-base percentage has been in steady decline since his rookie year in 2010 and he has not experienced a big jump in power, which most projected. Ramirez similarly tantalized his team when he was a rookie without getting better in subsequent years. He's a better fielder than Castro, but his ceiling as a hitter has the White Sox considering dealing him.

Third base: Luis Valbuena

Conor Gillaspie was a terrific find for White Sox GM Rick Hahn. Acquired in spring training from the Giants, he has outplayed Jeff Keppinger, who was signed to a three-year contract to be the regular third baseman but has played more at second with Beckham out. Valbuena similarly was picked up by the Cubs a year ago from the Indians and has been a pleasant surprise since. He seems overexposed as a regular but provides average production.

Left field: Dayan Viciedo

His impact was diminished when he was sidelined for three weeks by a strained oblique muscle, but the Tank is hitting like a left fielder should. Alfonso Soriano is killing the Cubs' chance to move him for prospects at the trade deadline. His OPS is where it was in 2009 and '11, when he had a negative WAR.

Center field: David DeJesus

Oh, if only everyone approached their jobs the way DeJesus does. He moves around Wrigley Field like a Little Leaguer, seemingly thrilled to be shagging fly balls and taking batting practice. He has been a strong hitter this year, too, with an .816 OPS, which ranks him behind only Shin-Soo Choo, Mike Trout and Carlos Gomez among regular center fielders. He could bring a nice return in a trade, perhaps back to the Royals, where his career began. Alejandro De Aza has been steady for the White Sox.

Right field: Alex Rios

He's no kid at 32, but you can argue that Rios is the only star position player on either side of town who is in his prime. He goes largely unnoticed nationally, but among regular right fielders only Jose Bautista has a higher OPS than Rios' .893. He's a two-way player, too, as solid in the field as at the plate. Signed through 2014 with an option for '15, the White Sox can ask a lot for Rios if they decide to shop him, but they are painfully aware that they don't have anyone on hand to replace him. Nate Schierholtz has been a solid signing for the Cubs.

Catcher: Welington Castillo

Castillo is doing a good job handling pitchers and is throwing out would-be base stealers at a solid rate (31.4 percent). He's a semi-tough hitter but has struggled with men in scoring position. Tyler Flowers has been what you'd expect when he replaced A.J. Pierzynski, which means the White Sox have had a significant drop-off at the position.

Bench: Cody Ransom and Hector Gimenez

Released by the Padresafter an 0-for-11 start, Ransom, 37, has been a good fit with the Cubs. He can play anywhere and drives the ball when he makes contact. He and Valbuena have been a nice platoon at third base. The switch-hitting Gimenez is more talented than his 4A portfolio suggests. He's a solid backup catcher who can hit (.907 OPS in 140 at-bats in Venezuela in the winter) with the versatility to play other positions. It speaks to the White Sox's level of commitment to Flowers that Gimenez hasn't started more games.

Closer: Addison Reed

The White Sox had a great draft in 2010, getting Sale in the first round and Reed in the third. You wonder if Reed might be able to move into the rotation down the line, but he's doing such a great job as closer that he might be pigeon-holing himself. He has All-Star-worthy numbers this year and has had a 90 percent save ratio since being given the job last season. Kevin Gregg, signed after a good spring didn't land him a job with the Dodgers, has been fine after Carlos Marmol and Kyuji Fujikawa left an opening at the end of the Cubs' disappointing bullpen.

Setup men: Jesse Crain and James Russell

Crain missed most of spring training, but it hasn't stopped him from being as reliable as any setup guy in the majors. He is getting strikeouts and not allowing many hits — a nice combination. He might be the most likely guy to be traded if the Sox decide they can't hang in playoff contention. Russell, the left-handed complement to Samardzija (at least in terms of hair, or "weeds'' to use Samardzija's vernacular), wasn't scored on until May 8. He appears remarkably durable as he has been better this year than a year ago, when he made 77 appearances.

Manager: Robin Ventura

Steady as she goes, as they say at sea. Dale Sveum is a tireless worker and relentless optimist. But to have such a poor won-lost record with consistently good starting pitching speaks at least in a small part to his decisions not bearing fruit (his Pythagorean score is -5 already this year after -4 last year). But his commitment is clear. The White Sox can't be so sure that Ventura is in it for the long haul as he quietly turned down a contract extension after last season.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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