North: Plenty of second-half baseball to watch in Chicago

 
 
Updated 7/14/2017 6:40 AM

As the second half of the baseball season gets underway, Chicago fans will be looking for a much-needed surge from the Cubs and just some steady improvement from the White Sox.

The Cubs' first half was not a mirage, and a combination of four or five factors -- ranging from injuries to subpar performances -- resulted in a very disappointing 43-45 record.

 

Tied for second place with the St. Louis Cardinals and trailing the Milwaukee Brewers by 5  games wasn't the plan, but most people still expect the Cubs to win the NL Central.

It's not an automatic in my book, though, and the Brewers, Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates might be in it to the end.

Will the Cubs be there?

No one can say for certain because we haven't seen much this year that resembles last year's championship team. Las Vegas and various online sites -- not all but some -- give the Cubs a better than 50 percent chance of winning the division, and I'm still with them.

Here's my thinking: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and especially Kyle Hendricks are better than their performances and records so far indicate.

By now you've head that the Cubs made a huge trade with the Sox to acquire contract-friendly Jose Quintana in a four-player deal that includes two top prospects. The 28-year-old Quintana is a 2016 all-star and a workhorse who has consistently pitched more than 200 innings each of the past four years.

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The left-handed Quintana may have a 4-8 record for this season, but he has come on strong in his most recent outings and could help fill the void if and when Arrieta leaves to become a free agent next year.

South Side perspective:

The surprise, of course, is that the White Sox agreed to a trade with the Cubs, which in the past hasn't happened much.

The Sox continue their rebuild and acquired the Cubs' No. 1 prospect, outfielder Eloy Jimenez. They also get a right-hander pitcher in No. 2 Cubs prospect Dylan Cease, along with minor-leaguers Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.

Their plan seems to be stockpiling pitching and I'm all for it, because I'm still having trouble watching former Sox ace Chris Sale (11-4) pitch for the Boston Red Sox.

Someone suggested the other day that the White Sox were tanking, and I totally disagree. I've seen maximum effort from this team under manager Rick Renteria, who has done a great job restoring clubhouse edict that was lacking under Robin Ventura.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Some believe Sale might still be here if Renteria had been the manager last season. Sorry, there I go again!

Well, I'm glad the Sox have a no-one-is-off-limits attitude when it comes to making a deal. It remains to be seen if the Sox youth movement will pan out, but hope springs eternal so we will see what happens.

• Follow Mike on Twitter @north2north. Check out his podcast Monday-Friday at mikenorthpodcast.com. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Herald. For more, visit northtonorth.com.

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