Column: 4 observations at the Memorial Day milepost, including shades of 1983 with the White Sox rotation and Kris Bryant giving the Cubs a lot to think about

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Here are four observations about the Chicago White Sox and Cubs at the Memorial Day milepost.

1. History is repeating itself on the South Side.

Apologies to the 2005 White Sox, but this might be the best Sox rotation since manager Tony La Russa’s 1983 group of LaMarr Hoyt, Richard Dotson, Floyd Bannister, Britt Burns and Jerry Koosman.

Sox starters ranked second to the New York Mets entering Monday with a 2.85 ERA, and they were second in the American League with 10.1 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Lance Lynn was second among qualifying starters with a 1.37 ERA, while Carlos Rodón had a 1.29 ERA, an 0.71 WHIP — and a no-hitter. Lucas Giolito was eighth among major-league starters with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, while Dylan Cease was eighth in the AL with 66 strikeouts. Dallas Keuchel has been the least consistent of the five but also is the one you worry about the least based on his track record.

And as spot starters go, Michael Kopech — who was placed on the injured list Monday with a strained left hamstring — is about as dominating as it gets.

“That (1983) staff really came together, especially in the second half of the season,” La Russa recalled last week. “It’s a different-looking staff. That staff was really young: Hoyt, Dotson, Burns. Here you have three established veterans that are really, really helpful. They’re great mentors and leaders. Then you’ve got the two young starters that are there now (Giolito and Cease) and Kopech, who can feed off that. And then you’ve got the young relievers and a veteran like Liam (Hendriks).

“What I see is the identity of the rotation is more set now. We had Floyd, who (came) as a free agent and got off to a slow start and went crazy in the second half. I think the identity of who we are (in 2021) is more established. But now they’ve just got to pitch, and they’re doing it.”

The “Big Three” of 1983 — Hoyt, Dotson and Bannister — were a combined 42-5 with a 2.52 ERA in the second half of the season. “Best staff I’ve ever been associated with as a player or a coach,” former pitching coach Dave Duncan said before the playoffs.

The Sox offense fell short against the Baltimore Orioles in losing the AL Championship Series 3-1, so the brilliance of the 1983 staff has been forgotten over the years. If the current Big Three of Lynn, Giolito and Rodón can come close to their success, it bodes well for October.

2. Kris Bryant is the biggest winner on the North Side.

In the final year on his contract, Kris Bryant ranked fifth in the majors with a .989 OPS entering Monday, when he homered and tripled in a 7-2 win over the San Diego Padres.

Meanwhile, he has increased his value by playing first base and all three outfield positions in addition to his preferred spot at third base. Remember when a long-term deal for Bryant supposedly was a big risk?

“We’d love to keep Kris long term,” Cubs President Jed Hoyer said recently. “I don’t think there’s been any question of that. Enjoy watching him right now, and we’ll have those discussions in the future.

“As far as a message (to Cubs fans), I’d say he’s doing a great job of reminding us why he’s so valuable with his versatility and his offense and I’m thoroughly enjoying watching him right now and I think fans should too.”

Well, sure. That’s obvious. But they also remember the Cubs stole an extra year of eligibility from Bryant by manipulating his service time as a rookie. Now they risk losing Bryant for nothing but draft compensation if they don’t re-sign him, which means the Cubs at least need to explore what they could get for him at the trade deadline.

Ditto for Javier Báez, who homered twice Monday, overcame another slow start offensively and added to his legend with the reverse baserunning play in Pittsburgh that went viral. If the Cubs can’t re-sign Báez, imagine how much they could get in return come July.

But trading Bryant or Báez while the Cubs are in contention would make Hoyer about as popular in Chicago as a zebra mussel. The intrigue will only grow in the coming weeks.

3. Coffee is for closers.

Seldom have we seen two closers on both sides of town as untouchable in the same season as the Sox’s Liam Hendriks and the Cubs’ Craig Kimbrel.

Hendriks ranked third among major-league relievers entering Monday with 13 saves in 23 appearances and was averaging 14.73 strikeouts per nine innings. Kimbrel was tied for fourth with 12 saves in 22 appearances and also was averaging 14.73 strikeouts per nine innings.

Kimbrel’s rebound after losing the closer role last year, combined with the performance of his supporting cast of middle men, is one of the biggest reasons for the Cubs’ surprising turnaround. Hendriks got off to a rough start with the Sox but has not allowed an earned run in 14 outings since April 29.

“The start of the year is always the toughest part for me,” Hendriks told the Tribune. “Usually after the first couple outings I’m all right, but this year it was a couple outings where I kept giving up some home runs.”

Hendriks went into deep-think mode to figure out the problem. He said he realized some of the homers were off good pitches or came on bad counts, and some were just bad offerings.

“It’s not abnormal to throw a terrible pitch and then it does not come back,” he said. “It’s when I threw good pitches and they didn’t come back that was a little cause for concern. Been rolling a little of late.”

4. A tale of two managers.

Tony La Russa leads the league in controversies, some of them self-created and others beyond his control. Whether he’s taking attention from the Sox players is arguable, though La Russa said he isn’t following the media noise.

“I’m totally oblivious to that,” he said. “I don’t pay any attention to it. But I do know ... the No. 1 rule in coaching, managing, is that the attention goes to the competitors, not the staff.”

Cubs manager David Ross, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about taking any credit from players such as Bryant, Báez or Anthony Rizzo. The brand names from the 2016 championship team always receive the bulk of the attention, and Ross doesn’t give the media much to write about anyway.

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