Just like that, we’ve made it through 2015 and are about to enter 2016. I have to say that 2015 was a pretty great year looking back on it both for me personally, and from a Chicago sports perspective (at least for the most part). This is the first time I have done this, but I’m looking forward to recapping the past year of Chicago sports. Enjoy.
2015 had a bit of a rough beginning for the Bears. They missed last year’s playoffs and began their offseason by firing general manager Phil Emery, head coach Marc Trestman, and most of the coaching staff. Ryan Pace was brought in to turn things around as the new GM, and one of his first moves was making former Broncos head coach, John Fox, the Bears’ new head man. Adam Gase and Vic Fangio both left San Francisco to be the Bears’ new offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, giving the Bears one of the league’s best coaching staffs.
Kevin White was selected as the Bears’ number one pick in the 2015 NFL draft with the hopes of building a formidable receiving core between him and Alshon Jeffery, but White missed the entire 2015 season due to injury. Following White’s lead, the Bears could not stay healthy this season. This forced lineman to switch positions and backup players to become starters. Not that there was much optimism surrounding the Bears’ heading into 2015 season, but the injuries they suffered kept them from finishing with a better record. As it stands right now, the Bears are 6-9.
Looking ahead to 2016, it may be reasonable to expect a better Bears team than the one we saw this season, but the playoffs should still be out of the picture. However, I look at Ryan Pace as an up and coming Theo Epstein-type GM, and I have confidence that he’ll turn this thing around sooner than later.
The Blackhawks solidified themselves as a modern day dynasty in the NHL by winning their third Stanley Cup in six seasons in 2015. Things were not looking so bright, however, when Patrick Kane suffered a broken clavicle near the end of February that required surgery. He was ruled out for possibly twelve weeks.
What the Kane injury did that some people overlooked at the time was open up $6.5 million in salary cap space for the Blackhawks. By placing Kane on long-term injured reserve, his cap hit vanished. Stan Bowman took advantage of this and went ahead and traded for the likes of Antoine Vermette, Andrew Desjardins, and Kimmo Timonen. Obviously the Hawks went on to make the playoffs, and as a surprise to everyone, Patrick Kane was in the lineup for Game 1 of Round 1 against the Nashville Predators; about a month or so ahead of schedule.
The Blackhawks would go on to defeat the Predators in six games, sweep the Minnesota Wild, and knock out the Anaheim Ducks in seven to win the Western Conference and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
In the Cup Final, the Hawks took games 1, 4, 5, and 6 to win their third Cup in six years, but it was the first time since 1938 that they won it on home ice. Duncan Keith won the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP by unanimous vote. Andrew Desjardins and Antoine Vermette both played pivotal roles for the Hawks throughout the postseason, and without them it could be argued that they would not have won the Cup.
So far in this 2015-16 season and following some significant roster changes over the summer, the Blackhawks sit third in the Central Division with 46 points through 38 games played. Patrick Kane leads the NHL with 53 points and set the Blackhawks’ and American-born record with 26 consecutive games with at least one point, a streak that ended just a couple of weeks ago.
Moving forward, there is no question that the Hawks could use an addition on the blue line as well as at the left wing position. If they can somehow upgrade in those areas, we could be looking at another deep playoff run in a few months.
The Bulls ended their 2014-15 season with a 50-32 record, which was good for third in the Eastern Conference. In the playoffs they beat the Milwaukee Bucks in six games before getting knocked out in six games by Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Following the end to their season, the Bulls’ front office decided it was time to let head coach Tom Thibodeau go. The two sides never seemed to be on the same page during Thib’s time in Chicago despite his .647 win percentage in five seasons with the Bulls. As a replacement, Fred Hoiberg was lured away from Iowa State to become the new Bulls head coach.
In the NBA draft, the Bulls took Arkansas forward Bobby Portis with their top pick, and he has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. The Bulls as a team are 18-12 through 30 games this year, which isn’t bad, but their apparent off-the-court problems seem to be overshadowing what is taking place on the court. To make it simple, the Bulls are a dysfunctional group of players. Derrick Rose has gradually been losing his place as the face of the team to Jimmy Butler, and the two of them are rumored to have issues with one another.
As the season progresses into 2016, there is a chance we see Pau Gasol get traded away has he has already stated he would like to explore free agency in the summer. Whether or not that happens, the Bulls will still be in the playoffs come April, but won’t get too far as long as Cleveland remains intact. The future is not as bright for the Bulls as it has been in recent years.
Next to the Blackhawks winning the 2015 Stanley Cup, the Cubs were the best sports story in Chicago this year. After finishing the 2014 season with a record of 73-89, manager Joe Maddon and starting pitcher Jon Lester were brought in during the fall of 2014. Instantly, Maddon instilled playoff expectations in his team and a completely new vibe.
The Cubs started their 2015 season with four of their top prospects (Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber) all in the minor leagues, but soon brought up both Bryant and Russell by the end of April. As the spring gave way to summer, the Cubs took off and just about steamrolled their way through the remainder of the regular season.
Kris Bryant wound up hitting .275 with 26 home runs and 99 runs batted in, and took home Rookie of the Year honors this past fall. Anthony Rizzo led the team with 31 homers and 101 runs batted. Kyle Schwarber was called-up a little over mid-way through the season and ended up with 16 dingers and 43 RBI in just 69 games.
On the other side of things, Jake Arrieta put together the best second half to a season by a starting pitcher in MLB history, and ended the regular season with a 1.77 earned run average while leading the MLB with 22 victories (and just 6 losses). He threw his first career no-hitter on August 30th, and won the National League Cy Young Award.
The Cubs finished the season with 97 wins, good for third best in baseball, and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card game. In the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs took games 2, 3, and 4 to win the series and advance to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2003. They would end up getting swept by the Mets, but that is beside the point. The Cubs showed the baseball world that they are the real deal by winning 97 games and moving on to the NLCS behind their young bats and top of the rotation.
So far this offseason the Cubs have only gotten better. They have, to this point, signed John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward, giving them one of the best starting rotations in the National League and arguably the best lineup in baseball.
Expectations have not been this high for the Cubs in a long, long time, and 2016 is shaping up to be an unbelievably exciting year on the North Side.
The Sox brought in Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, and Adam LaRoche heading into the 2015 season with the hopes of making a surprise run in the AL Central. Unfortunately for them, things did not go as planned.
The team went 76-86 on the season and finished
second to last in their division. Jeff Samardzija was a major disappointment as he ended the year with a league-worst earned run average of 4.96. Chris Sale, who got off to a great start to the year, did not have a great finish, but still wound up with a respectable 3.41 ERA and the third most strikeouts in the Major Leagues.
On the offensive side, Jose Abreu put together another stellar year with a .290 average, 30 home runs, and 101 runs batted in. Much like Samardzija, Adam LaRoche was extremely underwhelming with a .207 average and just 12 home runs and 44 RBI.
So far this offseason, the White Sox seem to be working towards competing in 2016 instead of rebuilding. They recently acquired Todd Frazier from the Reds in a three-team deal, and Frazier will no doubt be a huge upgrade at the hot corner for the Sox and in the middle of their order. As of now, the Sox are being linked to Yoenis Cespedes as a possible landing spot for the free agent outfielder. If they can sign him, they’ll all of a sudden have a threatening lineup.
The White Sox still need another quality starting pitcher to be considered a real threat in the Central. As things stand at this moment, they shouldn’t be considered a playoff threat. That could change with a couple of good signings though.
So there you have it. Chicago sports in 2015. Overall, it was a pretty good year for the city with three of their five teams making the playoffs and one walking away as a champion. Not every sports town can make the same claim as often as Chicago can.
2016 in Chicago looks to be an intriguing year sports-wise. Given the current rosters of each team, here are my predictions for the upcoming year (these are subject to change if more roster moves are made):
Bears: 8-8; third in NFC North; miss playoffs
Blackhawks: 101 points; third place in Central Division; advance to second round of playoffs
Bulls: 48-34; third place in Central Division; advance to second round of playoffs
Cubs: 102-60; NL Central Division Champions; (I refuse to predict a playoff outcome)
White Sox: 80-82; fourth in AL Central; miss playoffs