White Sox vs. Cubs: Eight things to know as Chicago rivals play three-game series at Wrigley Field

The Crosstown Classic kicks off Friday night at Wrigley Field, pitting the White Sox against the Cubs. It’s a three-game series starting at 7:15 local time on Friday, and it’ll likely have tons of eyes on it in Chicago. Here’s why — along with eight things to know. 

1. Both teams are good — and that’s rare

Given that they play in the third-largest market in league, it shouldn’t be a big deal for both teams to be competitive, but it is. The last time the two teams faced off when they were both over .500 was all the way back in 2008. Seriously. That’s pathetic, isn’t it? Still, it makes the 2020 bout fun. The 16-8 Cubs would be the No. 2 seed in the National League if the playoffs started now and the 15-11 White Sox would be No. 7 in the apparently tougher AL (they’d have the third-best record in the NL). 

The White Sox are white hot, too, having won five in a row and seven of nine. We could paint the picture either way for the Cubs, who have gone 3-5 since their 13-3 start, though they’ve also won three of four since their four-game losing streak. 

2. OBP vs. SLG

The White Sox can thump. Their .459 slugging percentage is second in baseball to the mighty Yankees. They are fourth with 43 home runs. Four regulars have .500-plus slugging percentages. They are an old-school slugging team in that they don’t really take many walks, meaning that despite ranking fourth in batting average, they have the 13th best on-base percentage. 

The Cubs are inverses on this front. They are one of the most patient teams in baseball and rank fourth in on-base percentage despite a woeful .228 batting average that ranks 23rd in all of baseball. 

It’ll be interesting to see what gives, because the White Sox pitching staff isn’t necessarily prone to walks while the Cubs’ pitching staff in general has been among the best in the league at limiting hard contact and inducing soft contact. 

3. Cubs have pitching lined up

The clear top-three starters for the Cubs right now are Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Jon Lester. Those are their three starters this weekend. 

Friday is Lester. He’s 2-0 with a 2.74 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, though he’s coming off his first clunker of the year in which he coughed up five runs on nine hits in six innings. 

Saturday is Hendricks. He’s sporting a 3.32 ERA and 0.92 WHIP through five outings. He’s looked the part of ace for all but about two innings. 

Sunday is Darvish. He’s 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 34 strikeouts against five walks in 30 innings. He’s on the short list of Cy Young candidates so far and has a 1.04 ERA in his last four starts after a shaky season debut. 

4. White Sox have killed lefties

Though we did mention that Lester starting for the Cubs is good for them, it might actually be better for the White Sox. In 233 plate appearances versus left-handed pitching this season, the White Sox have absolutely worn them out to the tune of .291/.366/.576 with 15 homers. The entire lineup has been like an MVP candidate against lefties. Let’s spotlight one. 

Tim Anderson is slashing .650/.682/1.700 with five homers in 20 at-bats against southpaws. 

5. Is Kimbrel fixed? 

He very well might be. It’s now three straight dominant appearances in which Kimbrel has increased velocity, seems to have his command and has struck out seven of the 11 batters he’s faced. The eye test says he’s there, even if I’m still waiting on a total meltdown due to what we’ve seen so much in 2019 and 2020. 

If he is back, the Cubs have a potent back end of the bullpen with Kimbrel, Jeremy Jeffress, Rowan Wick and Ryan Tepera

6. All eyes on the trade for Sox

Famously, at least on the South Side of Chicago, the White Sox fleeced the Cubs for prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease in 2017 for Jose Quintana, who has mostly been mediocre for the Cubs since the end of 2017. 

Jimenez enters the series slugging .560 with eight homers and 19 RBI. I wish he’d stop running into the wall/nets so he could stay on the field and he could stand to walk more and strike out less. But overall he’s really fun to watch rake. He has so much power. 

Cease gets the ball on Sunday against Darvish. He’s 4-1 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. 

7. The Cubs have some major slumpers

Kris Bryant is hitting .177/.271/.323 and has a wrist injury he’s fighting. Javier Baez is hitting .189/.237/.344 with 34 strikeouts in 90 at-bats and the normally jovial star has started to show visible signs of frustration with himself. He looks like he’s guessing and it’s making things worse. Willson Contreras is hitting .077 with a .115 slugging in his last 10 games. If we lop off the first three games of the year, Kyle Schwarber is hitting .212 and slugging .379. Anthony Rizzo is hitting .224 and slugging .362 in August. 

I just went through the five-man nucleus of the offense. Are they ready to bust out or will the struggles continue? That’ll go a long way in deciding this series. 

8. Both teams are incredibly fun

This is a must-watch series and it has nothing to do — at least for me — with both teams being from the same city. As noted earlier, they are both good. They are also incredibly fun to watch, thanks to the likes of Baez, Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Contreras, Luis Robert, Rizzo and we could go on and on here. Both sides are teeming with talent and fun-to-watch types. 

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