Cubs-White Sox means more this time.
I suppose that’s not saying a lot if you believe that the annual games between the city’s baseball teams mean about as much as pennies and cursive writing do.
But at least one team is putting its heart into this year’s showdowns, which start Tuesday night with a two-game series at Wrigley Field. The Sox are starting to act like a club that wants what the Cubs have, and on that basis alone, the Crosstown Showdown has a heft to it that has been lacking the last several years.
So the Sox have circled the dates. The Cubs? They’re counting the days to when Craig Kimbrel, their recently signed All-Star closer, is ready to join the big club from Class AAA Iowa. To them, the Sox are the Mariners are the Marlins are the Giants. Not finger food exactly, but not an entrée.
Kris Bryant surely ratcheted up the Sox’ hunger when he told reporters recently that he didn’t even know the South Siders were the Cubs’ next opponent. He says he’s all about the task at hand, which, at the time he made his comments, was the Dodgers. But when you’re the hunter, as the Sox are, you always have your nose up for even the faintest whiff of disrespect.
That might seem like a lot of brashness coming from a team that’s 34-36 and hasn’t had a winning season since 2012. The Cubs won a World Series in 2016 and played in the postseason the last four years. But the gap is starting to close, and the Sox can feel it. If you can’t, you’re not paying attention. Or maybe you’re like Bryant and can concentrate only on the game in front of you.
The Sox think they can beat anybody despite their relative youth and inexperience. Or because of it. They’re at that wonderful stage where they don’t know what they don’t know. They just play. They’re sloppy at times. They’re really good at other times. They’re not nearly a finished product. But when you see Eloy Jimenez hitting bombs and Lucas Giolito mowing down hitters, it doesn’t take much squinting to see a shinier future for the Sox.
As shiny as the five-year ride the Cubs are on? Easy there, tiger. The Cubs are still loaded with talent and experience. Sometimes that gets lost in the fixation with whatever their perceived vulnerabilities are at any given moment. The Kimbrel signing was a reminder that they still want to be great and that money apparently can be spent on flesh and blood, not just brick and mortar.
The Cubs are good, though they didn’t fare well on their recent road trip, which included losing three of four to the Dodgers. The Sox are getting there, as shown by their just-completed split of a four-game series with the first-place Yankees.
Some Sox fans get upset whenever their team’s journey is put in the context of the Cubs’ journey. They’re sick of the Cubs photo-bombing them. But it’s hard to separate the teams when they reside about 11 miles from each other and have been around for more than 100 years each. The fact that the Sox have followed the Cubs’ template conjoins the two clubs at the hip. It’s kind of hard to talk about the White Sox Way when they’re doing a decent imitation of that other team’s way.
The Cubs don’t seem concerned about their recent struggles, and given the success that dates to 2015, they shouldn’t be. They don’t seem to worry about a whole lot. You get the feeling that the Sox aren’t pleased with the Cubs’ lack of concern about them.
So Cubs-Sox does mean more, even if most of the meaning is coming from one side. The rivalry is better when the fans are completely engaged, the way they were when
interleague play started in 1997. Some segment of the Cubs’ fan base doesn’t like some segment of the Sox’ fan base, and vice versa. I don’t know what the percentage is, but I do know the dislike is pure.
If the Sox keep improving, the percentage of haters on both sides figures to increase. Maybe by the time the teams play again in July, this time at Guaranteed Rate Field, we’ll see a spike. And someday, perhaps, Cubs players themselves will start noticing their neighbors to the south enough to hate them.
Two good teams from the same town playing against each other with feeling? Yes, please.