White Sox have Cubs right where they want them — run aground for years to come

There are ships passing in the night, and then there are the Sox and Cubs. One team an ocean liner steaming for the deep waters of playoff baseball. The other an unrecognizable bucket of bolts.

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Chicago White Sox v Chicago Cubs

Cesar Hernandez hit a two-run homer for the Sox.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The White Sox rode a 14-game, nine-loss wave of snooze-alarm baseball into the series opener against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Even worse, starting pitcher Lance Lynn was 0 for his last 11 cracks at the Cubs. Hard to believe, isn’t it? As good as he has been over the years, Lynn was 0-4 with a 6.93 ERA against them — his worst numbers against any opponent — since beating them in September 2013 in St. Louis.

That means he never beat the trio of Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez and Kris Bryant. Nope, not even once.

And on top of all that, the eighth inning came around Friday, and the fourth star player the Cubs traded before the deadline — reliever Craig Kimbrel, now with the South Siders — turned a 4-1 Sox lead into a sudden, shocking 4-4 tie.

What did it all signify? As lifelessly as the Sox are playing, and even though Lynn has been little more than a glorified batting-practice pitcher against the Cubs, and despite Kimbrel having his worst outing of the season, it signified this: The Sox had the Cubs right where they wanted them.

Final: Sox 8, Cubs 6.

And the Sox will have the Cubs right where they want them the rest of this weekend and again when the teams meet later this month at Guaranteed Rate Field. And probably every time after that for at least the next few years.

But that’s what happens when one team — even a struggling one — is in win-the-World Series mode and the other needs name tags just to hold conversations in the clubhouse.

No matter what is ailing the Sox, the North Siders have it much worse.

Are the Cubs, as currently constructed, the worst team in the big leagues? I’m not using “worst” loosely. OK, maybe a bit. The Orioles, Rangers, Pirates and Diamondbacks are all on track to lose 100-plus games. They’re embarrassments to themselves, their sport, their cities — nay, a nation — but how can any of them be any worse than the lineup the Cubs put out there Friday?

Sorry, they can’t be.

With catcher Willson Contreras getting some rest and right fielder Jason Heyward on the injured list, pitcher Kyle Hendricks was surrounded by a starting lineup that included such household no-names as Rafael Ortega, Matt Duffy, Frank Schwindel, Greg Deichmann, Andrew Romine, Robinson Chirinos and Sergio Alcantara.

I know what you’re thinking: You can’t spell “Schwindel” without the “win.” The man did blast a two-run homer into the seats to briefly keep the Cubs alive in the bottom of the 10th. Give him his props.

But still: Who?

When the Cubs were down to their last out, manager David Ross looked up and down his dugout bench and said the only sensible thing he could think of:

“Yo, 160-pound pitcher Zach Davies, grab a bat. You’re pinch-hitting!”

It’s that kind of reality now in Chicago baseball. There are ships passing in the night, and then there are the Sox and Cubs. One an ocean liner steaming for the deep waters of playoff baseball. The other an unrecognizable bucket of bolts already run aground by an ownership family that wouldn’t find money for Yu Darvish and cashed in its 2016 World Series core but — oh, yeah — reportedly is full speed ahead with plans to build a two-story addition to Wrigley that would house a giant sportsbook.

Anyone who doesn’t think the Sox can encroach on the Cubs’ popularity in this town is missing something. By crying poor and pulling the plug on trying to win, the Cubs are playing their fans. Just because some might cynically (and correctly) point out that strategy worked for Cubs regimes past, it’s a whole new ballgame once fans have gotten a taste of a curse-busting title. A hotel? A two-story sportsbook? All the other Ricketts-led changes that are sucking the charm out of the ballpark grounds and neighborhood?

It’s a dangerous game.

The Sox can up the stakes by raising their next banner. Maybe even more than one of them. If and when they finally get to full strength this season, they just might go on the sort of tear that can’t be ignored by any sports fan in this town.

Meanwhile, the Cubs announced that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White will be signed to an “honorary major-league contract” before Sunday’s game. Isn’t that adorable? White, 87, played in the Cubs’ organization from 1959 to 1966, in case you didn’t know it.

My question: Why not put him in the lineup for real? It couldn’t hurt.

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