Heading into this weekend's installment of the BP Crosstown Cup at Wrigley Field, Cubs Talk blogger Tony Andracki and White Sox Talk blogger JJ Stankevitz break down what to watch for in the next three games:
JJ: Well, the White Sox haven't won a series since sweeping Seattle from April 20-21. Since then, they're 0-5-3. In the last few years, pitching has carried the White Sox against the Cubs, but this year, that doesn't seem to be the case, right?
Tony: Yeah, thats true, but part of the reason the Sox pitched so well against the Cubs was because they were led by Mark Buehrle, whose dominance of the NL included the Cubs. He is no longer a part of this serious, however. Pitching definitely a key for the Cubs, though. The starting pitching on the North side of town has been unbelievable this year, while the bullpen has leftquite a bit to be desired. There are so many guys in the White Sox offense struggling to hit their weight, so the Cubs starting trio of Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm and Jeff Samardzija could dominate. But then again, if the Sox are able to get into the Cubs bullpen
JJ: That's the key here. Dempster and Samardzija have been outstanding, and the Sox have really struggled against lefties before beating up on a wild CJ Wilson Thursday. The good news for the Sox is that Dayan Viciedo looks like he's starting to come around, but he may sit the first two games in favor of Adam Dunn -- who absolutely has to be in the lineup -- in left field. Also, don't sleep on Gordon Beckham having a big series -- while the numbers don't show it, he's shown more signs of life at the plate in May than you may think. Who's someone on the Cubs who could be primed for a big series who we may not expect?
Tony: Ian Stewart and Alfonso Soriano. Everybody will be focusing on the Cubs' 1-2 punch of Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair. But Stewart has shown signs of life lately and has looked rather comfortable at the plate for the most part over the past week or so. Part of his problem is just how unlucky he's been. He just keeps hitting balls hard, just right at defenders. As for Soriano, he may be in one of those stretches he gets into from time to time. He is no longer at the point where he can single-handedly carry a club, but he can still be a driving force behind guys like Castro and LaHair. The advantage the Cubs hold in this series at Wrigley is the White Sox will have to play Dunn in the field and lose out on one of their everyday bats. Is that a good or bad thing for the South Siders?
JJ: Dayan Viciedo has eight hits in his last 16 at-bats with three home runs and only one strikeout, so I suppose parking him on the bench for Friday and Saturday's games isn't a good thing. But it's far more important to keep Dunn in the lineup against Dempster and Samardzija, and I imagine Viciedo will get to pinch-hit at some point in both games he doesn't start. The problem here is that the White Sox lineup may have to generate quite a bit of support for the starting rotation, namely John Danks, who has really struggled this year. Philip Humber finally put together his first good start since throwing his perfect game and Gavin Floyd was torched by the Angels on Tuesday, so maybe those two guys are toss-ups, too. For a lineup that's struggled to score at times this season, a bad start by any of those guys could be big trouble for the Sox. But then again, the Sox have historically been outstanding in interleague play, so maybe this is all overblown. Got a prediction for the series?
Tony: Yeah, I see the Cubs taking two of three games in this series. I think they'll win both the Samardzija and Dempster starts, but lose the game Maholm starts. Dempster is finally going to get his first win of 2012, at the hands of the crosstown rivals. I think all three games will be close, though. As you said the White Sox offense has been struggling of late so a bad start could doom the team, but the same can be said for the Cubs all year. This Cubs team will fight tooth and nail, but their offense just isn't a powerhouse, even if they have been swinging the bats better of late. What are you thinking for this series?
JJ: I like the pitching matchups for the Cubs, plus as I said earlier the White Sox haven't won any of their last eight series. I'll say they win the opener behind a good outing from Philip Humber, but won't be able to get to Samardzija or Maholm in the next two games. That being said, I'm looking forward to a few new chapters in this series being written. Everyone remembers the Pierzynski-Barrett brawl, but how about Carlos Lee and Jose Valentin walking off against Courtney Duncan and El Pulpo? Or Pierzynski belting a grand slam into the teeth of a stiff wind five years ago at Wrigley? Or Ray Durham hitting a 14th-inning walk-off single? Those are just a few from a South Side perspective -- what are some of your favorite moments?
Tony: June 20, 2008. That's what stands out the most. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez went back-to-back in the seventh off Octavio Dotel and then A-Ram hit a walk-off shot in the ninth. Cubs won 4-3. I was at the game with my mom and sisters wearing homemade shirts that said "Friends don't let friends be Sox fans" haha. Seriously. I remember going nuts during the seventh, and then jumping out of my seat the very second A-Ram made contact. I knew it was gone right away. I'll also always remember the Zambrano freak-out on Lee as well as the Milton Bradley incident in which he lost it on Lou Piniella. And of course, The Fight. That's one of those infamous "Where were you when..." type of moments in Chicago history.