Cubs-Sox, Ricketts-Obama, Sveum-Ventura: Will there be buzz?

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Cubs-Sox, Ricketts-Obama, Sveum-Ventura: Will there be buzz?

The Cubs were in damage-control mode on Thursday, with Tom Ricketts releasing a statement distancing his franchise from racially divisive issues.

The Cubs had woken up to a New York Times report linking the chairmans father, Joe, to potential attack ads against President Obama funded by a super PAC. The head of the Ricketts family issued a statement rejecting those plans.

The Ending Spending campaign message comes at a politically sensitive time, as the Cubs try to lobby government officials for help with renovating Wrigley Field.

Against that backdrop, Chicago will be hosting the always unpredictable series between the Cubs and White Sox, as well as the NATO summit that will bring an increased security presence around the city this weekend.

The bomb-sniffing dogs were out at Wrigley Field earlier this week (though thats been seen at the stadium before).

Whether its Carlos Zambrano being restrained from Derrek Lee in the dugout, or Michael Barrett punching A.J. Pierzynski at home plate, or Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella talking trash, or fans going after each other in the stands, this usually reaches a boiling point.

Whenever youre involved in these kind of series, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, theres way more tension than in any other series. Thats just a part of it. Am I going to sit here and say: Is anything gonna happen? No, but theres completely different emotions that go on (here) that you dont have in regular series.

So whether its emotions from the fans, emotions from playersits just a whole nother level of baseball.

Sveum and Robin Ventura his former teammate and current counterpart on the South Side are low-key, first-year managers that try to project a sense of calm and dont provide bulletin-board material.

Guillen loved the attention and loved this environment, ripping Wrigley Field and the rats he claimed were running around inside.

If Guillen hadnt taken his talents to South Beach, you could have asked him about the renovations plans or the White Sox fan in the White House.

Thats supposed to be off-limits now for Guillen. Last month in Little Havana the day after the Miami Marlins manager returned from his suspension for making comments about Fidel Castro he was asked how different the crosstown series will be without him.

It will be a big media event still, Guillen said. I tell a lot of people: Besides playing in the World Series or playoffs, thats the closest youre going to get, when you play White Sox-Cubs in town.

A lot of people talk about New York, St. Louis. No, I think (about) that series in Chicago. People take it very seriously and thats a big event in town.

The Cubs and White Sox reportedly might not be guaranteed the same six-game split between Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field next year, when the Houston Astros move to the American League and interleague play rolls on throughout the season.

As a player, its 162 games, every ones important, Cubs utility man Jeff Baker said. Theres not too many outside of Opening Day (and) the playoffs where you really get overexcited. If you lose to the White Sox, its the same as losing to the Reds. (But) its not stale by any means.

On the flip side of that, for the fans, its awesome. Its water-cooler discussion. You see people at gas stations yelling at each other when youre filling up (the car). I know the city likes it and the city appreciates it, so I dont want to say as players its stale to us. We still get up for it. Its still fun. But I think it means a lot more to the fans.

Really, youve seen fans yelling at each other at the gas station?

I have, Baker said. I was picking up family out at Midway (in 2010). There were some Cubs fans out there. (Obviously, that areas) predominantly White Sox fans. They were yelling at each other. It was kind of funny. I kind of pumped my gas quickly and got (away) in my car.

The Bulls and Blackhawks have already been eliminated from the playoffs, and the Bears are weeks away from training camp. This city is going to start focusing on their two sub-.500 baseball teams.

You got to root for someone now, said Jeff Samardzija, who gets the start for the Cubs on Friday. I guess you got to pick the North or the South.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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