Battle for the Windy City: Cubs-White Sox Preview
Robert Ferringo - 06/19/2008
When people bitch about the Evils of Interleague Play in Major League Baseball, this weekend is what they're talking about.
Let's see. We have several riveting series going this weekend: The Rangers-Nationals series is a can't miss. The Astros-Rays matchup is a crucial one. The Giants-Royals rivalry is one of the most underrated in the league. And let's not forget about the Orioles-Brewers or Tigers-Padres. Yup, I can feel the excitement bursting off my screen.
However, here is my rebuttal: this weekend we get the Second City Series as the Chicago White Sox head to Wrigley for three against their bitter cross-town rivals, the Chicago Cubs. Adding to the beauty and intrigue of the Windy City War is that both the Sox and the Cubs are presently in first place in their respective divisions. On top of that, you could make the argument that these have been the best two teams in baseball over the past two months.
I'm not a Chicago guy, so I don't have an innate sense of what this series means to the city. But from what I gather you're more likely to be stabbed leaving a Sox-Cubs game on the South Side than you are any other major rivalry in baseball. That's got to count for something.
The Cubs have the home field and they have a lot of things going for them heading into the weekend. They have won six of seven in this series dating back to 2006. They went a spectacular 5-1 against their nemesis last year, winning their five by an average of over three runs per game. The Cubbies are also a much better hitting team in the day (.283 to .259) and the opening two in this set will be played in the afternoon. Further, the Northsiders are a sparkling 38-13 in their last 51 games in Wrigley.
However, the White Sox are definitely going to be ready to pee in the Cubs' pool.
The Cubs are coming off a grueling three-game series against Tampa Bay down in the swamps of Florida while the White Sox have been lounging while taking the Pirates to the woodshed this week. The Cubs are the home team here yet they are the ones who have to worry about travel? You don't see that often.
Like any good rivalry, home field means squat. The road team is 11-7 over the last three years and the underdog is a very respectable 9-9. I expect the Southsiders to be puppies on Friday and Sunday, with a Saturday matchup of Jose Contreras vs. Jason Marquis likely to be around -110 on each side.
Throughout the Second City this weekend there will be wistful and foolhardy discussions about whether or not this is a World Series preview. I'll leave such nonsense to Jay Mariotti and the rest of the bobbleheads. (And if you're still wondering, the answer is a resounding "NO".) Instead I'm just worried about the best way to make a buck on their death match. Here's what I figured:
Pick one team and roll with it in a chase. The White Sox will likely have better odds, so it will likely be more profitable to side with them. They should be short dogs (-105 to +110) but it will be better than having to take losses on the Cubs laying the juice. The White Sox are 25-23 in this series over the last nine years and the road team is a very respectable 23 -25 during that stretch. The Sox are from the American League, and we all know that the A.L. are the big boys on the block. There has also only been one sweep in the last 18 series between these clubs, and that was a road sweep by the Cubs last year.
So the value is on the Sox, for a variety of matchup and intangible reasons. Remember, I'm not saying that the Sox will win the series. I'm just saying that I think they will win at least one game and are set up in a perfect chase situation.
Here's a quick game-by-game breakdown of this weekend's Second City Series:
Game 1: John Danks (+115) vs. Ted Lilly (-135)
I do believe that the Cubs have a very nice advantage in the pitching matchup. It's not that I think that Lilly is a much better hurler, but the Cubs are the second-best team in the league hitting against left-handed pitching (.291) while the White Sox are the second-worst batting against southpaw (.223). Now, that discrepancy alone would warrant a play. However, there is the residual letdown factor that the Cubs may or may not be going through after their heavy series down in Tampa. Also, the Sox are 4-2 in Game 1 of the series.
Game 2: Jose Contreras vs. Jason Marquis
At first glance this seems like a heavy pitching mismatch. But trust me, I've used Marquis a bunch for some very serious plays - Game of the Week and Game of the Month-type stuff - and he can definitely step up. Marquis owns a sensational 37-19 career record in day games and the Cubs are 17-5 in his last 22 home starts. Also, the White Sox are 0-3 in Jose's last three starts against the Cubs. Contreras had a string of six-straight starts giving up two runs or less before getting touched up for 10 runs in 12 innings in his last two starts, both losses. If you're playing this one straight up I think I'll love the value on the Cubs if they do lose Game 1. But if the White Sox dump the opener you have to like their odds to bounce back behind their ace.
Game 3: Javier Vazquez vs. Ryan Dempster
The series finale is the Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN and pits a pair of strikeout-happy hurlers in Dempster and Vazquez. Dempster has a pristine 2.76 ERA on the season and is 9-0 at Wrigley this season. He's also surrendered just three earned runs or less in 10 of his last 11. Vazquez has a 7.27 ERA in his last three starts but is a strikeout pitcher facing a team that is No. 8 in the league in Ks. Of the three games I think that this is the most likely to be a high-scoring affair, but a lot of that is going to have to do with the ever-swirling Wrigley winds and how the umps are calling them behind the dish.