Manager Ozzie Guillen stated once again that while he knows this series is big for the fans and even the media, playing home-and-home competitions is just a little too much to take. First baseman Paul Konerko and general manager Ken Williams like the midseason push of playoff atmosphere these three games will bring, an apparent early taste of the postseason for the best team in baseball.
One thing is certain, though, the importance for these games is ranked on an individual basis. The White Sox, with a record of 49-22 and a near double-digit lead over the second-place Twins in the American League Central, are not going to change their game in a quest for increased bragging rights.
It was the same overriding opinion expressed by the White Sox when they took two of three contests from the Cubs at Wrigley Field, giving them a 24-21 all-time edge over the North Siders.
"The Cubs are just another team coming up on the schedule and that's ultimately the bottom line," Williams said. "We need to win two of the three games, if not all three, to head toward our goal. Any other of the exterior or peripheral factors that these games are about, it's for everyone else to get caught up in."
For a brief instance, it looked as if the weekend's pitching matchups would bare a striking resemblance to the first three-game set. Freddy Garcia, who entered his start against the Cubs on May 20 struggling mightily, did not allow an earned run over seven innings on that particular afternoon and hasn't lost since that effort. He bested Greg Maddux in the 5-1 final.
Jose Contreras turned in a stellar effort during Game 2, allowing four hits and one run over seven innings, and picked up the win when Paul Konerko came through against the Cubs' bullpen with a two-run single that led to a four-run eighth and a 5-3 victory. The White Sox couldn't get to Carlos Zambrano, who allowed one hit over seven innings.
Sunday produced the only Cubs victory, with Mark Prior going the distance in a 4-3 decision. Brandon McCarthy made his Major League debut during that particular contest, but left after 5 1/3 innings, without factoring in the final outcome.
"They're a better team probably now than they were when we faced them over at Wrigley," Konerko said. "It should be a good matchup."
The upcoming series begins Friday with Garcia taking to the mound against Sergio Mitre, the Cubs sinkerball specialist. A matchup between Maddux and Contreras follows, and Sunday most likely features Jon Garland, going for his career-high 13th victory, against Prior, returning from a non-displaced compression fracture just above his pitching elbow.
Guillen was asked about the excitement of a possible Prior-Garland duel, pitched before a soldout crowd. But he added a little fuel to the city's baseball fire by answering honestly when comparing the two.
"Not this year. Garland is better than Prior right now," said Guillen of Garland, who was moved up from the Detroit series to avoid having one week off between starts. "Garland has pitched three years in a row without going on the disabled list.
"Prior is a tremendous pitcher, and I have a ton of respect for him. He can be one of the greatest pitchers to wear a Cubs uniform, if he can stay healthy."
Of course, this weekend is not without a little controversy. There were six batters hit during the last time these two teams met, and then there are Mark Buehrle's off-the-cuff comments during a radio interview last week concerning a North Side hurler who might feature a spit ball. Williams laughed off the latter issue, pointing out that the Cubs took the comment in good-natured stride.
Whether this series is circled as a favorite or to be avoided at all costs, it's back for three more games. Thomas is back, Prior is back and so are the packed houses.
The unparalleled intensity also returns, with a few extra benefits.
"It's certainly no shortage of excitement and energy," Williams said. "I kind of like the midseason boost, and coming from a guy who can use any extra dollars in the coffers for payroll purposes, I kind of like to see when the ballpark is full. So, from my perspective, we can play seven, eight or nine more times."
"That's what a pennant race is all about, intensity," Cubs manager Dusty Baker added. "And quality of play. Sure they have played excellent ball. I think we give them more compliments on how they play than they give us as a team. It's going to make for an exciting weekend."
RHP Sergio Mitre
2-2, 4.19 ERA in 2005
Has never faced CWS
CWS: RHP Freddy Garcia
6-3, 3.75 ERA in 2005
1-0, 0.00 ERA in 2005 vs. CHC
Player to watch
Thomas is back and ready to go on Friday. He has six home runs and 13 career RBIs against the Cubs, along with 22 walks in 118 plate appearances.
"I don't think it's so much of the six games against the Cubs, but it's the other Interleague games that kind of put a damper on it." -- Konerko, in support of playing six games against the Cubs during Interleague Play, instead of just three as has happened in 1997 and 1998
On the Internet
Official game notes
: WGN 720 AM
: ESPN Radio WMVP-AM 1000
Konerko has nine career home runs against the Cubs. Jermaine Dye has three and three RBIs. ... Thomas recorded his first double since June 29, 2004 at Minnesota and scored his 1,317th career run
on Wednesday, leaving him one shy of Ryne Sandberg and Patsy Donovan for 100th all-time. ... Tadahito Iguchi has reached base in 13 of his last 15 games. ... Carl Everett has 15 RBIs over his last 11 games, going 19-for-49, with four home runs. ... The White Sox have hit 18 home runs in their last 10 games. ... The White Sox are 18-4-2 in series this season ... The White Sox have an 11-4 Interleague record, second best behind Cleveland. ... The White
Sox are 23-5 against the American League Central. ... They are 26-10 at home, 13-7 vs. left-handed starters, 18-7 during the day, 14-5 in June and 7-2 on this current 12-game homestand.
vs. Cubs, 3:05 p.m. CT
Sunday: vs. Cubs, 2:05 p.m. CT
Tuesday: at Detroit, 6:05 p.m. CT