CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko has played in enough Major League Baseball games, both of the postseason and regular-season variety, that the White Sox captain understands Interleague games with the Cubs represent something special.
"I've obviously been in those series a long time," said Konerko, who is a .293 hitter with 18 homers and 48 RBIs over 65 games against the Cubs. "They're always good, because it always breaks it up for the guys.
"It's not the playoffs, but it's kind of somewhere in between the regular season and playoffs. It always kind of has that feel -- it's heightened."
Three games against the Cubs this weekend at Wrigley Field, beginning with Friday's first pitch at 1:20 p.m. CT and followed by a 6:15 p.m. game Saturday and 1:20 p.m. start Sunday, renew this heightened rivalry. It also marks the open of 18 Interleague games for the White Sox, with their featured opponents coming from the National League Central.
Interleague Play takes an almost month-long break for the White Sox after the Cubs, before they host Houston on June 8, embark on a road trip to St. Louis and Los Angeles on June 12 and then close out play against the NL with home series against the Cubs and Brewers. This weekend's debut series features pitching matchups of Philip Humber vs. Jeff Samardzija, John Danks vs. Ryan Dempster and Jake Peavy against Paul Maholm.
Danks, who has a 1.38 ERA and 14 strikeouts without a walk over 13 innings at Wrigley Field, looks forward to the atmosphere of this rivalry.
"Those are different games from what we play the rest of the year," said Danks. "It's exciting. It's fun.
"Hopefully we'll play well. We get to a hit. That's a joy for the pitchers. You try not to embarrass yourself too bad."
Look for Adam Dunn to start all three games at Wrigley Field in left field, with manager Robin Ventura not wanting to lose Dunn's bat because of the designated-hitter absence. The White Sox also will be playing on little rest, returning to Chicago well after midnight following Thursday's finale in Anaheim.
Playing the Cubs should give the White Sox that extra boost of energy needed.
"Any time you are in a city that has two teams, those games mean a lot," Ventura said. "It's fun for the fans. It's good for us, too.
"You get a different atmosphere. It's a different energy level, fan-wise. Whether it's over there or here, it's fun. It breaks things up."
Players to watch
Paul Konerko, 1B (.305, 54 HR, 155 RBI): With a strong 18-game power showing, Konerko could catch Ken Griffey Jr. (55) and Jim Thome (59) for the all-time Interleague home run lead.
Jake Peavy, RHP (13-8, 3.01 ERA): The right-hander made two Interleague starts last year, beating the Cubs and getting a no-decision in Colorado. But Peavy, who ranks fourth in all-time Interleague ERA, has been one of the AL's best 2012 starters to date.
John Danks, LHP (6-3, 2.97 ERA): A very tough start for Danks could turn around quickly, based on his past success against the NL.
Alexei Ramirez, SS (.302, 13 HR, 46 RBI): The weather warms up and usually so does Ramirez's game with the bat. The Cubs could be a jumping off point to boost his average.
It was another strong season against the Senior Circuit for the White Sox, finishing with an 11-7 mark that was tied with Cleveland for fourth-best in the American League. The Interleague run helped bring the White Sox within one game of .500 and back to just 3 1/2 games of the AL Central lead.
The 154-111 Interleague mark produced by the White Sox ranks them second in history in regard to victories and winning percentage (.581), trailing only the Yankees (157-107, .595) in both categories. The White Sox posted their best Interleague record in 2010, going 15-3, and they posted their poorest Interleague record in '07, when they went 4-14 against the NL and lost 90 games overall.
Vs. Opponent@ Cubs, Friday-Sunday: The White Sox have a 20-22 record at Wrigley Field during Interleague Play but have won five of the past seven games played there. That streak has helped them claim a 45-39 series lead, with the White Sox looking to take down Ryan Dempster and Jeff Samardzija, slow down Tony Campana and shut down Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair. The Crosstown Showdown continues from June 18-20 at U.S. Cellular field.
Vs. Astros, June 8-10: Since the South Siders' 2005 World Series sweep, these teams have split six Interleague games in Chicago ('06) and Houston ('07). The Astros have been somewhat of an early surprise behind Jose Altuve and former White Sox standout Carlos Lee, who hit the first Interleague walk-off grand slam on June 8, 2001, off the Cubs' Courtney Duncan as part of the White Sox.
@ Cardinals, June 12-14: In 2006, with one-time White Sox manager Tony La Russa still at the helm, the Cardinals visited U.S. Cellular Field and were swept in a three-game series that included a 20-6 White Sox victory and a near no-hitter from Anthony Reyes, with Jim Thome's homer serving as the White Sox lone hit in a 1-0 victory. La Russa has since retired, but the Cardinals are going strong behind Carlos Beltran and David Freese and hope to improve their 10-8 edge over the White Sox.
@ Dodgers, June 15-17: One of Ventura's former teams has a dismal 4-11 record against the White Sox, including a 2005 sweep at the hands of the eventual World Series champions. The White Sox won the series between the two last year at home, but will be taking on Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Either at Dodger Stadium following a series in St. Louis.
Vs. Brewers, June 22-24: These teams have not played since 2009, when the White Sox captured the series at Miller Park and Mark Buehrle hit his only career home run. The White Sox finish Interleague Play against Ryan Braun, John Axford and Aramis Ramirez, who they saw frequently in battles against the Cubs.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.