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Shortened Crosstown Classic Loses Its Luster

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 27, 2013 6:00PM

Photo credit: Colin Clinard

Among the natural regional interleague rivalries in Major League Baseball, the Crosstown Classic between the Cubs and White Sox has arguably been the most personal. Fans of the two teams have sniped at each other—sometimes coming to blows on and off the field—over which team is the most dominant.

Changes to MLB's schedule now have interleague play happening throughout the season, the Crosstown Classic has been shortened to four games, starting tonight at U.S. Cellular Field for two games before heading to Clark and Addison for two more at Wrigley Field. But the rivalry has waned over the years as what was a novelty when interleague play began in 1997 is now a regular feature on the schedule.

The preponderance of interleague games isn't the only factor contributing to the "meh" nature of the rivalry these days. So has the quality of play of the two teams. The Cubs are in Year Two of the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer rebuilding plan and snapped a six game losing streak Sunday with a 5-4, 10-inning win over Cincinnati. The foundation of the rebuild is in place with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro signed to long-term deals and the starting rotation is pitching respectably enough to have some analysts paying attention.

Though their records aren't reflective of their performances, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva have proven to be studs in the making. The return of Matt Garza gives manager Dale Sveum flexibility in the rotation in case Edwin Jackson (who was signed to a lucrative deal in the offseason) can't turn around his early season struggles. Kevin Gregg, who picked up the win Sunday, has claimed his stake to the closer role and Carlos Marmol is performing better as a setup man than a closer (better being a relative term. But the rest of the relief corp remains one of the Cubs' main weaknesses. Shawn Camp and Kyuji Fujikawa are on the disabled list, but Camp, James Russell and Marmol have proven to be a shaky bridge between the starters and Gregg.

The White Sox are where most of the pundits expected them to be at this point in the season: Stuck in the middle of the pack. The Sox evened their record at .500 with Sunday's 5-3 win over Miami. Pitching is still the strength of this team. Chris Sale, Jake Peavy and Jose Quintana are locks in the rotation. Sale has proven his breakout 2012 season is no fluke and Quintana's 3-1 record and 3.48 ERA may be even more impressive. Dylan Axelrod has done everything manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper have asked of him and Hector Santiago has pitched well in spot starts and relief roles. The bullpen, anchored by Addison Reed and Matt Thornton, has been outstanding.

The Sox hitters, with their reliance on station to station baseball, has been a disappointment. Adam Dunn has started to right his ship after a horrid start to the season and is putting up respectable power numbers (although his .159 batting average still induces winces) and Alex Rios has been the Sox' most consistent hitter with a .296 batting average, 10 home runs and 28 RBI. Injuries have sidelines Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo, but the rest of the lineup couldn't hit a wiffle ball. Paul Konerko has been mired in a season long slump and only has five home runs and 19 RBis on the season, but that hasn't stopped fans at 35th and Shield from cheering for him at games like conquering hero every time Metallica's "Harvester of Sorrow"—his at-bat music—plays. Tyler Flowers is batting .202 and, worse, hasn't proven to be the defensive improvement over AJ Pierzynski GM Rick Hahn and Ventura expected.

The most shocking aspect of the White Sox' play this season has been on the defensive end. They've already committed 31 errors this season—they didn't commit their 30th error last year until July. With a lineup that has problems producing runs, the Sox' poor fielding puts extra pressure on the pitching to not make a mistake.