Instead of debating about which team is better, the latest installment of the Crosstown Series has now become at least partially about Javy Baez.
The White Sox have been out of playoff contention for weeks in a season that has been tabbed a "rebuilding" year from the outset. Meanwhile, the Cubs are marching toward a fourth straight postseason berth.
So what else do Chicagoans have to argue about?
As Hawk Harrelson steps down from the booth this weekend, maybe it's Baez who is emerging as the central polarizing figure in this crosstown "rivalry."
Cubs fans love them some "El Mago" and some corners of the Sox faithful can't stand to think of Baez as the NL MVP.
Just watch/listen to the crowd every time Baez steps up to the plate at Guaranteed Rate Field this weekend.
Hours after Cubs manager Joe Maddon raved about Baez's value to the North Siders, the NL MVP candidate went out and had himself an eventful first inning Saturday night — drilling a two-run shot, committing an error that led to an unearned run and then making a slick sliding stop to end the opening frame:
He later added a seventh-inning walk and a ninth-inning RBI single, bringing his season slash line to .293/.329/.569 (.898 OPS) in helping the Cubs to an 8-3 win and extending their lead to 2.5 games in the division.
"It's gotta be really exciting for him and his family right now," Maddon said. "We've been through it before a couple years ago with [Kris Bryant]. It's nice to see Javy arrive at this point. I mean, when we first got here, all the talent in the world — big swing, little bit out of control with his game, errors on routine plays and now all of a sudden, he's making the routine play routinely and then he's still able to make the spectacular play.
"And he's on the verge of accepting walks and when he's on the verge of doing that, that's when his hitting's gonna really take off. Lotta credit for him — he plays every day with energy, mentally and physically."
At this point, the NL MVP race probably comes down to Baez, Milwaukee's Christian Yelich and Atlanta's Freddie Freeman over the final week of the season.
"For me, what puts him above everybody in that talk is his ability to play multiple positions," said Jon Lester, who improved to 17-6 on the season in Saturday's win. "I think it's easy to show up every day and know what spot in the order you're gonna hit and what position you're gonna play. I think that's kinda the ease-of-mind type thing. Javy's done it at second, short, third for us all year. So I feel like that puts a little bit of added burden on him as far as showing up every day and not knowing where exactly he's gonna play.
"The offensive side of it speaks for itself. People want to nitpick at the fact that he doesn't walk, but I think the numbers speak for themselves — .300 with 34 [homers] with [110 RBI] and that's hard to argue. I know the other guys are good and I'm not taking anything away from those guys, but I think when you add multiple positions to a guy, I think that changes my vote for sure."
With Addison Russell on administrative leave, Baez slots over to shortstop full time for the Cubs indefinitely.
Saturday marked Baez's 43rd start of the season at short, but he's spent the majority of his time at second base (75 starts) while also dabbling at the hot corner (18 starts at third base).
Regardless of where he's played defensively, Baez has put up numbers that very well may earn him some serious hardware this November.
"He fits," Maddon said. "Listen, look at our league — [Dodgers shortstop Corey] Seager's been out the whole season. [Brandon] Crawford is really good in San Francisco. But for the most part, think about it — [Baez] might be the best overall shortstop in the league right now.
"Grade it all out with his offense, defense, baserunning, etc. American League, there's some competition on that side. But overall, I mean, he's a Top 3/Top 5 shortstop in all of baseball right now, even though he has not played there a whole lot."
FanGraphs ranks Baez as the fourth-most valuable shortstop this year with 5.2 WAR, coming in behind Francisco Lindor (7.4 WAR), Manny Machado (5.7) and Andrelton Simmons (5.3).
Maddon didn't mention Trevor Story (4.5 WAR), the Colorado shortstop who has thrown his name in the hat for NL MVP with 33 homers, 102 RBI and an .894 OPS, though he's currently out with an elbow injury and his Rockies may be fading in the postseason race.
But Baez is pacing the entire NL (regardless of position) in RBI — 109 now after Saturday's 2-run shot — and he is tied for second in homers, second in slugging percentage, sixth in runs scored, eighth in OPS, ninth in hits and 10th in stolen bases.
It's impossible to truly calculate his intangibles (baseball IQ, disruption on the basepaths, all-around swag) and his value to this Cubs team, but one thing is certain: The North Siders would not have driven into the South Side Saturday morning with a 1.5-game lead in the NL Central if not for Ednel Javier Baez this season.
Not many teams could lose their starting shortstop 10 days before the end of the season and be able to replace a Gold Glove-caliber defender so easily.
"We're kind of lucky that Javy is able to do that as well as he does," Maddon said. "He's had a lot of play out there already this year. So yeah, I feel very comfortable about it. ... You don't even think twice when you put Javy's name at shortstop."