Joe Maddon caused a minor uproar on the South Side when he dared to compliment the White Sox on Wednesday.
“I look at their lineup, and I know these guys. They’re good,” Maddon said. “They’re really good. I’ve seen it firsthand.”
The White Sox offense hasn’t been good this year — there’s no way to sugarcoat that, not when it’s scored 3.45 runs per game and only managed two runs against Toronto Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who entered his start Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field with a 5.02 ERA. But Maddon’s positivity isn’t without merit, not while guys like Melky Cabrera, who’s played much better lately, Adam LaRoche and Alexei Ramirez hit well below their career averages.
That’s the dilemma facing the White Sox right now: Should the team enter sell mode over the next few weeks, or should Rick Hahn & Co. continue to wait for an under-performing offense to start hitting at the level they expected coming into the season?
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“It is hard having now seen this for 81 games, to not trust what your eyes are showing you,” Hahn said earlier this week. “And it’s showing you it’s not clicking for whatever reason and you’ve got to change this mix.
“Those are the two avenues in front of us right now.”
The White Sox, at this point, just need wins. After Jeff Samardzija’s four-hit shutout of Toronto on Thursday, they’re 39-44 — which leaves them one extended hot streak away from legitimately climbing back into the AL Wild Card race. It also leaves them one extended losing streak away from possibly seeing some of their teammates dealt in the coming weeks.
“We know the situation,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through a translator. “We know what part of the year we are in. But we don’t have the power to control it. We just have to play our game and let the front office do their job.”
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The Cubs are in a decidedly different position heading into this weekend’s three-game Crosstown series at Wrigley Field.
The questions on Clark and Addison center around who the Cubs should consider adding at the trade deadline. The Cubs could always use more pitching to solidify their status as legitimate Wild Card contenders.
A young, talented roster enters the weekend with a healthy 46-38 record and three-game lead on the New York Mets for the second Wild Card spot. The San Francisco Giants, the defending champions, are fading while the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves have done well to hang around .500 and the playoff race.
But the Cubs aren’t getting ahead of themselves as they try to end a seven-year postseason drought.
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“It’s only a half,” All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant said. “I think we have a long way to go, but we’re playing pretty good.”
This is a team that was legitimately disappointed to not take a four-game series from the first-place Cardinals this week, with Jhonny Peralta’s go-ahead two-run home run in the ninth inning Wednesday a gutting blow to the clubhouse. That was the kind of game the Cubs feel like they’ll have to win to stay in the playoff race and make and impact in October.
While the White Sox enter this weekend squarely below .500, they do represent another important hurdle for the Cubs to clear. This is a team that’s played well against teams like the Pirates (6-4) and Mets (7-0) but has struggled against a handful of teams near the bottom of their respective divisions.
“If you really want to play in October and you believe that’s your goal, then you have to — the teams that are really, really good right now that are playing at a high level, of course, you’re almost looking to stay with them," Maddon said. "The teams that are not playing that well, there’s probably a reason why they are not. You really do need to take advantage of those moments.”
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But Crosstown games can be unpredictable. The Cubs were eight games over .500 in 1999 before the White Sox dealt them a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field — and by the time the series returned to the South Side, the Cubs were four games under .500. The two teams split six games in 2005, four months before the White Sox went on to win the World Series.
While you’ll hear refrains of "it’s just another game” emanating from the home and away clubhouses at Wrigley Field over the next few days, there is a different dynamic to these games — even with both the Cubs and White Sox at different positions heading into the weekend.
“Everybody downplays it,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said, “but there’s always a little more energy in either stadium, whichever one you’re playing in, when you’re playing in those games.”