On The Horizon: Cubs vs. White Sox Series Preview

That's what a guy with 11 homers looks like. From the back, at least. - Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs win their first series of the year, taking two of three from the Cardinals, and now they face the White Sox in the 2014 Crosstown Classic.

It's Crosstown Classic time! Ah yes, that wonderful time of year when the gauntlet is thrown down for the BP Cup. It took some work to find it; apparently Dave Sappelt took it home with him after the final game of the Classic last year and no one thought to ask him (until now) if he had it. Guess you'll have to find something else to use as a popcorn bowl, Dave. Sorry about that.

The Cubs took two games out of three from the St. Louis Cardinals, beating both Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, but lost the final game when they went to the well one time too many, bringing in Hector Rondon for a fourth straight game and losing 5-4. The Cubs' record now stands at 11-18. The White Sox come into the 2014 Classic with a 15-17 record after taking one of three on the road against the Cleveland Indians.  The Cubs swept the series last year 4-0; it was the first time they had won the annual matchup since 2007.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Monday - Jose Quintana (1-2, 4.00 ERA, 1.333 WHIP) vs. Jeff Samardzija (0-3, 1.98 ERA, 1.244 WHIP)
Tuesday - Hector Noesi (0-2, 11.12 ERA, 1.941 WHIP) vs. Edwin Jackson (2-2, 5.24 ERA, 1.573 WHIP)
Wednesday - Travis Wood (2-3, 3.35 ERA, 1.248 WHIP) vs. John Danks (2-2, 5.00 ERA, 1.583 WHIP)
Thursday - Jake Arrieta (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.125 WHIP) vs. Scott Carroll (1-1, 0.68 ERA, 1.050 WHIP)

After only one month of the season, the White Sox rotation already has three starters on it that were not in the Opening Day rotation. They have two starters on the disabled list (Chris Sale, forearm; Felipe Paulino, rotator cuff), and Erik Johnson was sent down to AAA Charlotte due to general badness. Fun fact about Hector Noesi: he started the season with the Seattle Mariners, had two relief outings there before he was sent to the Texas Rangers, and had three relief appearances there before joining the White Sox. I guess he doesn't pack too heavily. For as subpar as their starting pitching has been (5.19 ERA, 1.512 WHIP), their bullpen has been just as bad (4.30 ERA, 1.549 WHIP). All of this of course means that we'll probably score a total of seven runs or less in the series, because that's how these things work.

THE OFFENSE:

The White Sox offense features six players whose OPS is currently at or above .750 (and three above .900):

In case you wondered how the White Sox had been staying so close to .500 (other than Chris Sale), there's your answer. Going into Sunday's game against Cleveland, the Sox were second in the American League in batting average and third in OPS. They were also leading the AL with 159 runs scored and 290 hits. They have to be loving the fact that Jackson is pitching in this series. I guess we can't shift the rotation around to get him out of there, can we? Gillaspie is currently on the DL (along with the pitching staff) and will not be playing in this series; Marcus Semien has shifted over to third and Gordon Beckham has been playing second (with his .471 OPS). So there's a silver lining.

For the Cubs, Anthony Rizzo continues his hot pace and comes into the series with a .930 OPS. Also joining him in the over-.750 club are previous entrants Welington Castillo (.824), Starlin Castro (.787), and Emilio Bonifacio (.761). New to the group this series is Luis Valbuena, whose 2-for-4 outing on Sunday brings his OPS up to .757.  Maybe it's just guys whose names end in a vowel.  Junior Lake's still got some work to do, though (.728), and since "y" can also be a consonant, that would disqualify Darwin Barney (.416).

GAME PROJECTIONS:

The Cubs get two lefties in this series (Quintana and Danks) which, in a bizarre reversal of fortune, should work well for them. They are hitting .276 against lefty starters with a .775 OPS, their best numbers against lefty starters since 2010. This should be the start where Shark finally gets off of the schneid. Approximately four people will want to see Tuesday's game, and Noesi's likelihood as a starter depends wholly on whether or not he gets shipped to a fourth team before Monday ends. The Sox are pounding lefty starters themselves (.289 AVG, .807 OPS), so Wednesday's game could be a high-scoring affair. The game with the potential for the best pitchers' duel could be the series finale between Arrieta and Carroll. That depends primarily on Arrieta; given the Cubs' past history with rookie (or, in this case, 29-year-old-career-minor-league) starters, it's very likely that Carroll will join the ranks of pitchers that resemble Cy Young, at least for one day.

RUSS' PREDICTION: 2-2. This series is potentially the easiest series that the Cubs will have in the month of May. I really wanted to put down 3-1 for this one, but the combination of Jackson in Game 2 and Carroll in Game 4 are leading me to the split. One way or the other, the BP Cup should come home again for another year, this time to be used as a paperweight on Theo Epstein's desk.

NEXT STOP: After the Crosstown Classic comes to a close, the Cubs continue their nine-game road trip with a three-game set in Atlanta against the Braves.  I believe the ride's about to get bumpy again.

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