This year, instead of matching three-game series between the Chicago city rivals, the Cubs and White Sox will play back-to-back two-game series, home and home, the last week of May (the 27th and 28th, night games at the Cell; the 29th and 30th, day games at Wrigley Field).
This is an improvement, although I'd have been fine with one series per year, alternating between the two parks. The interleague "rivalry" series have run their course as being special, in my view; just one of the six games between the two clubs was a sellout in 2012, and the three games at the Cell fell short of selling out by several thousand each, primarily because the White Sox had the tickets priced far too high for the types of games these were.
The White Sox have lowered ticket prices significantly this year, and that might help them fill their park. They've got a good team that was in first place in 2012 for most of the year, and they had a three-game lead with 15 games to play, which they proceeded to blow by going 4-11 in those games.
They'll have to try to beat out the Tigers in the AL Central this year without a player who's been one of their key contributors -- not to mention a player Cubs fans loved to hate -- catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was allowed to leave as a free agent. The White Sox think Tyler Flowers is ready to take over full-time after two years as A.J.'s backup, during which he hit .211/.302/.411 with 12 home runs in 98 total games. He might be decent at the job, but offensively he appears to be the second coming of Ron Karkovice.
So the White Sox, who had a very good offensive season in 2012 (fourth in the AL in runs) will have to get stepped-up contributions from guys who had really good years; Adam Dunn recovered from his horrific 2011 to produce good power numbers, though his .204 BA and 222 strikeouts have to be concerning. Alex Rios, Paul Konerko and Dayan Viciedo all hit 25 or more home runs. The Sox hope Viciedo, who doesn't turn 24 until next week, will improve.
They also hope to get more offense out of Gordon Beckham, who reportedly has gone on an offseason workout program. If that happens, the Sox could make up for losing A.J.'s offense. They'll have Jeff Keppinger, their only major outside-the-organization addition, to play third base, or possibly Brent Morel will reclaim the job he lost to injury and bad performance.
The pitching staff returns intact; the Sox hope John Danks returns from last year's injury that cost him most of the season. The bullpen is solid, as beyond closer Addison Reed, they have good setup men in Jesse Crain and Nate Jones, and added Matt Lindstrom as a free agent.
The White Sox are good and should contend. That doesn't mean the Cubs can't play them tough, as they have generally done, although the White Sox have won four of the six games each of the last four seasons, and lead the all-time series 49-41, after it was tied 33-33 following 2008 with an almost identical run total for each side.
This series will take another weekend break and resume Monday with a look at the Houston Astros.