By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) There’s bad news for fans of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox who irrationally hate the team on the other side of town: You need them.
As the Crosstown Classic kicks off Monday, the buzz around the conjured Civil War has long ago died down, and the lopsided rosters entering the two games at Wrigley Field followed by two at Guaranteed Rate Field just don’t have the warm, fuzzy bloodlust of years back. That’s not to say these four games don’t have something to offer.
The 2017 season has already made for strange bedfellows, with the two Chicago teams pulling off the rare major trade that sent left-hander Jose Quintana to the North Side in exchange for further bolstering White Sox general manager Rick Hahn’s impressive farm system. Irony abounds when you realize it’s the Cubs helping the White Sox down the exact path the Cubs trudged along starting with a 101-loss 2012 and culminating with a 2016 World Series title. Now as the two teams face each other, a before and after picture of doing a rebuild right, there’s still a symbiosis present.
The Cubs need the White Sox to be the easy meat their current nine-game losing streak is evidence of. With Sunday’s victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs now sit tied for first place in the National League Central with a Milwaukee Brewers team that has lost seven of its last eight, including two of three over the weekend to MLB’s worst team, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Meanwhile, the White Sox need the Cubs to annihilate them. There’s no chance of the South Siders lying down, and five of the losses during this streak have been by a mere single run. But where the players can’t be expected to purposely tank for the organization’s long-term good, Hahn’s ego certainly will squash his id’s reflexive desire to ruin a good thing going on the North Side.
It kind of stinks that Quintana, who got the win Sunday night, won’t face his former team to add that extra bit of emotion to the experience, but fans of both teams at least know that because of him both teams are better off in their immediate needs. That creates a sort of thin-lipped head nod from fans on both sides at one another, some bitter medicine having gone down the hatch to improve the long-term health.
“It was awesome,” Quintana said about his first Wrigley start in blue pinstripes. “(There was) a lot of energy. I enjoyed that.”
Oooo, is that some attendance-shaming of his old team? Uh oh.
Actually, it’s not, try as we might to manufacture some bad blood. We have dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, with the hysteria being a quid pro quo maybe never seen in this town. The White Sox helping the Cubs. The Cubs helping the White Sox. “It’s really nice, isn’t it?” you say through a clenched smile, a bead of sweat trickling down your temple as you suppress a shudder.
The dangerous aspect of this is the two teams meeting at a time in which one is playing its best baseball, winning eight of nine out of the All-Star Break, and the other playing the piñata while parts a gradually shipped elsewhere. Baseball streaks and trends end at some point, and means must be regressed to. The White Sox will win a game or two at some point between now and October, and the Cubs won’t sustain an .888 winning percentage. Hopefully the mathematical corrections don’t happen against each other, though.
“We haven’t had a run (until now),” manager Joe Maddon said. “We’ve not run at all in the first half, we’ve been walking the whole first half. We finally get on a little bit of a mini-run now, and that coincides with the other team (St. Louis) not doing as well. Bully for us.”
And if that run could keep going, that’d be great. White Sox players unwillingly helping out — even better.
Yes, it’s particularly difficult for White Sox fans this week to mumble to themselves “tank, tank, tank” to try pick as high as possible in the next draft. But they have to swallow it despite wanting as many of the very few bits of joy this year as possible. At the same time, Cubs fans have a goal far beyond civic pride, and rubbing White Sox fans’ noses in anything just doesn’t seem likely. Especially because Cubs fans know what’s manifesting on the South Side right now even if they don’t want to admit their empathy. Players, too.
“They’re OK with me,” Cubs infielder Javier Baez said of meeting White Sox fans when out and about in Chicago. “We understand.”
Cub fans remember their own versions of Yoan Moncada Day when a season as a whole was purposefully in the toilet. These two fan bases are samesies.
Cubs gotta keep winning, and the White Sox gotta keep losing. There are four games in which those two backs can be scratched.
“I’m not thinking about first place,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said. “I’m thinking of the game that we have (Monday) against the White Sox and (we) keep doing what we’ve been doing lately.”
Attaboy, Willy. Keep it in kill mode against this intentionally weak opponent. And what about White Sox manager Rick Renteria’s vendetta against the team that betrayed him in favor of Maddon?
“It’s not going to be any different, I don’t think,” Renteria said about returning to Wrigley. “It’s bittersweet. There’s where I got my first managing opportunity. But I really take away fond memories from being there, and now I happen to be on the South Side. We’re going to go in there and try to beat the Cubs.”
Mmm, that’s some delicious blandness this faux-rivalry needs to keep both teams on their appropriate paths, ones that intersect this week at different stages of planned success where these two teams need one another for equally different reasons.
But, if all goes respectively well, those paths could again converge in a few years in a Red Line World Series. And maybe they’ll have each other to thank.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.