Jake Burger has never played in a contest against the Cubs, with all due respect paid to past Cactus League matchups in Mesa, Ariz., and Glendale, Ariz. So, the rookie third baseman is excited about these two nights of action at Wrigley Field.
“It’s one of the greatest rivalries in baseball,” Burger told MLB.com prior to Monday’s series finale with the Angels. “I’m excited for it, especially you get Wrigley and then Fenway in the same week. It’s crazy.
“City of Chicago, greatest fans ever. It will be fun. Obviously, we both have goals for October and so every game matters. This one is close to home, and you get a lot more Sox fans there.”
The White Sox enter these games on Tuesday and Wednesday with a 70-64 edge in Interleague competition, posting a 35-32 ledger at Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate Field. The two teams didn’t meet for the first time until Aug. 6 last season, with the Cubs looking like a decidedly different team after a plethora of trades, and the White Sox cruised to a 5-1 overall record.
Let’s also be honest about this rivalry. It’s not quite the same meaning, that same fervor, as when it first began, when rotations were sometimes set ahead of time to get the best matchups for the crosstown showdown. Some of that change falls upon a lack of true characters such as Ozzie Guillen, Lou Piniella, A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Zambrano, to name a few.
But part of the change has to do with the teams’ ultimate focus. For me, this rivalry became something different when the Cubs came within five outs of reaching the World Series in 2003. It truly changed when the White Sox won the 2005 World Series, and the 2016 Cubs did the same.
Beating your crosstown rival is always significant. In the case of the ’22 White Sox, who have World Series aspirations, it’s just a small goal on the road to the ultimate prize.
I wanted to see what fans thought, and as of Monday at lunchtime, there were 119 replies and 81 quote tweets concerning the rivalry. Some fans viewed it as just another game. Some fans wanted bragging rights. Many White Sox fans look at these two games as must-wins to get their team back on track after an 8-13 start.
Manager Tony La Russa, who managed during his first White Sox stint in the exhibition form of this rivalry, is looking forward to the matchups at Wrigley and the two on May 28-29 on the South Side.
“Our guys are fired up and I know the Cubs guys are fired up,” La Russa said. “When you play 162 and you have four of them now that are going to have a special edge, you take it, and you embrace it. It’s like the postseason in May.”