Many socially distanced Chicago baseball fans envisioned a dazzling encounter between the Cubs and host White Sox when the truncated schedule pitted the teams against each other for the final weekend of the regular season.
To be sure, a pair of postseason bubble-bound ballclubs will be meeting at Guaranteed Rate Field, but with the Cubs and White Sox losing a combined 11 of 13 games entering Friday, this arguably feels more like a time to exhale than exclaim.
The National League Central-leading Cubs (32-25) locked up a playoff berth Tuesday, but have lost three in a row and five of six while scoring two runs or fewer in each loss during that span. Their magic number to clinch the division is three.
After assuring themselves of the franchise's first postseason berth since 2008 with a comeback home win against Minnesota on Sept. 18, the White Sox (34-23) lost six of seven on the ensuing road trip to Cincinnati and Cleveland, including four straight to the Indians. Chicago has relinquished first place in the American League Central in the process. The White Sox trail the Twins by one game and are just one game clear of third-place Cleveland.
The Cubs were limited to two hits Thursday in a 7-0 road loss to Pittsburgh. The team was without the usual top two hitters in its lineup, as center fielder Ian Happ was held out with what manager David Ross called a "tweaked" ankle and third baseman Kris Bryant dealt with right oblique tightness.
White Sox manager Rick Renteria rested rookies Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal for Thursday's series finale in Cleveland, a 5-4 Indians victory. Robert is mired in an 0-for-28 slump and is batting just .086 (6-for-70) in September.
"The reality is you have a young man coming into the big leagues, and no matter how talented you are, you hit a wall," Renteria said. "I know nobody wants to see the wall be hit, but you hit a wall."
Left fielder Eloy Jimenez left the game due to right foot soreness and will be re-evaluated Friday.
Right-hander Dylan Cease (5-3, 3.52 ERA) will get the start for the White Sox as he seeks his first victory since Sept. 3.
Cease has thrown no more than five innings in five straight starts since scattering two runs and four hits in six innings of an Aug. 23 road loss to the Cubs, his lone career appearance against the North Siders. He pitched with a one-run lead for much of the afternoon before allowing a go-ahead, two-run home run to Kyle Schwarber with one out in the sixth, which proved to be the final runs of the game.
Cease is winless in four career interleague starts (0-3), pitching to a 4.71 ERA in 21 innings.
Cubs righty Yu Darvish, who defeated Cease and the White Sox with seven innings of one-run, 10-strikeout ball on Aug. 23, gets the call for the visitors. Darvish (7-3, 2.22) saw a streak of nine straight quality starts snapped on Sunday, as he yielded four runs in six innings of a 4-0 loss to the Twins.
Darvish is 2-1 with a 4.18 ERA in five career starts against the White Sox, with 38 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings.
--Field Level Media