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Sunday, June 17, 2012
Updated: June 18, 2:20 PM ET
Clubs meet going different directions

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Alfonso Soriano sat at his Wrigley Field locker before Friday's game against the Boston Red Sox, deftly stabbing at his cuticles with a long, pointed nail file.

Sorry, Sori-haters. He didn't draw any blood.

Soriano, the public scapegoat of Chicago Cubs fans' lingering misery, drew their ire again Saturday night when he failed to run out a dropped liner to third. It was a bang-bang play, but Soriano got booed for the rest of the game. Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who is trying to instill a return to fundamentals, excused Soriano, saying there's "not a player that ever played that wouldn't have done the very same thing."

Occasional brain cramps and errant defensive backpedals aside, Soriano's offensive output this season on a bum knee should be inspiring, not deflating. Kerry Wood even brought up Soriano's toughness in his first retirement news conference.

And while fans like to heckle Soriano, here's something you might find mildly interesting, he's playing to entertain them. Well, that and for the $18 million he makes annually.

When I asked Soriano on Friday what makes the second leg of the Cubs-Sox series, starting Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field, important to the Cubs, he said they should be playing for the fans, not for themselves.

Dayan Viciedo
Dayan Viciedo helped the White Sox to a sweep of the Cubs in May.

Hear that fans?

"They sweep up here, so we want to go over there and win those three games," he said. "Because we have fans that support us. That would not be good for the fans if they win six games.

"Our fans, they support us every year. So I hope we can have a better game and win some games over there, because those fans, they hate each other. They fight all the time. It's not going to be good if we lose those three games."

Problem is I don't think Soriano knows the new Cubs fan. The new Cubs fan (and this isn't a blanket statement on all of them) not only despises Soriano's drain on the Ricketts family's finances, but has also given Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein carte blanche to cobble together losing baseball teams until the 2014 or 2015 or whenever the foundation for sustained success turns into a mansion of actual success.

Given the Cubs are in competition for the No. 1 pick next year, a lot of Cubs fans would just as well be the worst team in baseball. These are the fans who are rooting for the Cubs to lose because it means more for the bigger picture.

"As patient as they've been for 103 or 104 years, I think they appreciate the emphasis on young players and I think they can be patient a bit longer," Epstein told Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy the other day.

I don't know if there are any 104-year old fans, but I think a lot of fans agree with his point.

Soriano certainly won't be around when the Cubs are competitive. There's a good chance he'll never play for another Cubs team within sniffing distance of .500. The Cubs would trade him for Groupon stock and he wants to play for a winner, though it doesn't seem like he's in much demand. Good teams usually don't need a DH in June.

The White Sox are a good team and they don't need him, though they sure could use Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster.

The resurgent Sox are hitting like you'd expect -- Adam Dunn is once again Three-True Outcome Man -- but the starting staff, thought to be a strength of Robin Ventura's team, has been wobbly. Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber are weighing this team down, and John Danks can't get off the disabled list. Prayer beads are rubbed to the nub every time Jake Peavy and Chris Sale take the mound.

The Sox would probably love to add Dempster, who will pitch Wednesday on the South Side. Maybe the Cubs could get him for a returned phone call to Ricketts from Jerry Reinsdorf's best pal, mayor Rahm Emanuel.

There were slated to be two good pitching matchups this week, but a rotation shuffle shelved those plans. Instead of Matt Garza-Jake Peavy on Monday, the Sox will start Zach Stewart. Sale won't pitch the Wednesday finale against Dempster.

But the odds are something will happen this series. There's always a sidebar story that takes over.

Wood retired after the first game of the series at Wrigley, which was also memorable for Jeff Samardzija nailing Paul Konerko with an errant pitch.

Sadly for fans of mischief, Soriano doesn't see any repeat of past Cubs blow-ups at the Cell. In 2009, Milton Bradley was kicked out of the dugout by Lou Piniella. In 2010, Carlos Zambrano raged in the dugout and was also tossed by Piniella.

"Now, with the clubhouse that we have and the manager, GM and president that we have, and they bring nice guys here and we don't have those negative things in the clubhouse," Soriano said. "Nobody wants to be crazy like [2009] and two years ago. More people here just love to play the game and we're more relaxed."

The Cubs will surely be familiar with the stakes of this particular matchup, which is to say, they know how to play for nothing.

In case you weren't aware of the byzantine rules of the BP Crosstown Cup, the Sox won it by sweeping the first series. Unlike the old Rose Bowl tiebreaker, ties go to the incumbent for the BP Cup.

Forget false idols, the Sox need wins to keep a slim lead in the AL Central over Cleveland. It's only June, but with a pitching staff running on rubber bands and fumes, every game is important. A six-game sweep would be a first, and while they wouldn't admit it, the Sox brass would revel in it. The 2007 Cubs were the only team to win five games in the series.

The Sox too are playing for the fans, many of whom aren't familiar with the concept of attending games. But the promise of more gate receipts could augur for trade deadline moves. We haven't seen much of a bump in attendance, and the Sox are barely home in July. Maybe scarcity will drive interest next month. Despite evidence otherwise, I never thought Sox general manager Kenny Williams threw in the towel for this season, like his contemporary across town, and even though it doesn't make fiscal sense I could envision Reinsdorf and his partners approving a pitcher addition with the tantalizing prospect of a division title.

While Cubs fans are resigned to another year or two of waiting for that Epstein-induced leap, the Sox will keep baseball relevant in 2012 for another couple months. It would be nice to see a real influx of interest from Sox fans this week.

I don't root for anything but a good story, so that's why I'd like to see the Sox pull off the first six-game sweep in the history of the crosstown series. I live in the present. The future could be great for the Cubs -- Epstein was hired for this very purpose -- but the present still has promise on the South Side.