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Cubs Tue Jun 16 2009
For the Cubs, this years' Cross Town Classic comes at an odd set of crossroads. Statistically speaking, the six games that make up the Cubs/White Sox rivalry each year are actually the most meaningless six games of the season. Games against NL Central opponents carry a larger weight in deciding which team will win the division. Inter-division games have more significance when it comes to deciding which team will win the wild card. Inter-league play has almost no meaning outside of pure wins and losses. Despite the hype and perceived significance of these games, losing in them is only a single blade sword. When a team loses within in their respected division or league, it not only gives them the loss but also gives a win to a team in their direct competition; it creates a one game swing in the standings. In the six games of the Cross Town Classic, each game is only half as important. Neither a win nor loss carry much clout, each only represents a half game swing in the standings.
Despite the statistical unimportance of these games, it is impossible to ignore the emotional weight that these games carry. Most importantly, these games matter to the fans. This is where the crossroads come to the Cubs, for the fans more so than the players. Yes, the team has not played particularly well all season. A combination of the best starting pitching in baseball (3.63 ERA), poor relief pitching (4.28 ERA, ranked 19th) and atrocious hitting (253 runs scored, ranked 28th) have created a season of uneven play just good enough to post a .500 record. Yet, somehow they are only three games back of the division leader; well within striking for the rest of the year. As a team, the Cubs do not need to panic. They are lucky to still be relevant but if they can make a few improvements on offense, they should be right back in the hunt in another divisional race.
As fans, this series means more because we need a reason to believe that this season will become worthwhile. We are coming to the point in the year where we can no longer say "it's early," or "they'll turn it around." Even though the standings may not show it, it is starting to feel like this is a team that is already out of contention. A statement series win against the cross-town rivals would give the fans confidence and maybe put some swagger in the steps of the players, even if the games are less significant in the grand scheme of things. But if the offense continues to struggle, and the Cubs lose the series, expect some booing and a loss of morale from the fans. And if the last bit of wind is taken out of the sails of the fans, it will become that much harder for the team to start winning. That is the emotional crossroads the Cubs are at now.