White Sox off and running since last Cubs set

White Sox off and running since last Cubs set

CHICAGO -- Since the last time the Cubs and White Sox met at Wrigley Field, during the weekend of June 11, the two teams have gone in a decidedly different direction.

Actually, the Cubs' season-long struggles simply have dipped deeper, entering play Friday with five losses in nine games since Ted Lilly took a no-hitter into the ninth against the White Sox on the night of June 13. The White Sox have raced into prime American League Central contention by emerging as baseball's hottest team not featuring Josh Hamilton or Michael Young in its lineup, ripping off nine straight wins since that fateful 1-0 setback on the North Side.

This Interleague rivalry often produces a boost for the successful team to take off, and the White Sox series victory over Lou Piniella's squad seems to have provided that kick-start to excellence.

"Looking back right now, it kind of kicked us into gear a little bit," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "We were able to keep the intensity going into Pittsburgh after that series.

"Sometimes there is a letdown after the series. That was probably the thing, when we showed up Tuesday night in Pittsburgh and had a good game there and won. It was nice because that letdown didn't happen. We've been rolling since then."

The White Sox swept three games in Pittsburgh and three more in Washington, D.C., completing an 8-1 road trip including the stop at Wrigley. That run continued with a three-game home sweep over the Braves, who entered as the NL's best team by record, pushing the White Sox three games over .500 and just 2 1/2 games behind first-place Minnesota.

Prior to the sold-out Cubs series, the White Sox had taken two of three from Detroit -- one of the teams they are chasing within the division. But it just might have been a victory over Cleveland that previous Sunday, on June 6, serving as a harbinger of great things to come.

In that contest, the White Sox fell behind by a 6-2 margin after three innings and appeared in danger of getting swept at home by one of the worst teams in the American League. They put together a rally against Jake Westbrook, one of Cleveland's top starters, and haven't looked back in this 13-2 stretch.

"At the time, I remember thinking that game might change our season right there," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham of the Cleveland comeback. "I remember feeling that day how we were going to come back and win that game. That was a good start for all of this."

This weekend's pitching matchups feature Carlos Zambrano vs. Jake Peavy on Friday, Carlos Silva and Freddy Garcia on Saturday and Ryan Dempster opposite John Danks on Sunday afternoon to close out Interleague action. When that final pitch is thrown on Sunday, the White Sox hope to be riding that same crest of momentum they built up over the past few weeks.

To a player, though, the White Sox know more work still needs to be done. After all, the White Sox will be in third place at the start of the Cubs series. They don't want this interaction with the North Siders to work in reverse from the memorable first meeting.

"Maybe it took our mind off of our struggles," Beckham said. "Playing the Cubs with something else on the line, we didn't worry about our record coming in or have lingering effects of how we had been playing over the last two months. It's a possibility."

"It's something great for the city," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "[The fans] showed two weeks ago how important the series is. We had the NHL champs in town, everything was talking about the Blackhawks, everything was very nice, and we still packed it in. That means the fans in Chicago show how much they support baseball, how much they support both clubs, and how fun those games are."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.