Solid starts conjure all-Chicago dreams

Solid starts conjure all-Chicago dreams

CHICAGO -- An array of random holidays often become benchmarks to judge a Major League baseball team's postseason chances over the course of a season.

The team leading on the Fourth of July doesn't have quite the same playoff possibility as the team holding a two or three-game advantage on Labor Day. One-time White Sox manager Jerry Manuel split the difference and started looking at a chance to win the division when the annual Bud Billiken Parade took place in Chicago on the second Saturday of August.

But what if the 2008 campaign calls for a little thinking outside the box? What if the first day to judge contenders comes from a religious holiday, let's say, examining who sits atop the divisions at the start of Passover this past Sunday?

In that case, both the White Sox and Cubs find themselves on a direct path for their first World Series meeting since the South Siders claimed a six-game title in their 1906 head-to-head matchup. That's right, Theodore Roosevelt was the president of the United States when two of baseball's proudest franchises faced off for the only time in the Fall Classic.

This present season is a mere 18 games old, and the Cubs' first-place status as of Monday afternoon could change by Monday night. The Red Sox and Diamondbacks appear to be the class of each respective league, and the Florida Marlins also hold an unexpected advantage in the National League East. Much can change over the next five months.

Then again, it's never too early to think about what stands as possibly the ultimate World Series battle when considering the intense rivalry between these two teams. It gives the minds of Chicago fans a chance to wonder about the excitement, and the same goes for the players.

"It would be fun, just great for baseball and the city of Chicago," said White Sox third baseman Joe Crede of a Cubs-White Sox World Series. "The emotions that all go on during these games. ... It would be something that would be really great to be a part of, something really special."

"Both good and bad," added White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle with a laugh when asked to describe his perception of a Cubs-White Sox World Series. "There would be a lot of fights and a lot of bad stuff, but there would be a lot of good, too, for the city of Chicago."

Before the sounds of astonishment become audible concerning the Cubs and White Sox meeting just once in the World Series, take these following in-state baseball facts into consideration. The Mets' and Yankees' sole World Series competition came in 2000, while the Royals and Cardinals waged an epic all-Missouri fight during the 1985 World Series.

Los Angeles has never witnessed a Dodgers-Angels Fall Classic, although the Dodgers and A's have played twice (1974, 1988). The A's swept the Giants in the 1989 World Series and the Angels defeated the Giants in 2002 during an all-California Series.

"That's tough to do," said Buehrle of getting both the Cubs and White Sox into the World Series. "It's two weeks in, and we are both playing good. It's a long season, and you go through slumps and high points. The key thing is to keep it all even."

For the record, the date was May 23, 2004, when the Cubs and White Sox were in first place at the same time this late into the season. Neither team reached the playoffs in that particular campaign, which presents a small idea as to how difficult it is to get Chicago firing on all its baseball cylinders.

Nonetheless, the Cubs and White Sox have the potential to remain contenders. They each possess deep, veteran bullpens, with the White Sox having a slight edge with a more proven closer in Bobby Jenks. The White Sox starting rotation has produced more quality efforts through the small sample size of 18 games, while the Cubs' offense looks a bit more potent overall. Of course, much of the Cubs' heavy lifting has come during six games against the Pirates.

Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella hold championship pedigrees as managers, and know how to steer their respective teams out of prolonged trouble spots. Playing in the NL Central figured to give the Cubs an edge, at least compared to the American League Central, which was considered by many to be the best division in baseball entering the 2008 season.

As of Monday afternoon, the NL Central had three teams over .500, while the White Sox were the only plus-.500 team in the AL Central. Maybe the AL Central was a bit overvalued, and the White Sox were undervalued as a team.

Injuries obviously can derail even the best of squads, and by the All-Star break, both the White Sox and Cubs could be looking at a .500 record. Just entertaining the thought of a Red Line series, though, immediately points up the battles within the battle.

South Side vs. North Side.

Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, a die-hard White Sox fan, vs. Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who has held the same sort of lifelong support for the Cubs.

Bill Murray vs. Michael Clarke Duncan in the subheading of famous supporters.

Could this year be the year for the Cubs, in their 100th season without a title? Could the White Sox vanquish their rival for a second championship in four years?

Neither side cares about the other's success, as long as the title comes their way. Beating your top rival conversely provides the ultimate bragging rights.

Clearly, it's too early to make some sort of value judgment. As of this first holiday of the season, though, both teams seem on track.

"Look at our series against them last year," Buehrle said. "The Cubs were playing good, we were playing [poorly] and it's still a big series, no matter what. If it got to the World Series, that would be magnified by 10. I couldn't imagine what it would be like."

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