CHICAGO -- The Cubs kick off the 16th season of Interleague Play on Friday against their crosstown rivals, the White Sox, and the series will feature two former teammates, Dale Sveum and Robin Ventura, who now are managing their respective teams.
This will be Sveum's first exposure to the Cubs-White Sox matchup, but he's prepared.
"The only thing I can compare it to is when I was in Boston [and we played in] the Boston-New York [series]," Sveum said. "It was like a World Series atmosphere. I'm sure there will be double the media, and the players and everybody knows it. It's those series in the 162 games where you look on the schedule and you know exactly when you're going to play those games.
"It's just a whole different atmosphere. It's like playing playoffs without being in the playoffs."
Sveum and Ventura both played on the White Sox in 1992, and even though the Cubs manager's play was limited to 40 games that season with the team, it was an enjoyable experience.
Sveum planned on chatting with Ventura to see how it's going in his first season at the helm.
"It's interesting to talk," Sveum said. "I talked to [Cardinals manager] Mike Matheny, too, about the first time doing this stuff. I've been doing it for a long time, being in baseball and in the Minor Leagues. Those guys admit it's a little fast. They've never done it before. It's interesting stuff, and I'll tell you what, it's fun when you're doing it."
Neither Ventura nor Matheny were on Major League or Minor League coaching staffs before getting their jobs as managers. Sveum has been there, done that.
The Cubs are hoping to fare better in Interleague Play than last season, when they finished 5-10. Besides the home-and-road six-game series against the White Sox, which includes games June 18-20 at U.S. Cellular Field, the Cubs also play two more American League Central teams -- the Twins, from June 8-10, and Tigers, from June 12-14 -- and also a three-game series against the Red Sox, from June 15-17 at Wrigley Field. Chicago and Boston faced off one year ago at Fenway Park.
It may not be a good thing that both the Cubs and White Sox are home this weekend with the NATO summit in Chicago, which is guaranteed to create more than a few traffic jams and security checkpoints. Saturday is a rare night game at Wrigley Field, scheduled to accommodate FOX TV.
The highlight of last year's Cubs-White Sox series was Ozzie Guillen booting Geovany Soto's catcher's mask while arguing a call. Guillen was ejected, and Soto still chuckles when he sees a replay.
The Cubs' roster has had significant turnover since the two teams squared off in June 2011. Kosuke Fukudome is now playing for the White Sox; last year, he was the starting right fielder for the Cubs. The corner infielders have been replaced on the North Side as Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez are gone, and Bryan LaHair and Ian Stewart have taken over.
Players to watch
Starlin Castro, SS: Castro doesn't seem to care if he's playing National League teams or American League. He has a career .296 average in Interleague Play, and last year batted .349 in 15 games, including .375 (9-for-24) against the White Sox.
Alfonso Soriano, LF: Soriano has a .280 career average in Interleague Play, hitting 29 homers in 162 games. Last year, he scuffled, hitting .231 against AL teams and was 3-for-20 with no extra-base hits in six games against the White Sox.
David DeJesus, RF: DeJesus has a career .325 average in Interleague Play, with nine homers and 30 doubles. It should help that he's starting play at home, where he's batting .313.
Matt Garza, RHP: Garza will skip the first White Sox series (he's 1-3 lifetime against them), but the Cubs will try to have him face the Red Sox. He's 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA in 19 career games against Boston, with more strikeouts (75) against them than any other team. Last year, both of his Interleague starts came against the White Sox, including a memorable complete game July 2 at Wrigley Field in which he gave up one run on four hits. But Garza took the loss as Humber and Matt Thornton combined on a four-hit, 1-0 shutout.
Ventura has said Adam Dunn will start in left field as the White Sox deal with no designated hitter in the lineup at Wrigley Field. Sveum doesn't have to think about that until the Twins series in June.
On Friday, Philip Humber will face the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija, followed by John Danks vs. winless Ryan Dempster, and Jake Peavy against lefty Paul Maholm on Sunday in the series finale.
Samardzija will be making his first Interleague start. He's 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA in six Interleague games, all relief appearances, and took the loss last June 21 at U.S. Cellular Field when he pitched two innings and gave up the White Sox's game-winning run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly.
Dempster ranks among the top five in the National League with a 1.74 ERA but is winless in six starts. In Interleague Play, he is 9-14 with a 4.92 ERA in 47 games, and 2-4 with a 4.89 ERA in 13 games against the White Sox, including six starts.
Maybe Dempster and Kerry Wood can give Sveum some pointers on how to beat Ventura. The former third baseman was 4-for-20 lifetime against Dempster, including a home run. Wood has had better success, striking out Ventura six times in nine at-bats. Ventura didn't get a hit off Wood, but did walk twice.
Maholm faced the Tigers, Indians, Red Sox and Blue Jays last season in Interleague Play and posted a win over the Red Sox, giving up one run on six hits over 5 1/3 innings on June 24. He lost to the White Sox on June 28, 2006, and beat them on June 15, 2007, when he struck out six and gave up three hits over seven innings.
2011 Interleague: The Cubs went 5-10 against the White Sox, Royals, Yankees and Red Sox, winning one game in each of the series.
All-time: The Cubs are 103-117 all-time since Interleague Play began in 1997, and have not had a winning record since 2007 (8-4). That followed the worst season, 2006, when the team was 4-11. Strange fact: The Cubs batted .296 with 32 homers in 15 Interleague games in '06, but hit .221 in 12 games in '07.
vs. White Sox, May 18-20: Since Interleague Play began in 1997, the Cubs are 39-45 vs. the White Sox, including a 2-4 record last year. The Cubs have not had a winning record against the White Sox since 2007, when they went 5-1. In '08, each team defended its home turf, splitting the series, 3-3.
at Twins, June 8-10: The Cubs and Twins last met in 2009, but that was at the Metrodome. Chicago has an 11-10 edge in the Interleague series, including a 3-6 mark under the roof. This will be the Cubs' first look at Target Field.
vs. Tigers, June 12-14: The Cubs have struggled against the Tigers, going 3-11 in Interleague Play. They last met in 2009. Right fielder David DeJesus has a career .318 average against Detroit.
vs. Red Sox, June 15-17: The Cubs and Red Sox met last May at Fenway Park, with Boston taking the series, 2-1. That was a costly matchup as Marlon Byrd was hit in the face by a pitch in the second game, suffering multiple fractures. In a strange twist, Byrd now is playing for the Red Sox after he was traded in April. The Cubs are 3-3 in Interleague Play against Boston.
at White Sox, June 18-20: The Cubs have struggled on the South Side, compiling a 17-25 record.