Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano brings his fiery personality to the mound in the first game of the series versus the White Sox.
Ozzie Guillen's kidney stone just might be the perfect metaphor for this baseball season in Chicago.
The White Sox and Cubs are set to open a three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday, and it's safe to say this has been an unpleasant year for both teams.
Guillen's kidney stone on Sunday in Arizona was just another painful moment in a season that has left fans on both sides of town wincing.
Claiming they were "All In" after signing slugger Adam Dunn and re-signing Paul Konerko, the White Sox still rank among the AL's biggest disappointments at 35-38. They can blame that on an 11-22 start, but at least they're back in contention in the Central division.
"I think we're lucky," Guillen said. "We play very inconsistent baseball. The way we play, (that) we're still fighting, it's a good thing."
The Cubs, who are 29-42, have shown some fight, too -- even if they still have a long way to go. Now, they're set to meet their crosstown rivals, and it's never dull when these teams get together.
"When it's against the Cubs, it's a different ballgame," Guillen said. "Chicago's looking for this game and obviously the rivalry is there."
Cubs reliever Sean Marshall said, "Fun series, a fun atmosphere. The fans get a kick out of it."
Whether it's A.J. Pierzynski and Michael Barrett brawling at home plate or Carlos Zambrano getting separated from Derrek Lee in the dugout, wild things tend to happen. For those seeking a side story, here's one: On Monday, Big Z makes his first start at U.S. Cellular Field since that tirade last year, the one that got him suspended and sent to anger-management counseling.
"I think he's well-prepared," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "He's put all that behind him. I expect him to pitch well."
Quade also expects to see more improvement from a team that has been playing better. The Cubs took three of four from NL Central leader Milwaukee after dropping 11 of 13 and started the weekend with a 3-1 win over the Yankees on Friday. Even so, they still remain the only team without a three-game win streak.
They entered Sunday's game with the majors' second-worst record, thanks to a defense that is as bad as any and a line of injuries that has hit them hard. Three-fifths of their starting rotation has missed time, with Andrew Cashner out with a season-ending right shoulder injury and Randy Wells and Matt Garza spending time on the disabled list. So have Kerry Wood, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, Darwin Barney, Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson.
On defense, the Cubs were tied with Houston for baseball's worst fielding percentage at .978, and it's added up to a long list of losses, not to mention empty seats at Wrigley Field.
The average attendance through their first 37 home games was 35,727, and the Cubs were on pace to draw 2,929,614 for the season, which would put them below three million for the first time since 2003. Even so, chairman Tom Ricketts sees a simple solution.
"The most important thing is I'm not worried about attendance, because if we win, we will be full," he said. "And everything we're doing is to win. So in effect, we're addressing any perceived small attendance issue we have right now. Ticket sales, we're off a little bit this year, but I'm not worried about it. We all know how the weather was this spring, and that didn't help."
Local ticket broker Max Waisvisz said the problem goes beyond wins and losses and poor weather, that the Cubs have alienated season ticketholders through their price structure. They added a new higher-priced tier for 13 games that included this weekend's series against the Yankees and the three-game set at Wrigley Field July 1-3.
Throw in the fact that demand for baseball in general is down and that many fans see the rooftop seats across the street as a better deal, and that means serious discounts for seats in the old ballpark.
"It not fun to be a ticketbroker," said Waisvisz, who owns Gold Coast tickets in Chicago. "I'm working harder to make less. All my Bulls profits went to my Cubs losses."
Not even the series against the Yankees and White Sox at Wrigley are making up for the losses. Fans simply don't want to pay face value.
"Sox tickets used to be gold, used to be value," Waisvisz said. "Back in the day, when we used to take the tickets out to the street, at least we used to get our money back on them. Now, you can't even get your money back on them."
He's already selling discounted tickets for the crosstown series at Wrigley. Of course, this week they're playing at U.S. Cellular Field, where the "ticket price is not going to kill you."
That means the losses won't be nearly as steep. At Wrigley, demand has been on a steady decline since 2008, when the Cubs won the second of their back-to-back NL Central titles and drew a franchise-record 3,300,200. `
"They have definitely some major issues there," Waisvisz said. "It's sad to say. You thought the phrase 'Lovable Loser' would keep on going. It was like more a joke kind of thing. Now, it's finally caught up."
Question is, can the Cubs catch up? Can the White Sox, too, for that matter? Their problems have been well-documented, particularly with Dunn and Alex Rios struggling. Even so, they are just 5 games off the division lead, with Cleveland and Detroit in front of them. "If Rios and Adam do OK, do good enough, I think this ballclub is going to compete, but we're going to need the help from them," Guillen said. "There's no doubt. Every time those guys drive runs in, we've got a better chance to win games."
As for this series?
"I think the last handful of years it's worn off a little bit," Konerko said. "But I think it's for good reason. Both teams have fielded teams that have made the playoffs and both fan bases have their sights set on bigger things than just the season series."